You may not have been to South Dakota before, but you’ve probably heard of its most famous landmark: Mount Rushmore. In case you haven’t, a little reminder: it’s the one with the presidents’ faces carved into the side of a mountain. Just 23 miles (37 km) and a half-hour drive from Mount Rushmore is Rapid City, South Dakota – or just “Rapid,” as locals call it.
Nicknamed “The City of Presidents,” this former gold mining town is the second-largest city in South Dakota and boasts amenities to match. It’s truly a four-season destination, with sun and snow activities in equal measure, and it’s surrounded by small towns worth the short drive to experience the beauty and Wild West culture in this part of the country. Whenever you visit, Rapid City and the surrounding area have something for everyone.
- Rapid City, South Dakota
- Top Tours
- 20 Things to Do in Rapid City
- 1- Explore Downtown Rapid City
- 2- Get Spooky At The Hotel Alex Johnson
- 3- Get Inspired In Art Alley
- 4- Tour The Badlands
- 5- Ice Skate In Main Street Square
- 6- Toast Your Way Through The City
- 7- Get Close To Wildlife
- 8- Explore Prehistoric Fossils
- 9- Visit Dinosaur Park
- 10- Admire Mount Rushmore
- 11- Visit A Piece of Cold War History
- 12- Spend Some Time In The Snow
- 13- Experience The Wild West
- 14- Enjoy Dinner And A Show
- 15- Visit The Crazy Horse Memorial
- 16- Spend The Afternoon In A Museum
- 17- Tour Custer State Park
- 18- Get Peace Of Mind At The Chapel In The Hills
- 19- Get Trippy At The Cosmos Mystery Area
- 20- Visit Reptile Gardens
Rapid City, South Dakota
20 Things to Do in Rapid City
1- Explore Downtown Rapid City
It isn’t only Rapid City’s proximity to Mount Rushmore that earned it the nickname “The City of Presidents” – it’s also the 43 bronze, life-sized sculptures of American presidents that line the streets of downtown.
While you walk through the downtown admiring the sculptures, stop by one of the many phenomenal restaurants like Mexican restaurant Que Pasa Cantina or diner Tally’s Silver Spoon.
Once you tire of walking, hop on the trolley that runs through town for another scenic view.
2- Get Spooky At The Hotel Alex Johnson
One of the feature landmarks of downtown Rapid City, Hotel Alex Johnson, is a favourite lodging option for many.
The hotel features nods to Native American culture, something that is prominent throughout South Dakota, with items like a chandelier made of war spears in the lobby and Native American art.
Warm up with a coffee or get your chocolate fix with Chubby Chipmunk Hand-Dipped Chocolates in the lobby.
Gorgeous architectural touches from the building’s inception in 1927 are evident on every floor.
But it’s not just the striking architecture and delicious chocolate that make Hotel Alex Johnson legendary.
This hotel stands out from the rest because its residents, that is, its deceased residents refuse to leave the premises.
That’s right, Hotel Alex Johnson is notoriously haunted by many ghosts, including the ghost of Alex Johnson himself and the infamous “lady in white.”
Book the “Ghost Package,” which includes a ghost-detecting meter with your room rental – if you dare!
Hotel Alex Johnson is at 523 6th St, Rapid City, South Dakota.
3- Get Inspired In Art Alley
Need a backdrop for your Instagram photo? Look no further than Art Alley.
This colourful, functioning alley is home to artists expressing themselves on the brick-walled canvases of downtown Rapid City.
Artists and community members work with city officials to keep this space open for creative expression.
Take a walk through it to boost your creative energy.
4- Tour The Badlands
Badlands National Park.
Three words you might not have heard before but that you’ll want to make yourself familiar with while visiting Rapid City; it’s truly a can’t-miss destination in this part of the country.
Located 62 miles (100 km) east of Rapid City, Badlands National Park is often described as “alien.”
It’s unlike any landscape you’ve seen before and gets its name from a Lakota Native American word meaning “land bad.”
The ancient land is formed of peaks and valleys that have been intricately eroded to reveal layers of colours, making for an out-of-this-world experience.
Fossils from prehistoric animals like sabre-toothed tigers and camels can be found here.
Visitors can drive through Badlands National Park, but there are hiking trails throughout the site ranging from easy to very difficult.
The park is open 24 hours; if you want the best stargazing experience of your life, bring a sleeping bag and prepare for the experience of a lifetime.
5- Ice Skate In Main Street Square
Rapid City has no shortage of winter activities for any age, and one popular winter activity is ice skating in Main Street Square.
This newly constructed public event space in the heart of downtown transforms into an ice skating rink every winter.
Bring the family or skate on your own, and grab a cup of hot cocoa to keep you warm.
6- Toast Your Way Through The City
Like in any great city, Rapid City has no shortage of breweries.
Some local favourites include Lost Cabin Beer Company, which offers a rotating food truck, and Miner Brewing Company, a family-friendly brewery.
Another great option is Firehouse Brewing: the downtown building it’s housed in was the city’s first fire department station and was remodelled into a restaurant and bar.
It was built in 1915 and is listed on the National Historic Register. You’re truly participating in a piece of South Dakota history when you grab a pint here.
7- Get Close To Wildlife
Just eight miles (13 km) south of Rapid City is Bear Country USA, a wildlife park like you’ve never seen.
This 200-acre (81-ha) park is designed for visitors to drive through and witness wildlife like bears, elk, buffalo, cougars, and reindeer, among others.
This is an opportunity to get close to wildlife while staying in the safety of your vehicle.
The address for Bear Country USA is 13820 US-16, Rapid City, South Dakota.
8- Explore Prehistoric Fossils
Rapid City is part of the Black Hills, a mountain range running through Western South Dakota and Northeastern Wyoming.
“The Hills,” as they’re known to locals, consist of rugged, towering rock formations and caves galore; they’re also known to hold prehistoric fossils.
One of the best places to see prehistoric wonders is Hill City, South Dakota, 27 miles (43km) southwest of Rapid City.
There, you’ll find The Mammoth Site, an active archeological dig site with the largest collection of mammoth fossils in the world – 61 mammoths, to be specific.
You can also visit the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, which houses a museum with dinosaur fossils, marine mammals, and other fossils from the Black Hills region.
9- Visit Dinosaur Park
After returning from your day trip to Hill City, continue the day’s prehistoric theme by visiting Dinosaur Park.
This park stands high over Rapid City and offers a sweeping view of the city; you can even see the Badlands to the east of the park.
Dinosaur statues are fun for the kids and a nod to the area’s paleontological history.
Dinosaur Park is at 940 Skyline Dr in Rapid City.
10- Admire Mount Rushmore
It’s not a trip to South Dakota if you don’t see its best-known landmark, Mount Rushmore.
This colossal carving on the side of Mount Rushmore consists of four famous presidential faces: Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
Completed in 1941, this U.S. landmark hosts over two million visitors annually.
While you’re here, visit the Visitor Center to learn about the monument’s history and get a scoop of vanilla ice cream made from President Thomas Jefferson’s original vanilla ice cream recipe.
Book a bus tour of Mount Rushmore and the surrounding Black Hills here.
11- Visit A Piece of Cold War History
While this part of the U.S. is chock-full of prehistoric and Native American history, it also claims a piece of Cold War History.
Memorial Park is home to a piece of the Berlin Wall, which you can visit while getting some outdoor time close to downtown.
Memorial Park can be found at 600-684 Omaha St in Rapid City.
12- Spend Some Time In The Snow
Rapid City is the perfect place to experience all four seasons, so if you’re looking for a great winter destination, look no further.
The surrounding Black Hills make for great outdoor recreation in the wintertime.
For those who like to ski or snowboard, visit Terry Peak – there are trails for beginners and experienced athletes.
Another popular option amongst locals and visitors is snowmobiling.
With hundreds of miles of groomed trails, the surrounding Black Hills National Forest offers a snowmobiling season from mid-December through late March.
There’s also a roller coaster where you can get your thrills.
13- Experience The Wild West
Ever wanted to visit the Wild West, a.k.a. cowboy country? Well, now’s your chance.
Deadwood, South Dakota, is 43 miles (70 km) and a one-hour drive north of Rapid City for an easy day trip or overnight stay.
While many towns may stake their claim as the heart of the Wild West, Deadwood is the original Wild West town.
Founded in 1887 by gold prospectors, this town became known for its gun-slinging, rootin’ tootin’ inhabitants like legends Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. While things have calmed down since then, the wild charm is alive and well as reenactors roam the streets bringing history to life.
Today, the town is known for Old West charm mixed with modern-day amenities.
Spend your time at the casinos and bars and get an old-timey, sepia-toned picture taken as a souvenir.
Annual events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Deadweird, a Halloween-themed bar crawl, are known to get rowdy, so get ready for a good time.
14- Enjoy Dinner And A Show
Another nod to the Wild West culture in this part of the country is the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Show.
Located in the Fort Hays Old West Town Square, this event space contains the film set of the movie Dances With Wolves, which was filmed in South Dakota.
After you tour the set, you’re treated to a “chuckwagon supper,” with barbequed beef, baked beans, biscuits and coffee.
After you’re full, catch the variety show, which promises a “foot-stompin’, belly-shakin’ good time!” This is a family-friendly event the kids will love.
The Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Show can be found at 2255 Fort Hayes Dr in Rapid City.
15- Visit The Crazy Horse Memorial
Rapid City and the Black Hills are rich with Native American culture, and evidence of tribes like the Lakota Sioux tribe can be found everywhere you turn.
One such tribute is located 40 miles (64 km) from Rapid City.
It towers over the landscape of the Black Hills and takes the form of a gargantuan monument called Crazy Horse Memorial.
Crazy Horse was a Lakota Sioux warrior who has been memorialized in the world’s largest mountain carving, located right here in the Black Hills.
The carving isn’t finished yet, but approximately one-and-a-half million visitors per year get to witness the head of Crazy Horse and the beginnings of his outstretched arm reaching over the landscape.
You can book a tour of Crazy Horse Memorial and nearby Custer State Park.
16- Spend The Afternoon In A Museum
Rapid City is home to many museums and galleries.
One that is unique to the area is the South Dakota Air & Space Museum, which showcases planes and military missiles.
More in the mood to appreciate the arts? Visit the Dahl Arts Center or Suzie Cappa Art Center; the latter focuses on highlighting the work of artists of all abilities and disabilities.
17- Tour Custer State Park
Less than an hour outside of Rapid City and about 31 miles (50 km) outside of it sits Custer State Park, one of many gorgeous state parks throughout the state of South Dakota.
The park encompasses 71,000 acres (almost 29,000 hectares) of the Black Hills; it contains so much diversity that you could spend multiple days exploring this area.
One of the loveliest parts of the park is Cathedral Spires, nicknamed for the towering granite spires that reach into the sky.
For some water-based fun, visit Sylvan Lake.
This is one of five lakes in Custer State Park and is beautiful and surrounded by amenities like dining and lodging.
Another draw of the park is its wildlife. Bison, pronghorn and prairie dogs are among some of the animals you can see here.
One highly recommended drive through the park is Wildlife Loop Road, where visitors often get stuck in “bison traffic jams,” which are just what they sound like, and “bison car washes”, where bison lick your vehicle.
Custer State Park is located at 13438 US Highway 16A in Custer, South Dakota.
18- Get Peace Of Mind At The Chapel In The Hills
The Chapel in the Hills is a Rapid City church, not just any church.
It’s a stave church, which is a style of wooden building from Norway and was inspired by Norwegian immigrants to the area.
This is a place of peace and meditation, and many visitors, both religious and not religious, come here for some peace and quiet.
Walk the nearby Meditation Trail for some extra zen.
The Chapel in the Hills can be found at 24040 Cosmos Rd in Rapid City.
19- Get Trippy At The Cosmos Mystery Area
The Cosmos Mystery Area is yet another attraction in Rapid City that is probably unlike anything you’ve visited.
Discovered in 1952, the area known as the Cosmos boasts that the laws of physics are just a little different here.
Mysterious phenomena like balls rolling uphill and people being able to walk up walls are just some of the experiences you’ll discover here.
Visitors describe a physical pressure on them that is unique to the area.
Real or fake, you’ll have to decide for yourself – this is fun for the whole family.
Cosmos Mystery Area is at 24040 Cosmos Rd in Rapid City. Skip the line and book your tickets here.
20- Visit Reptile Gardens
Between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore is Reptile Gardens, an attraction that kids and adults will both love.
This location possibly has more reptiles than any other animal park or zoo in the world and focuses on interaction with the animals.
Visitors can interact with gentle giant tortoises or see Maniac the giant crocodile.
Reptile Gardens is located at 8955 US-16 in Rapid City.