A great vacation to consider is launching off at the foothills of the Black Hills Mountains in Rapid City, South Dakota. Home to Mount Rushmore, world-class trout fishing, nearby mining towns like Deadwood and Lead, and a charming western-style downtown, Rapid City has much to offer its visitors.
Rapid City was founded in 1876 by a group of disheartened prospectors that had come to the Black Hills in search of gold. Throughout the years, Rapid City has grown to be South Dakota’s second-largest city.
Here are some great places to visit or tour while in Rapid City:
Stroll Downtown Rapid City
In the heart of Rapid City is a western-style downtown with 80 shops and 30 restaurants. Explore the fountains at Main Street Square, a place to make fun-filled memories. In addition to shops and restaurants, you will find great nightly entertainment.
West Boulevard Historic District was a result of the booming mining community. This forty-two-block area was platted in 1885 to house those families moving into the area. It is nice to visit and see Victorian-style homes lining the streets.
The City of Presidents
Life-size bronze statues of America’s past presidents are scattered throughout Rapid City’s downtown. While enjoying downtown shopping and dining, we spotted a few along the way. Each sculpture is privately funded. Here is a map of a self-guided walking tour you can do independently.
Rapid City has dozens of small house brews to try out a variety of beers. Creating your own beer crawl would be easy to do! Firehouse Brewing Company is housed in a fun classic firehouse and serves food. Independent Ale House offers over 40 craft beers on tap, running small batches of brews to sample.
Here is an option for Rapid City’s Craft Beer Limousine Tour.
Some of the most incredible trout fishing lies on Rapid Creek, where anglers can pull in fish for hours. The most accessible fishing spot is Johnson’s Siding on Rapid Creek, ending in Canyon Lake. The best time of the year for fishing is September, October, and November.
I love fishing, but with the limited time, we did not get to enjoy this sport. If you want more information about fishing in this area, click this link for details.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
One of the most iconic landmarks in the United States is Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Taking over 14 years to carve the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, it was finally completed in 1941.
Make sure to visit the ? and watch a short video about the creation of Mount Rushmore. Creator and sculptor Gutzon Borglum wanted this piece of art to become a ‘Shrine of Democracy.’
George Washington was selected for being the first president, Thomas Jefferson for writing the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, and Abraham Lincoln for holding the country together during the Civil War.
A debate over the 4th president was between Teddy Roosevelt for his conservation efforts and the building of the Panama Canal and Woodrow Wilson for leading the U.S. during WWI. Borglum chose Roosevelt.
The name ‘Mount Rushmore’ comes after a New York attorney Charles E. Rushmore, visited the area in 1885. Mr. Rushmore financially supported the project, the first to give private money for such a project.
- Admission: Free ($10 parking fee per vehicle)
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
Known as South Dakota’s Warbird Sanctuary is the S.D. Air and Space Museum. You will find an extensive collection of artifacts and documents that capture the distinguished history of Ellsworth Air Force Base, the 44th Strategic Missile Wing, and the 28th Bomb Wing throughout the Cold Warr.
We were excited to get a private tour (by my son) as he is stationed at this base. The museum also has four extensive inside galleries of artifacts covering the history and heritage of military and civilian aerospace achievements.
The museum is open year-round, and tours of Ellsworth AFB and the Missile Silo are offered from May through September.
- Admission: Free
Crazy Horse Memorial
This ongoing project, Crazy Horse Memorial, when finished, will depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing towards his tribal lands.
A Polish American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who had worked under Gutzon Borglum (that built Mount Rushmore), agreed to help Lakota Eder Henry Standing Bear carve the image of Crazy Horse out of one of the Black Hills.
Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. Ziolkowski was offered government funds to help finish out Crazy Horse but turned it down, afraid of government control. Ziolkowski had ten children, and three of the children and three grandchildren still work at the Memorial.
The Memorial seeks to host a year-round Indian University of North America, offering scholarships for American Indian students. However, the construction has been going on for more than 70 years, and because it is privately funded, it is not known when it will be completed.
On-site is a museum honoring the living heritage of the North American Indians. The museum features American Indian art and artifacts from tribal Nations across North America.
- Hours: March – April 9:00 – 18:00, Jan. – March 9:00 – 17:00, Dec. 9:00 – 16:30
- Admission: Into the park is May-Sept. $35 per vehicle, Oct. – May $30 per vehicle. A Rustic Bus Ride to the Base of the Mountain is $4 per person.
Badlands National Park
This apocalyptic-looking national park will make you question nature and see the power of how decades have changed the earth’s surface. A visit to the Badlands National Park is a 70-mile drive through the hills of South Dakota. The best time to visit the Badlands is sunrise or sunset for the spectacular backdrops of these bizarre peaks.
As we drove through the park, we stopped to admire the different colors of layers of earth that tell the story of these lands. The yellow color comes from fossil soils, called paleosols, that have weathered and changed color when exposed to the sun.
At Fossil Exhibit Trail, a boardwalk trail takes you past 75 million years of history and the fossils of the animals that once inhabited this land.
We drove the Badlands Loop Road, the main road that runs through the park. Along the way, we stopped at scenic overlooks and admired prairie dogs and bighorn sheep.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is where hidden missiles were stored in silos near the Badlands during the Cold War. Unfortunately, a visit to this site is only available through a guided tour.
- Hours: Park is open 24 hours, seven days a week
- Admission: $30 per vehicle
Pactola Lake is the largest and deepest reservoir in the Black Hills, spanning 800 acres. As we were traveling, my son stopped to show us this pristine lake where he likes to take his paddleboard out for the day. This lake is a great place to visit if you enjoy camping, fishing, or swimming.
If you want more information go to the visitor center on the south side of the dam.
Custer State Park
I fell in love with Custer State Park and its inhabitants! Laced with scenic drives, thrilling hiking trails, pristine lakes, herds of bison, elk, deer pronghorn antelope, and big horn sheep.
Although my son drove the Wildlife Loop Road, you can also jump on Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy fishing and boating in the parks’ 182 acres of water, comprised of lakes Center, Legion, Stockade, and Sylvan.
This 71,000-acre grassland is home to roughly 1,400 bison. Here you will see wildlife roaming, eating on grass. First, we were excited to capture cute prairie dogs popping in and out of the ground. Then, we stopped on the roadside to admire a large herd of buffalo.
Since visiting in late fall, we had the pleasure of seeing the warm colors of fall leaves in yellow, orange, and gold. Although we did not plan to hike some of the best trails, Sylvan Lake Shore Trail and Little Devils Tower Trail are some great options to consider.
- Hours: open year-around, 24 hours per day
- Admission: $20 per vehicle
On our way to Custer State Park, we stopped at Dahl’s Chainsaw Art. The Dahl brothers have created a name for themselves for over a decade with their spectacular chainsaw-carved art.
The brothers are internationally recognized chainsaw artists from the beautiful Black Hills pine. The Dahl brothers have come to be known as the Carvers of the Hills. No art is the same, as each has its own style.
Black Hills National Park
The Black Hills consist of over a million acres of pristine forest, steep cliffs, and tranquil lakes. The park is one of the most diverse landscapes in South Dakota. If spending time in nature is what you are looking for, you will find it here with an abundance of trickly streams, mysterious caves, and unique rock formations.
Other things to do in Rapid City
- Dinosaur Park is a great place to take kids to see the five giant dinosaur statues. It is free to enter and will not take much time to visit.
- Sioux Pottery – The beautiful pottery from the Sioux people is an exhibit of Native American Indian art produced from this region.
- Reptile Gardens –This zoo/wildlife center focuses on reptiles, which is a fun option if you travel with children.
- Devil’s Tower – Technically, the Devil’s Tower is in W.Y. It is an easy trip from Rapid City, traveling through Deadwood and Sturgis. Once you arrive, you can hike up to its base or drive by and admire this awkwardly standing rock.
- Chapel in the Hills is a replica of Borgund Stavkirke, built approximately 1150 in Laerdal, Norway. The wooden chapel and museum offer a peaceful retreat and a place for inspiration. You can wander the chapel’s ground view of the Norwegian-style architecture.
Where to Eat
Harriet & Oak is an adorable coffee shop just a few blocks from the main downtown area on Main Street. We stopped to grab a coffee and decided that their menu offered some yummy options to grab a bite. Our menu selections were Turkey Avocado Sandwich, Chipotle Toasted Chicken Sandwich, and Fluffy Egg Waffle. This was, hands down, my favorite!
Tally’s Silver Spoon is a cute diner that is very popular among locals. So if you are looking for a place to have a late breakfast, this is the place! I ordered the Eggs Benedict on an English muffin while my mother ordered Biscuits with Gravy and a side of hashbrowns. The food was tasty and be prepared for the plates as they are big!
Black Hills Bagel is an excellent option for a quick breakfast. On our way to Custer State Park, we stopped at their drive-thru location and had a savory Nova Lox Atlantic salmon cream cheese bagel. Many options to build your own bagel on the menu.
Stickies Garage Burgers & Brews is a fun burger restaurant. The menu offers a wide range of craft beers and a wild variety of freshly made extreme burgers. While eating your meal, you can watch your favorite sport on TV.
Sabatino’s Italian Restaurant, located in downtown Rapid City, offers excellent options for Italian dishes. Before returning home, we picked this charming restaurant for our last meal together. The service was amazing, and the food was genuinely delicious.