Bear Country USA opens for the 2021 season

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Spring is here, and South Dakota’s tourist season is getting a head start, as Bear Country U.S.A. opened Friday.

The tourist attraction on Highway 16 between Rapid City and Keystone is a perennial favorite with locals and tourists alike.

The drive-through animal park lets visitors see not only bears but elk, reindeer, big-horn sheep, mountain lions, and bobcats from the safety of their cars.

No word yet on when one of Bear Country’s biggest events, Cub-Fest, will take place.

Bear Country has been a Black Hills staple for 49 years, but there have been challenges – COVID forced it to open a month late last year, and it got off to a very slow start.

By June, sales were down 25% from a typical year.

“It means a lot. Last year was extremely scary for everybody in the industry, but we ended up having an excellent season last year, it was just very compacted. It made up, it was one of our best years ever, honestly. It turned out to be one of our best years ever, and I think a lot of that was just because we were an open state,” said owner Shannon Reitzel.

As for thoughts on the 49th anniversary, Reitzel says she never expected the park last this long.

Bear Country

She’s glad to still provide exposure to wildlife up close and personal.

“People don’t get that exposure, they don’t get to see animals like they used to. It was actually our parents that built it in ’72, and the intent was just to have kinda something local. Like we didn’t really have a zoo on this side of the state, or definitely not in Rapid City. So, our dad grew up on a farm and wanted to make us work hard, there was seven of us kids, make us work hard. So that’s kinda how it’s started, but it’s grown to just be kind of a Black Hills staple,” Reitzel added.

Although Reitzel expects another good season, she says staffing has been difficult recently, and may affect park hours.

She says the park should be fully staffed by the end of May, when university and high school students are available.

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