by Arundhati Bhand Updated on 15 Oct 2018
Rapid City in the western part of South Dakota is located on the eastern slope of the Black Hills. It’s also called “The Gateway” to this mountain range. Base yourself at Rapid City and freely tour the Badlands, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Bear Country and the caverns of the Black Hills. Enjoy its galleries, museums, water and theme parks to the full.
Let's explore Rapid City points of interest and 15 best things to do in Rapid City:
1. Take the Mount Rushmore Tours
These tours are on offer from Fort Hays, a Wild West-themed estate, famous as a cowgirl and cowboy retreat currently. 4 separate tour packages are offered to Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Three of these tours is by coach. Mount Rushmore’s tour also includes a visit to the sets of the famous film Dances with Wolves. Its extended version includes meals and a music show by cowboys. A great option for wildlife lovers is the Buffalo Roundup Tour. History buffs would be delighted by the Train Sightseeing Tour of 1880.
2. Pay your respects to the founding fathers of America
This tourist spot is called America’s Founding Father Exhibit and tells you what the American Declaration of Independence was all about. You will be charmed by a 20-minute show that perfectly blends art with history in the form of a life-size sculpture installation, a painting by renowned artist, John Trumbull. This is all about the 56 patriots of the American Revolution. Additionally, you can hit its musket range and shoot a Kentucky rifle, a weapon used during the war of Independence.
3. Be witness to aeronautical marvels at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum
A must visit for lovers of aviation and aeronautics. You walk through the history of American aviation at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. This showcases thirty classic military aircraft from the Great War as also numerous missiles. See B-1B Lancer aircraft and the H-13 Sioux helicopters on display. Learn about the pioneers of American aviation and how they impacted American history. Guided tours are available for free. Rest assured you’ll want to visit again.
4. Study rocks at the Museum of Geology
A great place for geology enthusiasts, the Museum of Geology also exhibits paleontological and mineralogical specimens. You will be amazed at the vast collection of skeletons of fish, mammals, dinosaurs and marine reptiles as also rare fossils from the Badlands of the White River on display. Mineralogical displays include meteorites and the Hall of South Dakota Minerals. The museum’s fluorescent minerals room will also charm you and the kids who get to have some hands-on experience with minerals. You can even pick up some unique items, toys and books at the museum’s gift shop. Guided tours available also.
5. Visit Crazy Horse Memorial
Located on the tallest pegmatite granite mountain of the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Memorial is an astounding creation because of its gigantic size. In fact, it’s the world’s largest sculpture and was done by Korczak Ziolkowski. The Memorial also has the Nature Gates, a Welcome Center, Ziolkowski’s home-studio, the Indian Museum of North America as also the Educational & Culture Center for Native Americans. Enjoy dance performances by local dancers or have a bite at its restaurant.
6. Say hello to the creepy crawlies at Reptile Gardens
Operational since 1937, Reptile Gardens is the world’s largest zoo, particularly for reptiles. This houses an amazing range of all types of reptiles and its pristine lawns, lush vegetation, colorful flora, ornamental trees and tropical plants, are truly a sight to behold. Look at the vast array of venomous snakes, exhibits on the bald eagle, prairie dogs and some giant tortoises. There are also some interesting live shows with snakes, birds and alligators, which would surely thrill the kids. Visit its ghost town, Bewitched and Jungle Outpost Gallery that showcases tribal crafts from all over the world. Truly an unforgettable experience!
7. Take the Black Hills Outdoor Fun Trip
Black Hills Outdoor Fun takes you on a 4-hour, ATV guided tour of the most famous trails of the Black Hills. Be prepared for some spectacular sights and don’t forget to carry your camera to take some memorable snapshots. Hike on well-maintained trails, particularly the Deerfield Trail that features stunning scenic beauty and some old homesteads.
8. See Rapid City by bus: Take a DubBus Tour
DubBus Tours are known by their lime green buses and offers numerous tours of the Badlands and the Black Hills. These VW Beetle limousines take you to Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills, parts of the southern Black Hills, Badlands, Deadwood and Custer State Park. Those seeking to basically chill out should surely try DubBus’ most preferred tour, the Hill City Wine and Brew Tour. It starts at Prairie Berry, the oldest winery of South Dakota and includes four other spots as well. Guests also have the option of customizing their own tours.
9. Enjoy the euphony of the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra
This orchestra was started sometime in the Thirties and included only string players initially. Today it has over ninety musicians who are committed to providing some of the finest orchestral performances and education on symphonic music to the Black Hills population. The orchestra performs regularly at Rapid City’s Performing Arts Center. You’ll be enchanted by its rendition of the Mount Rushmore Celebration and The Nutcracker Suite, to name few.
10. Let the children have a ball at the Storybook Island
Storybook Island is a free theme park for children and was started in 1959. One of Rapid City’s cultural icons, the park has on display statues of characters from nursery rhymes, fables and other children’s stories which simply delight them. Its Children’s Theatre also hosts delightful theatrical productions during the season. Take the kids to see The Great Magic Show and Duane Laflin. Chances are they’ll be asking for more.
11. Walk on the wild side at Bear Country
Bear Country is 200 acres of forest comprising rolling meadows and gigantic pines and is located at Rapid City’s south. You get to see some truly great North American mammals like wolves, black bears, reindeer, bobcats, cougars and elk. Head to the Wildlife Walk area for chats with animal keepers and watch live demonstrations. As you drive through the forest, you could also see some animals walking over to your vehicle to take a peep.
12. Indulge in some culture at the Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries
If you’re a native American art aficionado, the Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries is just the place for you. Its Fine Arts Gallery displays some beautiful art pieces, including some ledger drawings by Donald Montileaux, a Lakota artist. You will also marvel at the collection of Insect Art by Christopher Marley and Allen and Patty Eckman’s paper sculptures. Book lovers will simply love its bookstore with its impressive collection of the literature of Native Americans as also their music.
13. Relax in the evenings at Downtown Rapid City
Spend your evenings at Downtown Rapid City, famous for its eight art galleries, theaters and museums. The gallery Reflections of South Dakota displays local fine arts talent including pottery, candles and jewelry. There are three museums and visitors will particularly enjoy the Journey Museum & Learning Center. This offers them a trek from the geological upheaval that led to the formation of the Black Hills to the Western Frontier.
14. Revisit prehistory at the Dinosaur Park
Built in 1936, Dinosaur Park is on a hill top and offers a grand view of the city. It has 7 dinosaur replicas and includes an apatosaurus, triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, Edmontosaurus annectens, stegosaurus, dimetrodon and protoceratops. Each sculpture comes with its own educational information and were created on the information revealed by fossils found in the Western United States and South Dakota. No entry fees and simply the place for children to have a blast.
15. Explore the Black Hills Culture at The Journey Museum & Learning Center
The Journey Museum & Learning Center preserves, educates and explores the cultures, heritage and environment of the Black Hills area. It has 4 historic and prehistoric collections, each contributing to the history of the Western Great Plains. Interactive session is also there at the Center’s Wells Fargo Theater, Learning Lab and Paleontology Tent. A must visit for history buffs.