For some, a long weekend means grilling and getting together for a neighborhood block party. For others, it means a much-needed break.
The 605 team buckled into our new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for a trip out to Rapid City and Hill City.
“The Black Hills were buzzing with tourists, and you could feel the momentum of businesses preparing for the big kickoff to the busy season,” said Alana Snyder. “During our trip, we made stops in multiple towns with known South Dakota attractions and took fun videos to show how many places we could cross off our list.”
Here’s how it went.
» Always plan out and pair savory & sweet snacks (Chex Mix, Reese’s Pieces, Sour Patch Kids, etc.)
» Download a music playlist or podcast on your phone just in case you lose service.
» Make a packing list a few days before a trip.
» Prepare an itinerary for your trip, including addresses, phone numbers, contacts, reservation numbers, etc.
» Get the car gasses up and ensure you have enough oil, tires are solid, and wipers are in functioning order.
» Pack a neck pillow and a blanket for power naps.
Lizards, Pythons, & Gators! Oh my!
“Reptile Gardens has something for everyone to enjoy,” said John Brockelsby, public relations director for Reptile Gardens. “We are now the largest reptile collection in the world.”
Around the grounds, you can get to know and touch giant tortoises, check out the mineral and fossil collections, experience educational shows about various animals, and more.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Rapid City attraction is the ample opportunities for guests to see, touch, and interact with many animals, including snakes, tortoises, and some baby gators.
“My favorite part was holding the albino Burmese python and having my very own Britney Spears moment,” 605’s Taylor Hanson explained.
And if that’s not your forte, there are other less hands-on approaches to seeing the grounds, like checking out the Botanical Gardens which has over 40,000 flowers and perennials.
Maniac is a giant saltwater crocodile, measuring over 16 feet and weighing about 1,400 pounds. The exhibit at the Reptile Gardens was voted one of the top 10 zoo exhibits in the nation, according to to Brockelsby.
“The prairie dogs are a very fun exhibit where guests can get up close and personal with them by going underground and popping up in the bubble in the center of the prairie dog town,” said Brockelsby.
Looking forward, there’ll be a few changes to the Reptile Gardens.
“Future plans include a new pond and feeding area for alligators, a new tortoise enclosure, along with the exciting new addition of a butterfly greenhouse,” said Kelsy Peterson, social media and content manager for Visit Rapid City.
Anything but Standard
After spending plenty of time with the animals, we checked into the hotel: Holiday Inn Rapid City Downtown-Convention Center.
Wheeling luggage through the doors, we were met with the rushing of waterfalls. The lobby is a hub with expansive ceilings and a skylight—allowing beams of sun to hit cozy furniture, plants, a restaurant, and balconies from each of the eight floors that look down into the space.
“We are ideally located right next to The Monument with easy access for events and conventions,” said hotel general manager Logan Steffens. “We are also a short walk from downtown Rapid City and all the activities, shopping, and dining that it has to offer.”
Our team was set up in a spacious standard room with two queen beds; a perfect space for us to rest our heads later after a jam-packed day.
“We have 205 Guest Rooms, over 14,000 Square Feet of meeting space, a pool, restaurant, lounge, and a casino right on property.” – Holiday Inn Rapid City Downtown-Convention Center Manager Logan Stefens
After check-in and a little refreshing in the room, our next stop was Rapid City’s newest craft brewery, Woodland Republic Brewing & Blending, which is less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
“We want to make the taproom an inviting place to gather and provide a comfortable atmosphere for people from all walks of life,” said co-founder and head brewer Jesse Ewing.
The spacious downtown brewery greets guests with friendly smiles and vibrant colors stretching from the large mural on the wall to the chairs, and even across the floors leading to the garage doors.
Woodland specializes in sour beers.
“Jesse let me try a few samples of the beers on tap, such as Cream Cheese Stuffed Blueberry French Toast and Peaches & Cream–Sour de Jour,” said Taylor.
Alana chimed in, “The first beer literally tasted like drinking french toast. It was incredible.”
“At Woodland Republic, we’re looking to fill a niche with a heavily rotated tap list of Hazy IPAs, fruited sours, big stouts, and the still-to-come spontaneous and mixed fermentation barrel-aged beers that take months to years to mature.” -Woodland Head Brewer Jesse Ewing
The following morning, the team headed a few minutes down the street for a bite at Tally’s Silver Spoon, a Rapid City staple by executive chef Benjamin Klinkel.
“The modern diner has a great feel to it with a unique bar in the center, along with images of famous and historical chefs on the walls,” said Alana.
Of course, you can find more than just brunch here.
“Their impressive menu carries throughout the day with lunch and dinner, including the popular Indecision Menu,” said Peterson, mentioning the perfect option for anyone who can’t make up their mind.
When the food arrived, we had quite the feast to take in. Taylor had the Smoked Salmon Benedict and the Really French Toast.
“Alana had the Chicken Fried Steak, which could have fed three people, and she watched me attempt to eat two meals—just like any normal brunch date we have,” said Taylor.
With full stomachs, we packed up and said goodbye to Rapid City.
Back on the Saddle Again
Hopping back in our handy Sprinter van, we hit the road again, heading to Hill City.
Alana’s favorite artist, John Mayer, blared from the speakers for a little over 30 minutes. We soon arrived at the Mount Rushmore KOA Resort & Lodge at Palmer Gulch.
“The resort is jam packed with amenities and activities for guests of all ages to enjoy,” said Nathan Lail, general manager. “We are located centrally in the Black Hills, which is only a short drive from all of the major attractions and have sweeping mountain beauty from every part of the resort.”
They offer shopping, restaurants, swimming, entertainment, fishing, sports, a dog park, rentals, and so much more. For lodging, there are campgrounds for RVs and tents, as well as cabins.
“We were thrilled to try one of a variety of cabins. It slept up to six people and had a bonfire, new grill, porch, bathroom, and flat screen TVs along with a full kitchen,” said Alana.
“Whether you want to stay in a glamping cabin, hotel suite, mountain lodge, deluxe patio RV site, or bring your tent, we’ve got a spot for you!” -Resort general Manager Nathan Lail
You’re never too far from the lodge and store just in case you run out of marshmallows for roasting.
“I would love to bring my son since it’s so family friendly,” said Alana. “And he’s obsessed with horses, and they have around 100 at the KOA. It would be his dream.”
After dropping off luggage, we suited up for a trail ride in the Hill City sun.
Taylor came prepared with cowboy boots, her grandma’s old button up, and a modern cowboy hat. After the horses, Mimi and Honeybun, were strapped into saddles, Alana and Taylor hoisted themselves up.
“Patty, who led the trail ride, was a hoot and kept us laughing the whole time,” said Taylor.
Amenities at Palmer Gulch
Open May 10 – September 30
» UTV, Golf Cart, & Bike Rentals
» Chuck Wagon Dinner Show
» Local Musicians
» Rocket Launches
» Gold Panning
» Yard Games
» Wagon & Vintage Fire Truck Rides
» Grapes & Grinds (Wine + Coffee)
» Volleyball, Pickleball, Basketball, GaGa Ball, Mini Golf, Etc.
» Hiking Trails & More
A morning on the trails makes one’s stomach start to grumble. It was about time for some cheesy goodness at Mangiamo! Pizzeria, which we had heard great things about.
“Mangiamo offers the only wood-fired pizza in the Black Hills. Russ was trained in Staten Island in making authentic Napolitano pizza,” said Deb Leatherman about her husband and co-owner. “We hand make our dough from scratch and use only the freshest ingredients, baking our pizzas in a wood-fired oven from Italy.”
We tried the award-winning Pasta alla Vodka penne pasta with Italian sausage in a house-made vodka sauce. Also on the table were delicious dishes like Strawberry Salad, Caprese Plate, cannolis, and two pizzas.
“Our Margherita Pizza takes customers back to the roots of pizza and is a favorite. The Smoking Bear Pizza is another favorite with pepperoni and Italian sausage,” said Deb.
The pizzeria is the perfect place for anyone wanting to enjoy a meal on the patio in downtown Hill City.
Our next stop went back in time.
“If you love dinosaurs and want a chance to see skeletons up close and personal, an absolute Hill City must-stop is the world-renowned Everything Prehistoric and Museum at Black Hills Institute of Geological Research,” said Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director with Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce. “The institute houses the world’s most extensive research collection of Tyrannosaurus rex fossil material, plus an amazing array of beautiful minerals, rocks, and gems.”
Researchers come from around the globe to study one of the world’s finest fossil collections.
“The museum amazed me with all of the interesting facts and made me realize how big some of the dinosaurs actually were,” said Taylor.
Across the museum, we browsed and read about fossils, minerals, rocks, and more. And there’s always something to physically touch.
“Of course I left with four dinosaur toys to bring home, and their gift shop is almost as big as the fossils,” said Alana.
Sit Back & Relax
To round out the trip, we couldn’t leave without swinging by Miner Brewing Company and Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City.
“The sun was setting, and everyone was playing yard games, kids were running around the grass, and others were just relaxing with friends and sipping on wine and craft beer,” said Alana.
Taylor noted that there were so many dogs, making it the perfect place for dog parents to hang out without leaving their furry family members at home.
“We are here to brighten the day of our guests, making the world a better place, one beer at a time,” said Casey Nordine, taproom hospitality manager.
Winding down from the excitement of the trip, it was time to head back home. So Taylor hopped into the driver’s seat, thinking about everything she wanted to do when she returned to the Black Hills. And Alana curled up with her blanket and pillow, lulling off to sleep to the sound of the tires on the asphalt.