Depending on who you are, visiting a place called Reptile Gardens might sound like a dream come true or your worst nightmare. We have visited this fun destination twice, seven years apart. My lizard-loving son was four-years-old the first time, and eleven the second time. Reptile Gardens was a winner both times.
Reptile Gardens is a reptile zoo just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, and it's a fun destination for families. It boasts hundreds of species of reptiles – more than any other zoo in the world. You'll also find exotic birds, a bald eagle, bugs and a small prairie dog town. Plan for a lot of fun photo ops along the way.
Younger kids will probably like Reptile Gardens more than teens, though anyone with an interest in reptiles will likely find this place fascinating. We had a full van of cousins (ages 9-14) and Grandma with us on our second visit, and that made it extra fun.
Reptile Gardens won't fill an entire day. I thought this small zoo was perfectly sized for our busy Black Hills vacations.
Here are our favorite things to do at Reptile Gardens.
The three animal shows were the best part of our day. There is an alligator show, a snake show and a bird show, and they were scheduled one after the other in rotation. Arrive around 15 minutes early for the shows to get the best seats.
The alligator show was the most exciting, followed by the snake show. I liked the bird show, but it's hard to top alligator wrestling and a rattlesnake loose on stage (behind glass.) The shows are educational, with plenty of “Wow!” You can ask questions and pet a snake or baby alligator afterward.
One our favorite exhibits at the Reptile Gardens was the tortoise yard. There are currently two giant tortoises that roam the yard freely. They don't mind being touched and hugged by gentle visitors. Employees are on hand to help you get a good family photo.
Our kids also liked the prairie dog town where they got a close-up look at the cute little critters through a plexi-glass dome. Other parts of the park feature a bald eagle and a koi pond.
While most of the attractions are outdoors, many of the Reptile Gardens' most interesting exhibits are inside the SkyDome. You will find a gigantic saltwater crocodile, a komodo dragon, and some of the world's most venomous snakes like the king cobra and black mamba. This is where Reptile Gardens blends the sensational with the educational especially well.
In the middle of the dome is a gorgeous orchid-filled garden where small lizards, turtles, snakes, macaws and other exotic birds roam freely. My son was especially excited to spot an elusive basilisk lizard here on our first visit.
Reptile Gardens has a couple of playgrounds, and other areas where families can find some silly photo ops.
The gift shop is big, and nicely done. It's filled with souvenir shirts and all the usual items, plus lots of reptile-themed toys. There is also a section with some higher-end Black Hills souvenirs.
Ask for a Vacation Pass
Reptile Gardens will allow you to return as many times as you like for no additional charge during your Black Hills vacation. Ask for a free Vacation Pass when you pay admission.
On our most recent trip, one three-hour visit was enough, but we did use the Vacation Pass on our first trip to the Black Hills. We visited once in the morning, and then had time to pop in again one afternoon on our way back to Rapid City. It was a nice option with young children.
Reptile Gardens was a fun stop for my family and I recommend it for families who love zoos and educational fun. Happy travels!
Good to Know
Where: 8955 S. Highway 16 – six miles south of Rapid City on the road to Mount Rushmore.
When: Open every day March – November. Hours change seasonally. Check the website for details.
How Much: Prices change seasonally. During the peak summer season:
- Adults $18
- Seniors $16
- Children (5-12) $12
- Children (0-4) FREE
How Long: 2-4 hours. The Vacation Pass allows you the flexibility to divide your time between two or more visits.
Amenities: gift shop, cafe