Snakes, frogs, lizards and bugs. To some it might not sound like the most appealing line-up, but if you skip out on a visit to Reptile Gardens, you’ll regret it. Although they do have a large variety of the above, they are also home to so much more making it an enjoyable and educational visit for all.
Don’t make the mistake of passing on a visit to Reptile Gardens because “snakes aren’t your thing”. To be honest, I wouldn’t go around claiming them as my cup of tea either – in fact when they cross my path out in nature the experience is less than pleasant. But witnessing them at Reptile Gardens is a whole different, and dare I say fascinating, experience! For the most part, their collection of snakes resides in enclosures for you to view them. Once you’re separated by that sheet of glass, learning about them is intriguing, especially when they house some of the world’s deadliest snakes. Between the snake show and exhibits you’ll learn so much about these creatures that you might even come to appreciate them.
Fun fact: this attraction actually started because of one young reptile enthusiast with a rattlesnake in his hat, but that’s another story.
Ok, enough about snakes – said no one from Reptile Gardens ever. There are plenty of other things to see during your visit, here are a few favorites of mine:
When you’re roughly 1,350 pounds and stretch 16 feet you deserve some attention. That’s exactly what Maniac the giant crocodile gets, along with the other gang of gators sitting poolside at Reptile Gardens. During a visit you’ll learn a variety of interesting facts about these misunderstood animals, like the difference between an alligator and a crocodile or that alligators continue to grow throughout their lifetime. In fact, inside the Safari Room you’ll discover how small these creatures start off – making the growth and transformation to adulthood extremely impressive when you come across the adults. A bonus, Reptile Gardens added the experience of feeding the gators – and let me tell you it is absolutely thrilling.
If you didn’t know already, birds are reptiles. Which is why the world’s largest reptile zoo is home to a wide variety of them such as hawks, owls and vultures. You can enjoy the collective chatter of tropical birds as you tour the Safari Room and meet others at the interactive bird display where you have the opportunity talk with staff and compare your wingspan to that of other raptors. Favorites for many to see include Cheyenne the Bald Eagle and Darwin the Australian Kookaburra.
TURTLES & TORTOISES
Did you know the earliest known turtles date back 215 million years ago? That makes turtles one of the oldest reptile groups! You’ll learn more interesting tidbits during your visit, and even be able to see an exact cast of the largest Archelon Turtle fossil. This fossil was actually found not far from Reptile Gardens in the 1970's. Turtles and tortoises come in a variety of sizes and are fascinating to interact with. Many fall in love with the grandpa-like movements of the Aldabra Tortoises as they come to greet visitors, snack on some fruit, or do just about anything. During a visit you’ll get to know them by name, give them affectionate neck scratches and of course snap a few candid photos.
Hold up – Reptile Gardens isn’t just about Reptiles. From living walls to tranquil gardens, they go all out with their botanical gardens. Home to over 40,000 flowers and perennials, when things are in full bloom the grounds are a stunning array of colors. You can relax to the sights and sounds of Tortuga Falls and take in the perfectly manicure spaces of their many walking gardens. The Sky Dome is also filled with tropical plants and flowers, orchids, bromeliads, and more.
There’s more to Reptile Gardens than many expect and is worth exploring while on a Rapid City and Black Hills vacation. Reptile Gardens is a seasonal attraction open from March to November. You’ll find they’re iconic glass dome just six miles south of Rapid City on the road to Mount Rushmore.