Reptile Gardens has been around for over eighty years just south of Rapid City, South Dakota. We spent a half day looking at the animals at Reptile Gardens and watching the shows, which included a bird show, a snake show, and an alligator wrestling show. This activity pairs very well with Bear Country, which is just a few miles down the road.
Reptile Gardens is a bit like a small zoo. We started with the tortoise exhibit. There is a small area with dozens of red-eared sliders and a kookaburra. Then there is a larger area with several ancient tortoises. The oldest was 111 years old when we visited, and the others were in their 50s. Best of all, we could walk right up and gently pat the huge tortoises, and the boys really loved that. Next we visited prairie dog village. This is a large enclosure with around 20 prairie dogs. We laughed as they dug, flipping dirty up behind them to the height of three or four feet. There is even a pop-up window so you can go inside and feel like you are a prairie dog.
The highlight of reptile gardens is a large dome with hundreds of reptiles in it. There is a mezzanine level with dozens of windows holding snakes, lizards, amphibians, and insects (but mostly snakes). The lower level is much better. It is an open atrium that you walk through filled with all kinds of tropical plants. Our boys had a great time spotting lizards and birds. There were all kinds of different animals, and they were running free. There was even a large snake, though it had a staff member keeping a close eye on it.
The things we liked best about the Reptile Gardens were the shows. There was a small bird show, which was fine, but not what we’d classify as “must see.” The alligator show was much better. This show is around 40 minutes, and the gator wrestler taught us all about alligators, caimans, and crocodiles. He pointed out the differences and gave a lot of information about each one. Then he demonstrated the correct way to wrestle an alligator. Of course, he was funny and engaging, which the boys liked. Finally, he feed the crocodilians chunks of chicken and talked about their diet. This show may not have been as exciting as the show at Gatorland in Orlando, but it was much more informative.
The final show was a snake show, and it was really good, too. The trainer took out several snakes and taught us about them. He even brought out several venomous snakes including a cottonmouth, which didn’t really want to cooperate with him. He had a king cobra in a glass case that actually struck at the glass, leaving a streak of venom. His last snake was a prairie rattlesnake (not as big as the one we saw in the Badlands but still big!) It was so angry and coiled and rattled for the whole time it was out. He left it on the stage at the end of the show and you could go up and take a picture with it in the background, which was really cool. Oh, and it was behind a plexiglass wall, so we weren’t too worried about it.
Reptile Gardens is a fun, educational experience that kids of all sizes will love. Make sure to add it to your List of things to do in South Dakota!