Experiencing a 1980s-Style Black Hills Summer

Ask anyone who grew up in the Black Hills about their childhood summers and a few classic staples will likely find their way into the conversation. Most of us have the obligatory photo of us and our siblings in Yogi Bear’s picnic basket at Storybook Island or with the giant tortoises at Reptile Gardens. We fed the fish at the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery and can remember the thrill of going down The Bonzai at Rushmore Waterslide Park. Reach way back in the memory vault and you might even remember being splashed by dolphins at Marine Life and racing go karts at The Ranch Amusement Park.

Some of those classic attractions are now gone, but many remain, along with some new sights to see. For parents and grandparents who grew up in the Black Hills or visited the area in the summer, there is no greater joy than watching the next generation experience the places we love. One thing remains certain: The Black Hills are a spectacular place to be as a kid in the summer.

Black Hills summers in the 1980s were simple. As long as we had an endless supply of Schwan’s orange push-up pops and got to play at Storybook Island a few times, my brother and I were happy. Thirty years later, I am looking at ways to give my own daughters a taste of that 1980s-style simplicity.

Settle for the Imperfect Photo

Parents used to have wait to develop film and carry video cameras larger than a kindergartner. Now, smartphones allow us to capture and share special memories within seconds. Technology also allows us to obsess over getting a perfect photo of our kids because we can immediately see the results. Let’s get over ourselves and settle for more awkward, silly photos like the ones in the albums of the 1980s.

Embrace a Little Boredom

Today in our over-scheduled, over-stimulated world, we panic if our children tell us they are bored. Do you know what my mom used to say when my brother or I whined about being bored? “Go outside.” That’s it. There, we let our imaginations run wild. Somehow, we came up with games and ideas without even turning to Google.


The most noticeable difference between summers in the 1980s and today is the constant presence of technology. Sometimes taking a break from screen time is the best way to connect.

“We really spend as much time hiking, camping, and biking as we can in the summer,” said Dan Clements of Rapid City. He and his wife Angie are parents to Oliver, 11, Jonah, 9, and Isabelle, 4. “The kids love to explore, climb trees, and just enjoy nature.”

Get Lost in the Magic

Another Black Hills childhood favorite, Storybook Island, will celebrate its 60th year this summer. Connie LeZotte, Storybook Island Executive Director, said there is something deeply magical about the park. In fact, Storybook Island is called “the place where magic happens.”

“We have four generations who come here,” Connie said. “We often have great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and the kids visit.”

The Storybook Island carousel house is new this summer and on August 16, there will be a birthday celebration for the park, complete with cake for all visitors.

Take Time to Feed the Fish

Families have been visiting the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in Spearfish for more than 100 years.

One of the most rewarding parts of working here is having people say ‘I came here as a child, and now I’m bringing my kids or grandkids,’” Karen Holzer, Executive Director, of the Booth Society, said.

One thing a little different from the hatchery in the 1980s is that the Booth Society is finding ways to incorporate technology into the activities at the hatchery. This summer, parents can download a free educational app called Agents of Discovery, which features interactive challenges throughout the hatchery grounds. Unlike some games and apps, Agents of Discovery gets kids up and moving throughout the hatchery grounds.

“We are really excited to promote the app this summer,” Holzer said.

Appreciate the Beauty of Nature

Krista Gussiaas of Spearfish said she and her husband, Mike, try to instill in their daughter Ainsley, 10, and son Tucker, 6, a deep appreciation of living in the Black Hills.

“We are very lucky to live where we do,” she said. “We have skiing in the winter, fall in Spearfish Canyon, and hiking in the summer. There are really endless ways to enjoy the Black Hills within minutes of where we live.”

Let Your Mind be Blown by Cosmos Mystery Area

“I remember going with my parents to Cosmos Mystery Area and just being blown away by this house that had some sort of illusion with the walls,” said Black Hills resident Shari Herrington. She and her husband Jesse both grew up in the Black Hills and now enjoy watching their three daughters, Grace, 8, Sarah, 5, and Bekah, 3, experience area attractions.

Do Something a Little Scary

Parents in the 1980s didn’t worry about their kids being a bit afraid once in a while. Incorporating adventure makes memories. Gussiaas said last summer while staying in Deadwood, the family had the opportunity to tour the Adams House in the middle of a thunderstorm.

“My daughter thought it was freaky and fun, but my son was terrified,” she said.

Let Go of Control

In the ‘80s, we got really excited when our favorite song came on the radio and spent hours putting together mix tapes. Now, our phones allow us to access any song on-demand. We also can easily look up directions, text our friends if we are running late, and find ideas for the latest craft project online. Technology is convenient and has improved our lives in many ways, but sometimes it is more fun to leave a few things to chance.

Send Postcards

Sure, it is easier to post a photo on Instagram, but why not grab a postcard at your favorite Black Hills attraction and send it in snail mail to a friend or loved one? Imagine the surprise of opening the mailbox and finding not just bills and ads, but a postcard from Wall Drug or Dinosaur Park.