South Dakota is full of surprises. Those lucky enough to visit will discover a place filled with stunning landscapes, outstanding cuisine, and unique attractions that offer unforgettable experiences. Reptile Gardens is one of those unique attractions and is truly unexpected. You can find Reptile Gardens in the Guinness Book of World Records claiming its fame as the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo. This attraction is a must-do while touring the many surprises of South Dakota, especially for those who are big fans of reptiles.
Located on Highway 16, on your way from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore, Reptile Gardens is an easy stop bursting with entertainment and education. While the following top-five make the list for many visitors, Reptile Gardens is home to a lot of critters, beautiful gardens, and a seriously impressive gift shop. Plus, they are pet friendly!
1. THE SNAKE SHOW
Reptile Gardens aims to fascinate and educate visitors on a variety of reptiles, even those misunderstood and usually feared ones. They do this through thoughtful exhibits and intriguing shows like the Snake Show. During this show, snake handling experts at the Gardens share with the audience a variety of venomous and non-venomous snakes and reveal intriguing attributes about each snake. Highlights include: (1) the unique opportunity to touch non-venomous snakes and (2) pet a python at the end of the show. The show takes place several times a day so the odds of being able to catch one during your visit are high.
2. INTERACTING WITH GIANT TORTOISES
A reptile that often steals the show and warms the heart of many is the Aldabra Tortoises. Pose for pictures with Tank, Orville and Samson, the oldest tortoises of the group, but the Gardens are also home to a few teenage Aldabra Tortoises and adorable babies. Be sure when you meet them not to be stingy with their favorite form of affection – neck scratches. These gentle and slow-moving giants can live up to 150-years making them some of South Dakota’s oldest living residents.
3. GETTING UP CLOSE TO GATORS
Crikey! You’re about to stumble upon a lot of gators during your visit to Reptile Gardens! Start your visit off with a hello to Manic, a saltwater crocodile who measures at 16 feet and two inches. His massive size always reminds me how thankful I am that South Dakota doesn’t have crocodiles besides at the Gardens. You’ll find more gators outside lounging in the water, that is until the excitement of the Gator Show begins. During this show, one keeper enters the gator area with dozens of crocodiles and alligators to showcase their speed and share what being a crocodilian is all about. At the end of the show, you’ll get to have your own up-close experience with Fluffy, a baby alligator.
4. EXPLORING THE SAFARI ROOM
The Safari Room at Reptile Gardens transports its visitors to a tropical jungle. Reptile lovers will be awed as they discover the free roaming lizards, turtles, tropical birds perched in the trees, and the occasional snake wrapped around a branch. The sights and sounds will have your head on a swivel trying to take it all in.
Tip: During your visit here, see if you can spot the large skeleton of a ponderosa pine at the center, a reminder of past tragedies this attraction has overcome and how it has grown.
5. GREETING BIRDS AT AVIAN AVENUE
Exploring Avian Avenue gives reptile lovers a unique opportunity to interact with birds from around the world. Reptile Gardens staff in the Avenue are there to showcase each bird and share a wealth of knowledge many will find surprising. Reptile Gardens is home to a variety of owls, hawks, parrots, vultures and more! As you explore Avian Avenue, measure up your own size to well-known birds and compare your wing size to theirs. Don't miss Reptile Gardens avian ambassador Cheyenne, who resides outside of Avian Avenue. Cheyenne is a majestic Bald Eagle who suffered a severe wing injury making her permanently flightless. Since 2001 she’s lived a life of comfort at Reptile Gardens.
BONUS: You may come for the reptiles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the botanical gardens steal the show for many visitors.
Once you’ve experienced the beauty of Reptile Gardens, you’ll understand why it’s one of the area’s most popular attractions. Make sure you take the time to learn the fascinating history of this attraction, its unique beginnings will give you a whole new appreciation during your visit!