Scales and Tales

Family attractions in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The Black Hills is a mountain range located in the south-western portion of South Dakota. It is the home of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is the largest mountain carving in progress in the world. Visitors to the area will see the fossil beds at Badlands National Park or get a close look at a bald eagle at Reptile Gardens. Custer State Park offers a glimpse into how the pioneers saw the west. Rapid City offers a walking tour of presidents, a wide range of hotels and restaurants, and the largest indoor water park in South Dakota. There is even one of the most diverse reptile zoos in the country.

Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park is home to bighorn sheep, bison, black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs and more. There is an Oligocene epoch fossil bed that is 28 to 37 million-years-old and contains the fossils of horses and rhinoceroses. It is a 244,000-acre park with eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles. As of 2012, admission is $15 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle and $7 per individual that is hiking or biking through the park. Passes are valid for seven days after they are purchased. A one-year pass can be purchased for $30.

Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the largest mountain carving in progress in the world. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and Korczak Ziolkowski began sculpting the memorial in 1948 to commemorate the heritage of Native Americans. Crazy Horse was a legendary Lakota Chief and this memorial is intended to honor his spirit, encourage harmony amongst all people, serve as a repository for North American Indian artifacts, and establish an American Indian University and Medical Training Center. Descendants of Korczak Ziolkowski strive to continue his vision.

Reptile Gardens
Since 1937 one of mid-America's great attractions is this unique reptile paradise. Stroll through the lush tropical jungle under the giant sky dome. Observe the beautifully diverse gardens which have over 40,000 flowers planted every summer in the lush 30 acre grounds. Take in a bird, snake and gator show. Meet prairie dogs, giant tortoises, a huge saltwater crocodile, and see some of the deadliest snakes in the world. Visit for show times and more information.

The Mammoth Site
Get a glimpse of these huge prehistoric creatures at the world's largest mammoth research facility. Open year round, the Mammoth Site offers museum visitors a 30 minute guided tour plus a 10 minute video. Tour information features the Mammoth Site and Ice Age geology, paleontology, and paleoecology. Visitors to the museum may also observe first-hand a scientific excavation.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic memorials in the United States. The massive figures are carved into Black Hills granite and it took 14 years to complete. Over this time, about 400 people worked on the carving. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were all chosen for specific reasons. Washington was the first president of the United States and is considered the father of the country. This is why his figure is most prominent. Jefferson was the third president and is credited as being the author of the Declaration of Independence and purchasing land that is now all or part of 15 of the United States. Roosevelt served as the 26th president and is noted for his role in constructing the Panama Canal and breaking up corporate monopolies. Lincoln was the 16th president and is recognized for abolishing slavery and preserving the union during difficult times.

Custer State Park
Custer State Park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer is a wildlife reserve in the southern Black Hills that covers over 71,000 acres of rolling prairie and ponderosa forest. The park is home to a herd of 1500 free roaming bison. Also inhabiting the park are antelope, mule deer, big horn sheep, elk, mountain lions, mountain goats and a curious bunch of feral burros. The park offers several scenic drives and is easily accessible from any direction.

Watiki Water Park
Watiki Water Park offers over 30,000 square feet of indoor splash-tastic fun for every age! Even more fun can be had in the arcade overlooking the water park, offering over 40 games to win tickets that can be redeemed for prizes. Adjoined by two hotels, this water filled fun zone makes a great stop on your Black Hills Vacation.

There are many family attractions in the Black Hills, offering the opportunity to create a unique vacation experience. All members of the family are sure to take home memories that will last a lifetime.




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Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing or go on a 3D safari. Our very own old west ghost town as numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

Don't miss your chance to Pet a Python!  Our snake handlers ar here to talk about any questions or myths you've heard about snakes. Don't forget your camera! Our pythons are very photogenic and love to photos with you!