Family Trip to South Dakota


Not every family wants to travel internationally, so we want to share some ideas for family trips to parts of our own country. Our first trip is a family trip to Mount Rushmore and parts of South Dakota that I recently took and thoroughly enjoyed.  Who knew that South Dakota was so beautiful? I had never planned on a trip to that state, but Mount Rushmore was on my list of places to check out, so we opted to go there over Memorial Weekend.



Now is a great time to get some hotel points that you can use for trips in our own country. There are several ways we could use points on our family trip to South Dakota to save money.

We stayed in Custer, South Dakota, which is a great place for proximity to many of the major tourist sites like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park. It is a cute little western town with good restaurants and great hotels that you can use points on to stay for free.

One of the largest hotels in Custer is the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. It has an indoor pool and free breakfast, which is perfect for families. If you get the IHG Rewards Club Premier card, you can get 140,000 IHG reward points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. It costs 30,000 points a night to stay at this hotel. As an IHG Club Rewards cardholder, you get the 4th night free on award stays. When you factor in that free night, you could get 5 free nights with just this one signup and have points to spare! We stayed 4 nights in the area, and it was perfect to see many of the sites. This hotel gets excellent reviews!


Holiday Inn Express
You can stay free here for 5 nights with points on your family trip to South Dakota!


Another option for staying in Custer is the Comfort Inn and Suites. You can receive 32,000 points when you are approved for the Barclay Card Choice Privileges Signature Visa Credit Card. You only need to spend $1,000 in 3 months on this card. It costs 25,000 points to stay here, so not as good of a deal as the Holiday Inn and the reviews aren’t as good. If you and a spouse got the card, you could stay 2 nights for free and only would need $2,000 in minimum spend. Free breakfast and an indoor pool is included here, also!


Room at the Comfort Inn in Custer, South Dakota
Room at the Comfort Inn in Custer, South Dakota


Another great choice, especially if you are flying into Rapid City, South Dakota, is the new Marriott Residence Inn. Four people can stay in the studio for 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points. You get free breakfast and snacks in the evening. It includes discounted rates for the neighboring water park. Residence Inn is a great choice for family trips because they have kitchens, so you can save money on eating out. The Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless will get you 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $3,000 in 3 months. The American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business will also get you 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in 3 months. I love my Marriott Credit Cards!


Hotel Room in Rapid City, South Dakota
Residence Inn studio room in Rapid City, South Dakota


Activities in South Dakota

We had a great time in South Dakota, and the area is stunningly beautiful! I was surprised that I hadn’t heard more about it before our trip. There is plenty to do for all ages on a family trip to South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore

Visiting Mount Rushmore is probably the number one thing people come to South Dakota to do. I was so impressed by it and appreciated the size of the four faces and the feeling of American pride way more than I thought I would! It is free to enter. You just pay $10 for parking. We spent about 45 minutes there taking pictures and wandering around. The sculpture is lit up at night after Memorial Day. There is a great visitor center at the site that gives information about the sculptor Lincoln Borglum, but it was closed during our visit.



Bear Country USA

We went to Bear Country USA primarily for the littles in our group, but we all really enjoyed it. We paid $65 for a carload of 7 people and enjoyed the bears wandering freely around. Wolves, bighorn sheep, bison, bobcat, coyote, elk, reindeer, porcupines, and other animals were also present. One of the highlights was when we got out of the car and walked to the exhibit of bear cubs. They were adorable, climbing into trees, falling off, and playing with each other!



Bear cub in tree


Crazy Horse Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial is another site that is worth seeing. It is a work in progress and quite impressive! We enjoyed the visitor center and learning about the sculptor. We went to the laser light show at night, and the children enjoyed that, also. It cost us $30 per car, and with seven people in the car, it was pretty cheap.  The sculptures of Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore are just amazing!


Crazy Horse Memorial


Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a beautiful place to spend some time while you are in South Dakota. We loved the Wildlife Loop and seeing the mighty buffalo up close and personal. We also saw deer and antelope on the loop but missed the burros that are often present.

The rock formation and beautiful trees are gorgeous. Driving through the tiny rock tunnels was fun. Needles Highway can’t be missed. It is a little windy with some one-way spots, but it is not too bad. Needles Eye Tunnel was especially interesting.

There are multiple hikes in the park, several lakes to rent kayaks and canoes at, fishing areas, camping sites, horseback riding, and many other activities. My husband and grandson went fly fishing and caught four fish. We had planned to spend a lot of time at Sylvan Lake, but it is pretty popular, so we chose Legion Lake to swim at and let the children play on the playground.


We saw so many gigantic buffalo in Custer State Park!


Ride the 1880 Train

One of the activities we wanted to do but couldn’t do due to the coronavirus was riding the 1880 Train. You can catch the train in Keystone and Hill City, traveling between the two cities. It takes about 1 hour each way, and you can view animals on the way. Food is available for purchase on board also.


Visiting Towns Near Custer

Keystone,  Sturgis, Deadwood, and Wall are all towns worth visiting while in South Dakota. Each has its own claim to fame and things to do.

Keystone is extremely close to Mt. Rushmore. It is a cute town that we wandered through, bought taffy at, and took pictures in front of the Ruby House Restaurant (once a brothel). Another popular activity near Keystone is the Big Thunder Gold Mine. Children have a blast panning for gold, exploring the museum, and learning about mining for gold in the Black Hills.

Wall is well known for the Wall Drug Store. It is famous for its donuts. Established in 1931, the Wall Drug Store is now a cowboy-themed 70,000+ square foot mall complete with restaurants, shops, and an art gallery. Wall Drug Store signs are famous, and there have been numerous sightings showing how far it is to Wall Drug Store from around the world.

Sturgis is home to one of the most famous motorcycle rallies in the world. Each year thousands flock to Sturgis for concerts, food, and motorcycle comparing. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame is popular to visit in this cute South Dakota town, and Old Fort Meade Museum is also interesting. Black Hills National Forest is nearby and offers hiking, camping, and more animal sightings.

The Wild West town of Deadwood is known for shootouts on Main Street during the summer. If you like to gamble, Deadwood is the place to go. They also have a long-running play called the Trial of Jack McCall about the murder of Wild Bill Hickock, a murder mystery theater and bars and saloons. It really is the Wild West here in Deadwood!


Bottom Line

Family trips in the United States are always fun. South Dakota is a beautiful state to check out using points to stay for free in a hotel. Camping in South Dakota is also fun. However you choose, there is plenty to keep the whole family entertained.

Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota

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