South Dakota’s Reptile Gardens: A reptile zoo in the Black Hills

South Dakota’s Reptile Gardens: A reptile zoo in the Black Hills

RAPID CITY, S.D.  — Like just about every other kid in South Dakota, I went to Rapid City’s Reptile Gardens with my family on a vacation to the Black Hills.

I hadn’t been back until recently, when my brother and I went there with his 6-year-old daughter and my 4-year-old daughter.

It was a great time, and I highly recommend it to any family who is looking for something to do while vacationing in the Black Hills. Reptile Gardens is like a small zoo for reptiles, with mostly outdoor facilities but with a couple of nice, air-conditioned buildings. There are also snake and alligator/crocodile shows throughout the day, which adds an entertaining ingredient to Reptile Gardens that many zoos lack.

Reptile Gardens tortoise and girl

My daughter gets to know one of Reptile Gardens’ two, 500-pound, decades-old tortoises. (Photo by Seth Tupper)

The entrance fee was $15 for me, and my 4-year-old daughter got in free. There was a snake show scheduled to begin in one of the facility’s two mini, outdoor amphitheaters immediately when we walked in, but the seats were already full.

So, instead of taking in the snake show, we meandered over to the tortoise area, where two 500-pound, decades-old tortoises just sort of hang out. Visitors can walk right into the tortoises’ area and touch them as a Reptile Gardens employee looks on. We got some great pictures of our daughters next to the massive, docile animals.

Next, we walked around the facility, looking at all manner of snakes and lizards under the big indoor dome (a nice break from the heat of the otherwise outdoor exhibits). Another neat feature was the prairie dog area, under which there was a basement for kids. From the basement, they could stick their heads up into a plastic bubble in the middle of the prairie dog area, right next to the animals.

Finally, we hustled over to the gator/crocodile amphitheater, where a show was about to begin. We got great seats and saw a Reptile Gardens employee wrestle gators and crocs, though us dads were way more interested than our daughters. Before the show was over, they wanted to get out of the amphitheater and get something to drink. We obliged, utilizing the concession stand right next to the amphitheater.

On our way out, I spent about $30 to buy a stuffed toy chameleon for my daughter and a stuffed toy alligator for my son at home.

After a couple of hours, we left satisfied and tired. Reptile Gardens is just the right mix between oddball tourist trap and zoo — unique enough to get tourists’ attention, and nice enough and big enough to merit a stay of an hour or more.

Below is a short video of a Reptile Gardens alligator/crocodile wrestler in action.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

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