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Should You Visit The Reptile Gardens In Rapid City South Dakota?

outside of reptile gardens

If you are driving down the highway on your way to Mount Rushmore and you see the giant dome, crowded parking lot, and huge sign for the Reptile Gardens you may wonder, should I pull off the highway and stop? Reptile Gardens, yay or nay? 

Reptile Gardens has the largest collection of reptile species in the world and is a favorite for tourists visiting Rapid City, South Dakota. Guests can view giant tortoises, lizards, crocodilians, birds, prairie dogs, as well as amphibians and bugs. There is also a large garden and shows where visitors can learn about the animals. It usually takes 2-4 hours to experience this park and costs ~$22 per adult.

cobra

I visited the Black Hills three solid times before I even stepped foot into the Reptile Gardens.  This was about 6 weeks before moving to the area and we were touring homes and had a break in the day.  We thought we would spend a couple of hours and check it off our list of activities, but we were pleasantly surprised when we realized that this was somewhere to spend more than a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much time, so we did a quick tour and returned later to see what we missed.

I will give you a little breakdown of all the fun activities you can do, as well as when the best time to visit is, and believe me there IS a best time.  Let’s get started!

Arrival

When you first arrive at Reptile Gardens, you will be given a map that also includes showtimes.  Get acquainted with it, but don’t worry, the facility isn’t too big and you can make it from one side to the other in a couple of minutes if need be.  Figure out which shows you are interested in watching before beginning your tour.

We generally start on our right and do a counterclockwise park tour.  This will be how I explain the layout, but feel free to chart your own path.

snake above my husbands head in sky dome

Take your time walking the grounds and pay attention to all of the flowers and foliage that Reptile Gardens has to offer.  The botanical gardens are intentionally placed to give you the best experience possible in this cute little oasis in the Black Hills. Over 40,000 flowering plants are planted every spring for you to enjoy!

Tortuga Falls

The next stop will be Tortuga Falls. This is the newest addition to the gardens.  Relax and take your time feeding the turtles and koi in this serene pond.  Make sure to bring some quarters to buy pellets from the machine.  Keep an eye out for Darwin the Australian Kookaburra if you visit in the summer.

Don’t forget to stop by and see Cheyenne the Bald Eagle.  I’d never seen a Bald Eagle up close and she’s magnificent.  I felt saddened that she is kept captive, but due to a wing injury, she is a flightless eagle and will live out her life in the gardens well taken care of.

Spend some time with the giant tortoises.  You will be amazed at how big they are! They have workers scattered throughout to answer all of your questions and give some fun facts about the animals. One of them told me that tortoises can live over 100 years! I had no idea!

Tortuga Falls sign in early spring. You need to see this in the summer.
three large tortoises

Prairie Dog Town

Check out the prairie dog town and see these guys up close and personal when you crawl through the dome and poke your head up inside their homes. You can also stand above and watch them chirp and call to one another.  If you’ve been in the hills long this probably won’t be your first encounter with the prairie dogs, but it could be your closest.

Spring Creek Gulch

Something fun for the kids is Spring Creek Gulch. This is a cute kid-size town full of family-friendly activities and places to take fun pictures!  Set up like an old west town, it even has a mini Mount Rushmore display to snap a few pics of.  Kids can go gemstone and arrowhead sluicing or experience the black light 3D safari.  Or do it all!

taking a selfie in front of mini rushmore

Also for families is Methuselah’s Playground with many obstacles to climb on including a giant Galapagos tortoise replica!

Animal Sightings

Animal sightings will pop up as you walk around.  For instance, we passed a staff member with a giant bald eagle and stopped for pictures, and asked a few questions.  You can come within feet of many live birds that are tethered with staff at the avian adventure.  My favorites are the owls!

bald eagle at RG

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Shows

If time allows, definitely try to catch a show-or all three.  They have a snake, gator, and bird show.  I’ve only seen the gator show to date and I really enjoyed it.  Next time I plan to see the other two. 

Sky Dome

Lastly, we hit the sky dome.  This is the best part of the gardens and you will spend the most amount of time here.  Take your time viewing each and every creepy, crawly exhibit.  You will see a plethora of insects and reptiles and even encounter Maniac, the giant croc.

Inside the dome is a spectacular safari room that is filled with botanical plants and friendly frogs, lizards, snakes, and birds.  Watch your step and take your time.  Let your eyes wander the jungle searching for the crawlers among the leaves and stems of the plants. Some of the creatures blend in.  

Upstairs in the dome houses hundreds of venomous and non-venomous snakes.  This part gives me the chills, but I also find it fascinating at the same time.

Green Parrot Cafe

After you’ve seen it all (or before) grab a bite at the Green Parrot Cafe.  I was so pleasantly surprised at how affordable and delicious the treats were.  The funnel cake was one of the best I’ve had and the burger and ice cream were delicious too!

Gift Shop

Don’t forget to grab a souvenir on the way out at the gift shops.  There is a wide range of things to buy from postcards to guinea tribal artifacts.  There has to be something for everyone there even if it’s just a fun bottle of silly-flavored soda!

This wraps up my experience at the Reptile Gardens, but I wanted to mention a couple of last things.

gift shop inide

Timing!

Reptile Gardens is best in the summer!  I went in spring and it was a bust.  Almost everything was closed.  Everything except the dome and the shops.  We couldn’t even grab a treat at the snack bar! Don’t let the lower spring prices fool you. It’s cheap because it’s nearly closed! Not only that, the gardens are dirt and the plants are sticks.  Go in the summer!

Here is their schedule:

SpringSummerFallWinter
March 4-May 25 May 26-Sept 4Sept 5-Oct 31Nov 1-Nov 30
9 am-4 pm8 am-6 pm9 am-4 pm9 am-3 pm

Season Passes

If you do happen to go, grab a photo in front of the turtle sign with your party and that will count as a season pass for future visits.  If you are in the area for a while, you can come again or if you plan to visit before the calendar year is up then you are covered.  For us locals who accidentally went in spring, this is a lifesaver!  I will be back soon for my funnel cake and to watch the shows I missed!

Similar Things to Do Nearby

  • Bear Country USA is a wildlife drive-thru safari. Attached are a mini zoo and a wonderful gift shop/store. Pay per person in each car. Prices are a little on the higher side as far as attractions go.
  • Old MacDonalds Farm is an adorable farm animal petting zoo. Interact with many animals and feed the babies too!

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes! Mount Rushmore is just one of the many amazing things to do in the Black Hills. Other great things to do include: riding the 1880 train, visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial, hiking the beautiful Black Elk Peak, and much more! The Black Hills can be confusing because it is a HUGE area.

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to all the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2 hours of stories about the park!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO THE BLACK HILLS

BLACK HILLS TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about the Grand Canyon, check out our Black Hills Homepage

AREAS: The Black Hills is home to some amazing national parks and monuments: Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave National Parks, Badlands, and Crazy Horse.  Plus, the amazing Custer State Park

THINGS TO DO: There is much more to do than hike and look at Mt. Rushmore.  Explore the 1880 train, Reptile Gardens, slip down a natural waterslide, or go on a scenic drive

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Explore some amazing mountain towns including Deadwood, Keystone, Hill City, and Rapid City.

GET QUIRKY: Want something REALLY different? Check out Devil’s Tower and Wall Drug

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat in and around Mt. Rushmore plus where to eat in each city

WATCH: Enjoy videos of the amazing Black Hills while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Black Hills YouTube Playlist

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