Chapel in the Hills

We had an amazing trip to Norway in 2019. You can see more info on that here. However, it was such a busy trip that we did miss out on some stops that I really wanted to see. One of those stops was Borgund Stave Church (Borgund Stavkirke). Well luck was on my side! I got a second chance in the most unlikely place….Rapid City, South Dakota.

Rapid City is the home to Chapel in the Hills. It is an exact replica of Borgund Stave.

The back story is kind of crazy. A Lutheran radio show host started the idea to build the church. They raised the funds and the Norwegian Department of Antiquities provided a set of blueprints of the original Borgund church. They built the church exactly the same and even brought in a Norwegian woodcarver to complete all the details. IN SOUTH DAKOTA.

Chapel in the Hills is tucked in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of Rapid City. There is a Stabbur (or store house) on site that is used as the visitor center and gift shop. There is also a log cabin museum. But the main attraction is the gorgeous Church.

Visiting the Chapel is free and open to visitors in the summer. Completely worth a stop on your South Dakota road trip!

Storybook Island

There is a little slice of kids paradise hiding in Rapid City. It is the most enchanting, with a little side of nostalgia, playground you can find. It is Storybook Island.

There are different areas set up around the 8.5 acre park. You’ll see some familiar characters from Princesses to Pooh. There are slides, swings and climbing areas but a lot of the sections are designed for children to engage in imaginative play. My kids absolutely loved it.

There is also a train and merry-go-round that are an additional fee but since this whole place is FREE it is worth it. 

Did you read that? FREE! This amazing place is FREE.

The kids loved this place so much that we went here twice.

Storybook Island is an actual dream and we recommend it to all of our friends who are traveling with kids through Rapid City in the summer. If you are in the area you have to stop by!

Mt Rushmore

Mt Rushmore is one of those iconic stops. It is not the biggest or prettiest and it is not without its own controversy. However, it is just one of those road trip stops that has to be done. If you are in South Dakota, you need to go visit the Presidents and let me get you through the Mt Rushmore Checklist.

Step 1: Picture with the State Flag

Every state flag is displayed on the walkway up toward the viewing point. Find your flag and snap that picture. Come on! Everyone’s doing it.

Step 2: Picture with the Presidents

Self explanatory.

Step 3: Go to the Visitor Center/Museum

Ok this one is trickier than it sounds. When you first walk into the Memorial, you will find an information center located on the right. There are park rangers there and you can pick up the Jr Ranger booklet and brochures here. This space is small and is just a quick info stop. It is not the main visitor center and a lot of people are confused by this. To reach the actual Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the attached museum, you need to walk all the way down to the amphitheater. You then take the stairs (or elevator) down into the amphitheater area and the entrance to the visitor center is located there. Apparently, a lot of visitors miss the museum because it is not in an obvious location. We found the museum very interesting and there were some hands on activities for the kids. There is a Park Ranger desk as well and the kiddos were able to get their junior ranger badges at this location.

Step 4: Go for a hike 

There are a couple of trails available at the Memorial. The Presidential Trail is probably the most popular and it does a loop that goes closer to the mountain with view points. Warning: these trails can get very crowded but worth it for some better views.

Step 5: Get an ice cream

Ok but this isn’t just any ice cream. All of the little cafes and kiosks offer a vanilla ice cream that is made from a recipe that was recorded by Thomas Jefferson. I guess you could say the first American version of ice cream. The kids loved it and its a nice treat to finish your trip to Mt Rushmore. 

Other Info:

Just a reminder: Mt Rushmore doesn’t have an admission fee but the parking is NOT free. You have to pay for your parking ticket at one of the many kiosks located around the Memorial before heading back to your car.

Seeing the whole Memorial doesn’t take that long. We started our morning here and still had time to visit another stop (see below) before lunch. Add more time if you are going to stay and watch the film or other program that may be available. 

Mt Rushmore is famous world wide but unlike the bigger parks, there just isn’t a lot of space to spread out. So this place gets crazy busy. Just be aware as that can be daunting at times.

Cosmos Mystery Area

On our way to Rapid City from Mt Rushmore, we came across the Cosmos Mystery Area. This is a super fun roadside attraction. Our kids were absolutely amazed by this place and it made the detour worth it for us. I don’t want to give away too many secrets so here are just some pictures to convince you that this place is worth a Google. 

Happy Travels!

Badlands

As you are cruising down I-90 in South Dakota, you start to notice a slow change in the scenery in the distance. Then suddenly rising from the wind swept prairies and cow pastures, you are greeted by the stunning formations of Badlands National Park

The Badlands are just absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting all of this:

The park is very large and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main visitor center for the whole park. Depending on how you enter the park, the visitor center may not be close. The parking lot is also very small compared to the size of the park so just a heads up there. 

There are lots of great view points and kid friendly trails. We enjoyed the Window Trail, Door Trail and the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead.

The most popular hike in the park is the Notch Trailhead. This trail leads you to a log ladder that you can climb up to an awesome view. Unfortunately, it had rained the night before our visit and this trail was too muddy for our liking during our visit but you should try it for yours. 

We were able to see several kinds of animals throughout the park. The prairie dogs were plentiful and we even saw some roaming bison. The bison are mainly near the Pinnacles Entrance as there is more open prairie at this end of the park. 

Another great thing about Badlands is that there is another National Historic site close by. Located on Interstate 90 is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

This is an absolutely fascinating stop where you can learn about the Cold War and the nuclear arsenal stored nearby. You stop by the visitor center to watch the movie, see the displays and gather the Jr Ranger book. Then you can stop at other locations along I90 and see the now decommissioned missile sites and bunkers. Don’t skip over this stop. 

Another great stop on I90 is Wall Drug Store. You can’t miss it because there are a million signs along the interstate pointing you that way. This is a large complex filled with a drug store, restaurant, shops, kids play area and even a splash pad. There are Tesla charging stations also available. It is an iconic stop and its just plain fun. 

Just as you are leaving Wall Drug, you will pass right by the National Grasslands Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is currently being renovated but you can still pick up a super fun Jr Ranger booklet and earn another badge. The booklet is focused on the black footed ferret and my kids really enjoyed this one. 

The Badlands were stunning and, despite the location appearing the be in the middle of nowhere, there is actually a lot to be done in this area of South Dakota.

Happy Travels!