Visiting Mammoth Site With Kids

Disclosure: The Hot Springs tourism office provided complimentary admission to Mammoth Site of Hot Springs for me and my family. All opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own.

I’ve never had more than a passing interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. But ever since I read about Hudson-Meng Bison Kill site in Nebraska, my interest was piqued on major archeological digs in the Midwest. What would it be like to see a massive dig site in person?

The question leads to why I wanted to include a stop at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs during our South Dakota road trip. The answer: You’ll be impressed by the experience.

The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.
The number of bones uncovered at Mammoth Site is impressive.

More than 60 Columbian and woolly mammoths have been identified there, as well as a number surprising (to me) fossils of camels, llamas and giant short-faced bears, to name just a couple here.

What to expect

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief: It’s in a climate-controlled building (AKA air-conditioned).

A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.
A partial view of the excavation area at Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

You’ll want to take a tour, which includes a short film in the beginning and a guided walk around the “in-situ” exhibit (fancy talk for bones being on display as they were discovered).

You get headphones to wear so you can hear your guide. My 3-year-old hated them with a passion.

Photography is allowed, but you’re encouraged to wait until after the tour so that you don’t miss whatever the guide is showing next. It’s so tempting, though, to want to snap photos in the moment.

Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.
Tools used at Mammoth Site to uncover bones.

After the tour, you’re free to roam, then proceed to the next door. It’s full of interesting replicas, including a mammoth model and a walk-in mammoth bone hut. There’s a gift shop full of books, stuffed animals and apparel.

A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.
A replica of a hut made out of mammoth bones in Muller Exhibit Hall.

Tips

We lucked out and saw Mammoth Site Excavation Committee members at work during our visit. However, the people who timed their visit about 30 minutes after us missed them during their lunch break. Time your visit around the noon hour.

It's pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.
It’s pretty fascinating to watch the work being done at Mammoth Site.

There picnic tables for lunch time, if you packed accordingly. The tables aren’t far from an outdoor work site.

Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils.
Near the picnic tables is a work space for the volunteers to sift through dirt to find tiny fossils. You might luck out and catch someone at work.

Near Mammoth Site is the restaurant Woolly’s Western Grill. It’s a kid-friendly place to get a bite to eat.

Bringing little ones here

How did these two do at an active dig site?
How did these two do at an active dig site?

My kids are 3 and 5, so not exactly at the grade levels that have been studying any of this in school. That said, they’ve at least read “Magic Treehouse” books and know a thing or two about woolly Mammoths and other prehistoric creatures, so they’ve got that going.

There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.
There are items on display at Mammoth Site that encourage visitors to touch, which appeals to kids.

My 3-year-old daughter, Mooch, lost interest early on in the tour; our 5-year-old fared better. The tour guide provides a lot of facts, but there’s very little hands-on things to keep the truly young interested.

I think one of the best options for families with little kids is to register them in one of the kids activities offered there – in the summer, there are two types of  junior paleontologist classes, which sound like the perfect hands-on learning my kids would like; unfortunately, it didn’t fit with our travel schedule. There’s also an Atlatl Throwing Experience that sounded intriguing.

Mammoth Site is one of those must-see road trip stops in South Dakota. Get details on taking kids to this active dig site in Hot Springs, South Dakota, USA.

If you go

Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

Where: 1800 US 18 Bypass, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Hours: Open year-round, hours vary depending on the time of year. Details

Cost: Adults (13+), $10.14; seniors (60+), $8.29; kids (4-12), $7.37; kids 3 and younger, FREE. Summer classes are $10-$20.

Website

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Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:

Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

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Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure With Kids

My family’s destination: The Black Hills.

But we’re not ones to take a direct route; we have to stop and enjoy the scenery. There were adventures in Nebraska and South Dakota to be had in the form of canoeing, jeep riding, cave exploring, mountain hiking, lunar landscape wandering, and brushes with gigantic tortoises and begging burros.

Disclosure: Some of the featured destinations provided complimentary admission or services in order for me to review them. Individual posts will make note of it.

Adventure Road Trip 2015

It was a lot of fun for our two young kids, ages 3 and 5 (and a good deal tiring). Here are the details of our eight-day road trip through Nebraska and South Dakota.

Day 1 – Sioux City, Iowa, Valentine, Nebraska

Our first destination was Valentine. We drove a route through Sioux City, Iowa, allowing us to stop for lunch at Milwaukee Weiner House and Palmer’s Candy Shoppe for treats. The candy shop was definitely worth the stop.

The route via Sioux City isn’t the fastest Omaha-to-Valentine route, but it’s more scenic. I love the Sandhills.

The view from my window while we drove just outside Valentine, Neb. That's the Niobrara River.
The view from my window while we drove just outside Valentine, Neb.

Your lodging options there are mostly motels, budget hotels, a few lodges and cabins closer to the Niobrara River, and camping at outfitters along the river.

Day 2 – Valentine and Niobrara River, Nebraska

We canoed the Niobrara River with friends and family the next day. This involved an early morning wake up, breakfast at The Bunk House, and a caravan out to Rocky Ford Outfitters. Note that with Rocky Ford, you’ll likely be on a bus full of strangers when they drive you to the launch site. It’s like riding a bus to camp.

Our bus dropped us off by the river, so we can canoe back to our cars.
Our bus dropped us off by the river, so we can canoe back to our cars.

We opted for the shorter route starting at Brewer Bridge; it includes a pit stop at Smith Falls, the state’s tallest waterfall.

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.
A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

In all, it was about five hours.

Canoeing the Niobrara is pretty fun for kids (and adults…), and you’ll get a glimpse of Nebraska wildlife – we saw a bald eagle. It was a long day for our 3-year-old, though. She doesn’t like to be told to sit down so frequently.

Mooch out in the river with her cousin.
Mooch out in the river with her cousin.

That night, we had dinner with our large group at The Pepper Mill, and my little family got some ice cream at Frosty Drive-In afterwards.

Day 3 – Wall and Rapid City, South Dakota

While the rest of our canoe caravan drove home, we drove north toward the Bad Lands.

A glimpse of the countryside on the drive up from Nebraska to Wall, South Dakota.
A glimpse of the countryside on the drive up from Nebraska to Wall, South Dakota.

Our destination was Rapid City, but first we had to stop at Wall Drug.

You can’t miss it. There will be about 2,567 signs pointing it out to you.

Who hasn't taken a picture on this thing? I should dig up my picture from eighth grade.
Who hasn’t taken a picture on this thing? I should dig up my picture from eighth grade.

It’s fun for kids, and a nostalgic visit for me.

Road Trip - Wall Drug3
Kinda wished I’d gotten Mr. Wonderful the Mt. Rushmore with a wolf shirt.

I heard about their famous cake donuts, so we did a taste test of three. Go with the maple donut if you have to pick just one.

And the winner of the tastiest donut in Wall, South Dakota, goes to...the maple donut.
And the winner of the tastiest donut in Wall, South Dakota, goes to…the maple donut.

We arrived in Rapid City at lunchtime and made way to the Firehouse Brewing Company. The relaxed atmosphere was a welcome relief from a car ride with antsy kids.

The entrance to Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. If it's not scorching hot, sit outside.
The entrance to Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City. If it’s not scorching hot, sit outside.

I’ll post a full review soon of the restaurant, but briefly, you’ll want to try one of their house-brewed beers – I was particularly fond of the Honey Badger. They’re known for their burgers, but I bucked that trend and tried the gumbo that’s got a Food Network star’s approval.

The restaurant is in the pretty downtown of Rapid City, which you’ll want to stroll.

While you stroll downtown Rapid City, be on the lookout for all the presidents in the form of statues. This was one of Farley's favorite scavenger hunts - finding the best statue to pose with while we walked back to our car.
While you stroll downtown Rapid City, be on the lookout for all the presidents in the form of statues. This was one of Farley’s favorite scavenger hunts – finding the best statue to pose with while we walked back to our car.

Not far from Firehouse Brewing Co. is Art Alley, eclectic shops and the plaza with a sprayground. The plan was to explore all this after lunch but naptime was clearly more pressing.

Once rested, we did a whirlwind visit of some very fun kid-friendly and FREE attractions. First stop was Storybook Island, a large playground of sorts featuring every possible storybook character your kid has ever loved.

Mr. Wonderful and the kids head off to uncharted waters on Captain Hook's boat.
Mr. Wonderful and the kids head off to uncharted waters on Captain Hook’s boat. With the number of times I post a picture with someone in my family doing a Zizzou point, readers could really start a drinking game.

In a word, it was a kid’s heaven.

Since admission was free you’ll feel less peeved about paying a few dollars for your kid to ride the little train or carousel.

For $2, a kid can ride the mini train around part of the park, including through a tunnel. Exciting stuff.
For $2, a kid can ride the mini train around part of the park, including through a tunnel. Exciting stuff.

Nearby this park is the well-known Dinosaur Park.

There’s a visitor’s center, but mainly, you’ll want to climb the stairs up to see the giant dinos.

You can spot this guy in Dinosaur Park from afar.
We spotted this DinoPark star from the road below.

There’s not much to it beyond the iconic large statues, but kids like it. Expect to spend at least two hours at Storybook Island and 30 minutes tops at Dinosaur Park.

After seeing the sprayground downtown, there was no way my kids would rest until we went back. So, we made a super quick stop there.

Good luck with that "super quick" idea, Mom. This kid's not leaving so easily.
Good luck with that “super quick” idea, Mom. This kid’s not leaving so easily.

It was timed during a free fun night event (Sunday night), so there were bounce houses, hot dogs, balloon animals and that evening, a movie. Wish we could’ve stuck around.

We had a nice dinner at Dakotah Steakhouse, which happened to be next door to our hotel, the Comfort Suites & Convention Center.

Comfort Suites in Rapid City and Dakotah Steakhouse are neighbors. It's a great thing for those staying at the hotel.
Comfort Suites in Rapid City and Dakotah Steakhouse are neighbors. It’s a great thing for those staying at the hotel.

In case you were curious on what you shouldn’t miss at Dakotah, our family loved the bison satay appetizer – loved it – and one side you should get with your dinner, no matter what, is the deliciously fried mac n cheese.

Dakotah Steakhouse
A late dinner at a steakhouse is a risky affair with young kids.

Day 4 – Rapid City, Custer, and Hot Springs, South Dakota

We woke up early and enjoyed the free hot breakfast at Comfort Suites– followed by a quick swim in their pool.

Car loaded for our next destination – Hot Springs – we, first, headed to Reptile Gardens for some morning fun.

After watching the Alligator Show, my son kept asking me if I knew how to wrestle an alligator. Fat chance, sonny boy.
After watching the Alligator Show, my son kept asking me if I knew how to wrestle an alligator. Fat chance, sonny boy.

Three hours there, we were able to see all three animal shows, walk through the pretty cool Sky Dome, and have a quick play at the playground.

Both kids’ favorite part, hands down, was meeting the three gigantic tortoises.

The tortoises roamed free in a fenced-in yard at Reptile Gardens. You could pet them and ask handlers questions.
The tortoises roamed free in a fenced-in yard at Reptile Gardens. You could pet them and ask handlers questions.

We grabbed lunch in Custer in a popular burger joint called Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. It’s well worth the wait. Just don’t arrive between lunch and dinner – they’re closed from 2 to 5 p.m., which some stragglers learned the hard way.

Best burger of the whole trip was had at Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. in Custer.
Best burger of the whole trip was had at Buffalo Burger and Bun Co. in Custer.

After lunch, we bellied up to Purple Pie Place, also in Custer, to try the recommended pie.

Mr. Wonderful ordered the tart strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode, and the kids behind him got ice cream at Purple Pie Place.
Mr. Wonderful ordered the tart strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode, and the kids behind him got ice cream at Purple Pie Place.

Sufficiently stuffed and seeing the approaching storm, we drove on to our destination for the night, Hot Springs.

To get there, we passed through the beautiful Wind Cave National Park. No animals were spotted on that evening drive – we had a lot more luck the next morning. I can’t imagine why.

Perhaps this storm had something to do with no animals being spotted that night. I dunno.
Perhaps this storm had something to do with no animals being spotted in Wind Cave National Park. I dunno.

Once the storm passed and the kids woke from their late naps, we had time to make it to the final tour of Wind Cave that day. We rushed out there to catch the 6 p.m. Natural Entrance Tour, which was recommended to me by the park ranger because it suited small kids best (least amount of standing and listening).

Our group listening to the park ranger during the tour.
Our group listening to the park ranger during the tour.

The whole family enjoyed it, even the 3-year-old who doesn’t “do” staying in line. There was a younger kid on our tour and he did not last long in the cave.

This was more of an awe-struck experience than I had expected.

If you plan to visit Wind Cave, you’ll want to bring a jacket – otherwise, you’ll be like me, forking over $25 for a long-sleeved shirt. It’s a cool shirt, at least.

We got tasty takeout from T/D Smokin BBQ in Hot Springs, and retired to our room for the night. We stayed at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.

I’ll write a review of the motel soon, but so you know, it’s a very short distance from the city’s two main attractions: Evans Plunge and Mammoth Site, and 10 minutes from Wind Cave, making it an ideal base if you want to visit those three sites.

Day 5 – Hot Springs, Custer State Park, Keystone, Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota

The Hills Inn had a free continental breakfast, so we opted to eat that poolside. Not a bad start to the day!

Dining poolside at a motel? Why not? The kids liked the food options at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.
Dining poolside at a motel? Why not? The kids liked the food options at The Hills Inn in Hot Springs.

Our morning was spent spotting tons of animals while we drove through Wind Cave National Park on our way to Custer State Park, where we saw even more. In Wind Cave National Park, we spotted buffalo, prairie dogs, and on our drive back to Hot Springs, a coyote.

How's that for an entrance to Custer State Park? Buffalo in the distance.
How’s that for an entrance to Custer State Park? Buffalo in the distance.

Custer State Park was our major destination that day. We drove two of the three scenic routes, both had their good points.

The Wildlife Loop is what it sounds like it would be, and it didn’t disappoint.

We saw several herds of buffalo, some pronghorn and prairie dogs.

And our kids’ favorite, the begging burros.

While still wild animals, the famous begging burros of Custer State Park sure managed to befriend every kid in the park.
While still wild animals, the famous begging burros of Custer State Park sure managed to befriend every kid in the park.

I know you’re not supposed to approach wildlife or feed them, but this seemed like a rule everyone on the road gleefully broke. These burros were bold and insisted you break those rules.

We had a quick picnic lunch by a dammed up lake in the middle of the park.

We grabbed a nearby picnic table for lunch here at Custer State Park.
We grabbed a nearby picnic table for lunch here at Custer State Park.

We continued our drive along the Iron Mountain road.

That was an intense, but beautiful drive. Narrow roads and even narrower tunnels!

The kids loved these tunnels. I was just glad I wasn't driving. This is a two-way road, by the way.
The kids loved these tunnels. I was just glad I wasn’t driving. This is a two-way road, by the way.

We found lots of scenic stops along the way to our next destination, Sylvan Lake.

You can't capture the beauty of Sylvan Lake in a photo - we tried.
You can’t capture the beauty of Sylvan Lake in a photo – we tried.

This was a place I’d been looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint.

Hiking around Sylvan Lake with the family was one of the trip's highlights for me.
Hiking around Sylvan Lake with the family was one of the trip’s highlights for me.

There’s a trail around the lake that’s fairly kid-friendly – not easy by any means, as there is some climbing, but little legs can handle it.

Up some steps around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.
Up some steps around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.

There were so many gorgeous views.

If you can fit it into your schedule, pack swimsuits to enjoy the little beach and possibly some of the water sports like kayaking or aquabike.

Next time we'll wear our swimsuits to Sylvan Lake.
Next time we’ll wear our swimsuits to Sylvan Lake.

The only frustrating thing about the stop was the lack of water fountains – you either had to pay for a water bottle or fill up in the bathroom sink.

Naptime meant we had some time to kill before we went to Mt. Rushmore. Mr. Wonderful and I took turns staying with the kids in the car while the other wandered around shops in Keystone.

Impatience won out after a while and we woke the kids up to see us drive up to Mt. Rushmore. The sight impressed them.

The Avenue of Flags that lead up to a great spot to view Mount Rushmore.
The Avenue of Flags that lead up to a great spot to view Mount Rushmore.

In a tone of deference: “Moun-TAIN Rushmore, Mooch. Mountain Rushmore.”

This stop was way more exciting for the kids than I anticipated (truth told, when I saw it as a teenager, I was more of a “Yup, that’s it. Let’s go.” Kind of kid). They sat through one of the documentaries, browsed the exhibit, and marveled at all the flags.

This kid was super excited about Mount Rushmore, or as he likes to call it more formally, Mountain Rushmore.
This kid was super excited about Mount Rushmore, or as he likes to call it more formally, Mountain Rushmore.

The highlight was ice cream, naturally. They’re kids, still. (By the way, it will be the most expensive ice cream you’ll buy on your trip)

On the drive back to Hot Springs, we caught a glimpse of Crazy Horse.

Dinner was back in Hot Springs at Woolly’s Western Grill (which is really close to Mammoth Site, by the way). It’s the typical American fare – I tried the walleye dinner, which hit the spot. They have their own microbrew and offer some South Dakota beers.

Nothing fancy, Wooly's Western Grill hit the spot after a long day outdoors. Try a South Dakota brew, like Crow Peak, or the house-brewed beer.
Nothing fancy, Woolly’s Western Grill hit the spot after a long day outdoors. Try a South Dakota brew, like Crow Peak, or the house-brewed beer.

Day 6 – Hot Springs, South Dakota, and Toadstool Park, Chadron State Park, Nebraska

We started the day with a small breakfast at The Hills Inn before a morning swim at Evans Plunge. It’s a hot springs pool in four sections (baby, kids, all ages and outdoor), plus a couple water slides, Tarzan rings, and some pool sports.

OK, I did not capture this photo. I didn't dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism
OK, I did not capture this photo inside Evans Springs. I didn’t dare bring my camera in with me to a pool. I know myself! Photo provided by South Dakota Tourism

The kids loved it.

A helpful lady pointed out that we could leave for lunch and naps and return later – so keep that in mind. Morning was a good time to visit – not crowded, but you did have to contend with swim lessons and the outdoor pool wasn’t open until 11 a.m.

After Evans Plunge, we walked across the street for a bigger breakfast (my birthday breakfast) at Dale’s Family Restaurant. It seemed like the place locals dined – I saw a lot of ladies from one of the swim workout classes there. The pancakes are huge.

Well fed, we went to Mammoth Site for a tour of the huge dig. We arrived at 11 a.m. just in time for a tour, which started with a short documentary. We lucked out and were able to watch some volunteers at work.

Members of the Mammoth Site Excavation Committee at work.
Members of the Mammoth Site Excavation Committee at work.

As impressive as it all was, it did not impress my 3-year-old – it’s a tough one for the younger ones to stay focused on. The rest of us liked the experience.

We drove south to Nebraska, with a stop for a short hike at Toadstool Geological Park and Campground within the Oglala Grasslands.

It’s a beautiful drive, but a long one on a dirt road.

I’ve been wanting to see this out-of-this-world terrain for quite a while, so the whole drive was worth it.

Nebraska's own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.
Nebraska’s own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.

You’ll have two options for a hike – with the young kids, we opted for a quarter-mile mostly flat route. It’s to the right of the entrance.

The easy path at Toadstool Geological Park in Western Nebraska.
The easy path at Toadstool Geological Park in Western Nebraska.

The more tempting one is directly in front of you as you enter, with the trail heading up the rock formations. I only hiked about 10 minutes on it and determined it way too hard for the Mooch and Farley to navigate.

Let's play "Spot the trail" in this picture at Toadstool.
Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

It’s way more beautiful and has the famed “toadstools,” but the crevices and uneven terrain is hard for unsteady climbers. We’ll be back someday, maybe on a cooler fall day, to hike with my kids.

Our destination for the night was Chadron State Park. Easily, the most beautiful state park I’ve been to in Nebraska, it’s also the oldest.

Mr. Wonderful took this picture on a hike at Chadron State Park.
Mr. Wonderful took this picture on a hike at Chadron State Park.

We had booked a cabin for two nights – it was small, for sure, but it had everything we wanted for the night: Air conditioning, two beds, and a place for a campfire.

It was the end of the day when we finally arrived, and we attempted to make it to the swimming pool before it closed at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, we were out of luck as the teens working wanted to close 40 minutes early. So back to our cabin for dinner and eventually bed time.

I drove the scenic road at the park, and while it’s a beauty of a drive, I’m glad I did it without the kids, they were not longer impressed by pretty landscape at this point in the trip.

Day 7 – Chadron, Fort Robinson, Nebraska

We had breakfast on our cabin picnic table before starting our day.

Picnic breakfast at Chadron State Park.
Picnic breakfast at Chadron State Park.

We forgot to buy coffee with our camping supplies, so we made a quick pit stop in Chadron at Bean Broker Coffee for some good coffee.

Onward to Fort Robinson, which is close to 40 miles from Chadron State Park. There is so much to do there, that it deserved more than a day, but that’s life.

We had small kids with us so trail rides were out, so the kids did a pony ride instead.

This guide at Fort Robinson was a hoot. He also drove the stagecoach.
This guide at Fort Robinson was a hoot. He also drove the stagecoach.

Mooch was dead set on doing a stagecoach ride, as well. It only cost $2 per kid and $3 for each adult, so we obliged.

The highlight of the day for all four of us was the jeep ride. It was a steal that the kids were FREE – they loved it so much!

Once we hit the bumpy dirt road, the kids were all smiles on the jeep ride at Fort Robinson.
Once we hit the bumpy dirt road, the kids were all smiles on the jeep ride at Fort Robinson.

We had a small picnic there and bought some ice cream at the end. Visit the blog soon for a more in-depth post about all there is to do at Fort Robinson.

Day 8 – Chadron State Park, Chadron

Our final day of the road trip. Before leaving Chadron State Park, we had a spin on the paddleboats at the small pond. I’m a paddleboat hater to begin with, so it wasn’t my idea.

The Chadron State Park lake where you can paddleboat.. if you're into that sort of thing.
The Chadron State Park lake where you can paddleboat.. if you’re into that sort of thing.

The kids loved it though.

Before leaving Chadron for good, we grabbed some coffee to-go from the Bean Broker again, and let the kids play on the playground at the city’s main park. The park is very pretty, and the playground beat the ones at Chadron State Park.

Road trip through Nebraska & South Dakota and see national monuments, tons of animals, and gorgeous parks! Here's a kid-friendly itinerary covering 8 days. #roadtrip #Nebraska #SouthDakota #Midwest #FamilyTravel

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Want to plan your own Nebraska and South Dakota road trip? Click the links below to get additional details about some of our stops.

Canoeing the Niobrara River with Kids

Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)

Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)

Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)

Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)

Exploring The Morean Arts Center With Kids

I cram a lot of activities into my trips. See Vacation Exhibit A. I’m working on slowing it down. A visit to an art gallery actually does the trick nicely when on vacation.

 

Morean Arts Cener title

Our visit to Morean Arts Center was a breath of fresh air when we were in the Tampa Bay area recently. It’s located in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.

If I could pick one word to describe it, I’d say it was calming. If we went with two words, it’d be calming and fun.

Kids can explore different art tables for free every Saturday at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg. This clay sushi was made by a little girl who was at the arts center at the same time was us.
Kids can explore different art tables for free every Saturday at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg. This clay sushi was made by a little girl who was at the arts center at the same time was us.

We timed our visit to take advantage of the FREE kid-friendly art experience held every Saturday. While Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater gave my family and friends free passes to explore all of their amazing venues – Morean Galleries, Glass Studio and Hot Shop, Morean Arts Center for Clay, and the Chihuly Collection – the kids would’ve been as pleased as punch if we stayed in the education studio the entire day.

Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.
Taking a break from go-go-go vacationing to paint some pictures with new friends. The Morean Arts Center is located in St. Petersburg.

For the Omaha crowd, it’s kind of a cross between our own Hot Shops and the arts center at the Omaha Children’s Museum. The free art experience is on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with a lunch break for the instructor tucked in there).

Everything in the kids studio at the Morean Arts Center was at their height and in their size.
Everything in the kids studio at the Morean Arts Center was at their height and in their size.

It’s best for ages 5-10, but the two 3-year-olds in our crowd had as much fun as their big brothers. There is an instructor on hand to help explain any o the art stations.

The kids check out a table with sculpting clay.
The kids check out a table with sculpting clay.

A visit to the Morean Arts Center Galleries is FREE, as is the Saturday art experience for kids. So, kids can pretty much make their own souvenirs from their trip to Florida. Unless you’re the kind of mommy who “accidentally” leaves their works of art at the hotel…

Anyway, the kids enjoyed the quiet time at various stations, and even the three of us adults in our group joined in.

Parents might as well join in the art making, right?
Parents might as well join in the art making, right?

We had to leave the studio for the instructor’s lunch time, so we made our way into the various galleries at Morean.

Mooch had the kids’ camera, making our meander a snail pace. The girl takes after her Grampy, taking pictures of pictures.

One of the galleries at Morean Arts Center features artwork by students, which appealed to our younger art critics.
One of the galleries at Morean Arts Center features artwork by students, which appealed to our younger art critics.

There are temporary exhibits at Morean, and during our visit, the kids found one they loved.

What’s not to love about artwork that sneaks in ninja turtles or Darth Vader?

The boys were particularly fascinated with one exhibit at Morean Arts Center. I think it might have had something to do with the recognizable figurines included.
The boys were particularly fascinated with one exhibit at Morean Arts Center. I think it might have had something to do with the recognizable figurines included.

There’s no guarantee you’ll find a similar exhibit like this one if you go, but the beauty of art is that there’s always a way to strike up a conversation about it with kids, even if it’s simply asking them to pick out their favorite and asking why.

My friend's son really liked the Morean Arts Center. I forsee hot-glued  action figures and found art in his future.
My friend’s son really liked the Morean Arts Center. I forsee hot-glued action figure found art in his future.

Our next stop was next door: The Morean Glass Studio and Hot Shop. This was a memorable stop!

We watched resident artist Paul create a serving bowl during a live demonstration.
We watched resident artist Pauli Nelson Maiville create a serving bowl during a live demonstration.

We arrived in time to watch a live glass blowing demonstration. If you’ve never seen one, these are pretty cool to watch.

I’m not sure who was more impressed with the process – me or the kids.

The kids eventually scooted up closer to the front of the bleachers to get a better view of the glass blowing.
The kids eventually scooted up closer to the front of the bleachers to get a better view of the glass blowing. Yeah, bubble wrap does trump glass blowing with preschoolers.

One person explained what was happening as we watched. The resident glass artist, Pauli Nelson Maiville, made it look so easy – but the end result was incredibly beautiful.

The glass blowing process was explained to the audience.
The glass blowing process was explained to the audience.

I wish we had gotten one of the finished pieces!

However, Mr. Wonderful and Mooch had secretly left our group long enough to pick out a glass necklace for me, and patiently waited to give it to me until Mother’s Day.

If you purchase tickets to the St. Petersburg Art Experience, you’re able to visit Morean Arts Center Galleries and the Glass Studio & Hot Shop, as well as the Chihuly Collection and the Morean Arts Center for Clay. If you had older children, you could easily make the four spread out stops in a day. We were with four kids who were 5 and under, and two stops were our max.

 

If you go


Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave. (closer to Central Avenue)

Glass Studio & Hot Shop, 719 Central Ave. (closer to First Avenue)

Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive NE

Morean Arts Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. South

 

When:

Morean Gallery, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (children’s art experience is Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

Chihuly Collection, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Glass Studio & Hot Shop, daily noon to 5 p.m.; daily demonstrations are at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.

Morean Center for Clay, Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday

 

Cost:

St. Petersburg Art Experience (includes the Chihuly Collection, Glass Studio & Hot Shop, Morean Arts Center Galleries, and the Morean Arts Center for Clay)

Adult: $19.95 (the Chihuly Collection ticket is $14.95 on its own, making this a good value!)

Senior 65+: $17.95

Child & Student: $12.95

Children 5 & under free

 

Disclaimer: My family and friends were provided complimentary St. Petersburg Art Experience tickets courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater so that I could review our experience. All opinions and thoughts were my own.

 

* * * * *

Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out my sample two-day itinerary for Tampa Bay! We crammed a lot in, which I actually wouldn’t suggest. Mix and match my recommended places to see:

The Florida Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

Columbia Restaurant

I also wrote about the Allegiant Air direct flight from Omaha to the Tampa Bay area, so check that out, plus if you need a hotel suggestion and you L-O-V-E food and pampering, read my post about Epicurean Hotel in the beautiful Hyde Park area of Tampa.

What To Expect When Flying Allegiant Air

Updated April 16, 2018: Since our travels, troubling reports questioning the airline’s safety have surfaced. See the latest by “60 Minutes” here. The CEO of Allegiant responded to story here.

There’s a new airline in Omaha, a discount carrier that flies us directly to vacation destinations. Right now, you can fly Allegiant Air to Florida (arriving at to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport near Tampa) and soon they’ll offer flights to California (arriving at Oakland/San Francisco Airport).

Raise your hand if you like direct flights. High five.

Me too.

Allegiant logo

Allegiant Air offered to fly me and my family to St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport in exchange for telling you all about it.

Allgiant title

Here’s the deal, it’s cheap and convenient to fly Allegiant from Omaha directly the Tampa Bay area, but there are indeed a few catches.

Mr. Wonderful likened it to a hostel. There are certain things you have to accept as part of the deal of a hostel. There are “extras” you’ll have to pay for if you want them at a hostel, like having your own bathroom, right? Don’t complain about how a hostel works just because it’s not like a hotel. Same goes for a budget carrier. Just accept that the lower price means that certain things are “extras.”

So back to those catches…

No. 1. Most things are extra and you’ll have to pay for them. You get one personal item to carry on like a small backpack or purse at no cost, but any other carry-on and all checked luggage is additional. So, just accept that you’ll have to pay a little more so you can bring clothes.

I have a sister-in-law planning a girls getaway with a friend to Clearwater Beach and after comparing prices with other carriers, even with the added fees, the ticket with Allegiant ended up being cheaper.

No. 2. Your seats are randomly assigned at check in. We were traveling with two small children so we were paired two and two. Our two pairs, however, were not randomly assigned next to each other. No big deal. But if it is to you, you’ll have to pay $12 per person to move seats. Want to move your seat assignment to a window? Pay $12.

Side note: Go online starting 24 hours before your flight to check in online. Print your boarding passes at home so you can avoid the $5 fee to have the airline print them out the day of your flight. Plus, checking in early gives you more flexibility with seating.

No. 3. There are only two flights to and from Omaha each week – Thursday and Sunday. We took a Thursday to Sunday trip. It’s a nice length for a quick getaway, but man, we left wishing we had more time there. There’s a lot to do!

 

Flying Allegiant Air – my family’s experience

Allegiant flies out of Omaha late Thursday mornings, arriving in Florida at around 3 p.m. Like most people on our flight, I had planned on taking advantage of the remainder of that day in order to get the most out of our Thursday to Sunday getaway.

Destination: Florida.
Destination: Florida.

Unfortunately, the proverbial “stuff” happened. It was out of the airline’s control, but our Omaha flight was delayed. By, like, five hours. Maybe six. I stopped counting.

What happened? We were waiting for the Tampa flight to arrive, only it had experienced a weather delay compounded by a maintenance issue and the need to re-staff the flight.

I have to hand it to Allegiant. They set up a text alert with ticketholders so they can notify passengers ahead of time if their flight may be delayed.

I didn’t have the alerts set up initially, so we ended up at the airport for the original flight time and marveled at how short the wait was to check in. Well, most everyone else got that notification.

Anyway, I got it set up and we were able to leave the airport to pass some time in downtown Omaha.

Nothing like being stuffed between two carseats. My dad was carting us around Omaha and let's just say my parents haven't had to drive youngsters around for a while.
Nothing like being stuffed between two carseats and impatiently waiting for vacation to start. My dad was carting us around Omaha and let’s just say my parents haven’t had to drive youngsters around for a while.

I could check my texts as well as AllegiantAir.com to see what the inbound flight status was.

Tip: If you have kids and have a long wait at the airport, the Omaha Children’s Museum is a short distance away.

Our flight ended up being delayed even longer than anticipated, so we did have to spend some time waiting at the Omaha airport.

Allegiant took care of all of us passengers, though. They set up a courtesy table of free beverages and then handed out meal vouchers.

Waiting eagerly to board our plane.
Waiting eagerly to board our plane.

Some people did lose their cool – if they were planning quick trips like me, they were losing valuable vacation time. I had to cancel dinner reservations and neglect to tell my kids there was a pool at our hotel because that was going to be our Thursday entertainment.

By the time we returned to the airport – 2:30ish – there was no plane in sight. We were told the plane would be arriving in Omaha by 3:04. “The computer still shows an arrival time of 3:04,” we were told… but the actual clock was saying 3:20 and there was no plane in sight.

So we waited. Incidentally, this was about the time of day we all had planned on being in Florida. I bet some planned on already being sunburned or drunk by 3:04 Omaha time.

Those losing their marbles were passengers, not anyone with the airline. I watched airline personnel be very accommodating with people. One family traveling with a toddler asked if there were any open seats for him – they’d intended on him sitting on their laps but after the wait, they knew he’d need a chair to sleep on. Allegiant found some unoccupied seats on the flight and let them move without charging for that extra seat.

In spite of the delay and some frustrated passengers, our crew was cheerful and kinda funny. I like happy flight crew, but the perkiness wore on other passengers after the long day.

They offered in-flight snacks and beverages at a cost. I had packed snacks and filled up our water bottles, so that didn’t matter. I recommend that route, saving your money for rum drinks. Right?

There was no in-flight entertainment – you had to bring your own portable devices if you wanted music or a movie. No wi-fi, either.

By the time we arrived, patience had worn a little thin.

The wait for our luggage felt like a long time, mainly because everyone was up way past their bedtime.
The wait for our luggage felt like a long time, mainly because everyone was up way past their bedtime.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport

You aren’t technically arriving in Tampa, though you’re close to it. St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport is, obviously, closer St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and the other smaller, beachy towns. If your main plan is to hit the beach, opt for a hotel in either of those cities.

Sunset at Clearwater Beach.
Sunset at Clearwater Beach.

Tampa isn’t far, but it’s still a 20- to 40-minute drive depending on traffic. We arrived late and had to get a rental car, so by the time we hit the road, it was 10-ish.

The nice thing about this airport is that several rental car agencies have cars parked on-site at the airport, so it’s easy to walk out of the airport and to your car. It’s also quick and easy to return the car.

 

Flying back to Omaha

St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport is smallish, but don’t be fooled. It’s a tourist destination and a lot of people head home on Sundays. Don’t arrive as if you’re catching a flight out of Omaha – allow plenty of time for check in.

Where did all these people come from?!
Where did all these people come from?!

We arrived late for our return flight – a puking kid, an unplanned bathroom stop and a stop to fill up gas in the rental car will do that. By the time we were at the airport, there was an incredibly long line for the Allegiant counter.

Ticketing agents hustled people on our Omaha flight to a separate, shorter line and we made it onto the plane with minutes to spare. Whew.

Would I recommend Allegiant?

Heck yeah. I consider two things when booking a flight: Which flight is the cheapest and which one gets us there the fastest. Nonstop flights trump all else.

If you’re on a budget, you can’t beat a cheap ticket for a direct flight to a tourist destination. If you like a little pampering, or you like knowing your entire trip cost up-front, look for a different carrier.

And FYI, Allegiant partners with more than 20 of the most popular hotel properties in the Tampa Bay area, provides low-cost car rental service through its partnership with Alamo Rent a Car and offers great deals on local activities. Omaha travelers can book their entire Tampa Bay vacation for less by visiting Allegiant.com.

 * * * * *

Thinking of flying your family to Tampa? Check out my two-day itinerary for Tampa Bay! We crammed a lot in, which I actually wouldn’t suggest. Mix and match my recommended places to see:

The Florida Aquarium 

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium 

Morean Arts Center and Hot Shop

Columbia Restaurant

If you L-O-V-E food and pampering, read my post about Epicurean Hotel in the beautiful Hyde Park area of Tampa.