10 Reasons to Visit Reptile Gardens South Dakota (Even if Snakes Scare You)

This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

I’m not a fan of snakes, so when my sister suggested we visit Reptile Gardens South Dakota during our trip to the Black Hills, I balked. Nope. No thanks. Not interested.

Snakes are one of my biggest apprehensions about moving to Australia as well.

I started following a few Australian snake catching pages to ease my fears through exposure therapy, but it actually made them way worse because now I know that Carpet Pythons are really good climbers and you’re not even safe from snakes in the comfort of your own bed!

Luckily that’s not the case at Reptile Gardens South Dakota. It’s completely safe, controlled, and actually lots of fun.

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

10 Reasons to Visit Reptile Gardens South Dakota

We almost didn’t visit, even though my sister really wanted to! We had seen the signs along the highway throughout our trip to the Black Hills, but wrote it off as a kitschy tourist attraction.

But then our flight home was delayed by a few hours and we needed something to do  — something that turned out to be one of the most fun things we did in South Dakota.

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Reptile Gardens is Affordable

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

The admission price for adults ranges from $10 to $18 depending on the season, with discounts offered for kids, seniors, and military personnel. Considering all this allows you to access, it’s a great value for your money.

You can easily spend at least two to three hours exploring all the exhibits and interacting with the animals. We would have stayed longer if we didn’t have a flight to catch.

Reptile Gardens is Invested in Conservation

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

Founder Earl Brockelsby understood the importance of ensuring that all life can thrive for generations to come. Because of this, the team at Reptile Gardens works closely with many international zoos and organizations to champion the causes of conservation, biodiversity, and environmental education.

You can read more about the programs by clicking here.

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Nicolas Cage Visited

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

This is honestly a good reason to visit any establishment, as Nicholas Cage is the most underrated (and greatest!) actor of our generation. No, I’m not kidding. Have y’all seen Vampire’s Kiss? It’s a masterpiece – true art.

While Cage and the crew were in the Black Hills area filming National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, he decided to stop by the iconic Reptile Gardens to get to know some new cold-blooded pals.

It was an honor walking where he walked tbh.

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It has Prairie Dogs

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

If you don’t get enough of the prairie dogs during your visit to Badlands National Park, you’re in luck! The chubby little dudes were out and about and very chatty on the day we went. There’s even a tunnel, so if you’d like to live your truth and join the dogs for a bit, you can make that your reality.

If you don’t like snakes too much, seeing some cheerful mammals flitting about for a bit is a nice respite.

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There’s a (Karma) Chameleon

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

Reptile Gardens might be known for its extensive and exciting menagerie of snakes, but there are also a number of other interesting animals to learn about, including Chameleons and many other types of colorful lizards, frogs, turtles, and birds.

Playing “I Spy” aka “I can’t immediately see where in the tank this thing is I really hope it didn’t escape” with all these creatures was a good way to pass the time.

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A Bond Girl Crocodile is in Residence

By visiting Reptile Gardens South Dakota, you’ll be in the presence of a real movie star! The American Crocodile living on site appeared in the 1973 smash hit Live and Let Die.

I was definitely star stuck and it made me want to watch the movie again.

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You Can Face your Fears

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

The “snake show” that I went to was definitely the highlight of the visit. After winding our way through all the exhibits and learning about each’s habitat and personality, it was time to go and meet a few of them up close.

In the olden days, founder Earl Brockelsby would lead tours at a local Rapid City attraction, only to end the tour by lifting up his hat to show a real life Rattlesnake curled up on top of his head!

I can’t imagine being brave enough to do that, but the woman who gave our talk might be.

She seemed so calm and relaxed around the snakes. There was a constrictor wrapped firmly around her waist, but she might as well have been holding a puppy.

Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City

I don’t think her interest and affinity for snakes rubbed off on me at all, but I definitely respected her for it.

The talk was mostly families, with a few older couples and 20-somethings like me and my sister mixed in. I love being in groups with kids because they always seem to ask the questions that we all want to know, but aren’t brave enough to speak up about.

“Have you ever been bitten?” one asked.

“Yes,” the handler explained. “Have you even been bitten by a dog, or a cat, or a hamster?”

I had to think about that for a second. Yes, I had. Does that mean that I’m scared of them? No. So then why was I so scared of snakes?

I left Reptile Gardens South Dakota with a new appreciation of the legless beauties…although I will still definitely be keeping my distance.

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Reptile Gardens South Dakota Things to do in Rapid City



  1. Kerry
    March 5, 2018 / 6:42 PM

    I like the photo for the “you can face your fears” section because of my face being reflected in the glass… like i’m my own fear.

    • March 5, 2018 / 7:10 PM

      omg. I didn’t even notice that. I almost fell off my bed laughing.

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