Reptile Gardens

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Reptile Gardens
Reptile Gardens Sky Dome Rapid City.jpg
Sky Dome
Date openedJune 3, 1937
LocationRapid City, South Dakota, United States
Coordinates43°59′25″N 103°16′18″W / 43.9903599°N 103.2716882°W / 43.9903599; -103.2716882Coordinates: 43°59′25″N 103°16′18″W / 43.9903599°N 103.2716882°W / 43.9903599; -103.2716882

Reptile Gardens is an animal park located south of Rapid City, South Dakota, on the road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.[1] The park is open the first Saturday in March through November 30th each year. Reptile Gardens was cited in the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's largest reptile zoo.[2] It was recertified in the 2018 edition.[3]


This family-oriented South Dakota attraction was founded by 21-year-old reptile enthusiast Earl Brockelsby and officially opened on June 3, 1937.

Intrigued by the fear and interest people expressed when faced with a snake, Earl set up a small display of snakes, charging people to see them. After some initial success, Reptile Gardens went through difficult times in the 1940s while Earl was serving with the Army in Europe. Regaining momentum after World War II, the 1950s saw an increase in visitation to the Black Hills. Due to the widening and relocation of Highway 16, a new location and major expansion, including the Sky Dome, were completed in 1965.

Although Earl died in 1993, Reptile Gardens remains a family-owned-and-operated business that houses more species of reptiles than any other zoo or park in the world.[4][5]

Sky Dome[edit]

Opened in 1965 as a new addition to Reptile Gardens, this indoor jungle was virtually unheard of in the US at the time. The Sky Dome was rebuilt after a fire in 1976 destroyed everything except for an old Ponderosa Pine skeleton. The same tree still stands as the centerpiece of the Safari Room on the main level. The new Sky Dome was opened in 1977 with new animals and exotic plants.


Prairie Dog town
  • Prairie Dog town
  • Snake Program
  • Bird Program
  • Alligator/Crocodile Show
  • Bald Eagle Exhibit
  • Sky Dome
  • Safari Room
  • Komodo Dragon
  • Tortuga Falls meditative garden
  • Living Wall
  • Giant Tortoise Yard [6][7]

Conservation/Conservation Green Committee[edit]

Every year, Reptile Gardens makes special donations to various environmental conservation organizations, including the Charles Darwin Center in the Galapagos Islands. The money donated to these wildlife organizations helps to protect the natural wildlife of these spectacular environments.


Bird program

During the summer, Reptile Gardens offers educational and interactive animal shows, such as a bird program, an alligator/crocodile show, and a snake program. During performances, the animal keepers discuss safety techniques, facts, and conservation efforts to aid in species survival.[8]


  • USA Today Readers Choice Award, Best Attraction in South Dakota - 2017
  • Heritage Award, Prairie Family Business Assn. - 2017
  • SBA Family-Owned Business of the Year for South Dakota - 2010
  • Prairie Family Business Assn. Family Business of the Year – 2009
  • Tom Didier Excellence in Family Business Award – 2008
  • USA Today Top 10 Roadside Attractions In The Country – 2001
  • South Dakota Governors Service Award for Outstanding Commitment to Hospitality and Education in the Visitor Industry – 2003-2011
  • Midwest Travel Writers Association GEMmy Award – 1995
  • George Mickelson Award for Great Service to South Dakota Visitors - 1994
  • AAA GEM Designation Attraction

Founder Earl Brockelsby received the Ben Black Elk Award for lifetime achievement in promoting South Dakota tourism in 1982. His son, John Brockelsby, Public Relations Director, received the same award in 2015.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Us Reptile Gardens".
  2. ^ Guinness World Records 2014 p. 39
  3. ^ Guinnesss World Records 2018 p. 52
  4. ^ "Reptile Gardens, Rapid City, South Dakota".
  5. ^ Guinness World Records 2014 p. 39
  6. ^
  7. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Behind the Scenes at Reptile Gardens, near Rapid City, South Dakota". YouTube.
  8. ^