When I was growing up, we drove from our home in Washington State to my grandparents’ farm in Illinois every few years. Along the way, we would try to spend a bit of extra time at the attractions along the highway. This meant that we spent a lot of time in South Dakota, specifically the Rapid City area.
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You begin your adventure at a beautiful, glass dome, where you enter the rainforest dome and meet lots of small reptiles and birds. In the Safari Room, we saw a snake on a tree, a few turtles, a macaw, and many tropical plants and orchids. Friendly staff are nearby to answer any questions and point out animals that you may have missed.
On the bottom edges surrounding the Safari Room are large exhibits for crocodiles from around the world. It was neat to see them one after the other and to be able to compare sizes and mouth styles. While in that area, we also met Mania, a giant saltwater crocodile, who is over 1600 lbs!
On the top section of the glass dome there is probably one hundred terrariums with venomous snakes from all over the world. It’s cool and terrifying at the same time. Tadpole (age 4) loved the small section of bugs (mostly cockroaches) and the display of reptile skin products. Skimmer (age 5) is obsessed with bones right now, so he enjoyed the large selection of skeletons, including the giant sea turtle. There’s room for expansion, so I’m sure we’ll be back in a few years to see what’s been added.
There are three live shows at Reptile Gardens, which each happen several times a day. In our few short hours at the park, we saw a snake show and a crocodilian show. Tadpole was very blase about the crocodile show and spent most of it trying to catch flies against the glass. He only started engaging when the trainer began to wrestle the gators and putting his hands in their mouths. After the show, the kids got to pet a baby alligator, which was Dragonfly’s (age 7) favorite part.
All three of my kids (and husband) enjoyed petting the giant Aldabra Tortoises. It’s rare to get so close to such a large, gentle reptile. The tortoises didn’t seem to mind the attention and petting. Tadpole went directly to them and began rubbing one of their heads, right between their eyes. He could have stayed their for hours.
We had a full day of travel on the day we went to the park, so we didn’t get to see all the exhibits. There was a bird show that I’ve heard good things about, as well as a garden and a few more animals. There’s even a playground for kids to relax and several photo-booth places. Our entire family is hoping to go back to Reptile Gardens on another trip through South Dakota.
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Missy P is a blogger at Party Through the USA, where she writes about themed road trips, traveling with kids, and DIY activities in recycled Altoid tins. She and her husband have three children, Dragonfly (7), Skimmer (5), and Tadpole (4). Missy also blogs at In Our Pond, where she offers many homeschool ideas and over 200 free printables.
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