Look at a map of Rapid City and you’ll see just how close it is to myriad national parks, state parks, national memorials, national monuments and national historic sites. Its central location makes it the perfect base for all your outdoor adventures. Spend your days trekking through badlands, wandering in caves deep beneath the surface and gawking at the 60-foot carved faces of four major U.S. presidents. When you’re done playing in the great outdoors, spend some time in downtown Rapid City. Its thriving arts scene, world-class museums and great restaurants make it so much more than just a gateway to spectacular landscapes.
Bliss in the Badlands
Every trip to Rapid City begins with Badlands National Park. Rugged, barren and seemingly endless, this remarkable landscape has been shaped by layers of sediment over tens of millions of years. Today, the area supports a diverse range of wildlife such as bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs. Keep an eye out for them as you drive along the 31-mile scenic loop. You can also take the Door Trail or Window Trail for phenomenal views of the jagged spires and striped buttes. Stargazing is incredible here, too, so camp overnight if you want to see constellations and planets twinkle in the night sky.
Four Seasons of Fishing
Brook, brown and rainbow trout teem in the streams and mountain lakes around town. Reservoirs and ranch stock dams are filled with northern pike, panfish and largemouth bass as well. Local anglers say they’ve had great luck in spots like Stockade Lake, Rapid Creek and the Deerfield Reservoir. The fishing season never ends, not even in winter, so try your hand at ice fishing from mid-December to early April. Sheridan Lake and Pactola Lake are the best places to catch trout during this time.
Follow the Black Elk Trail
You don’t have to travel far for great trails. The Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park Trail is right in the city and offers 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking paths. The Skyline Wilderness Area is also less than a mile from downtown and known for its tranquil forest setting. One of the most popular hikes is just a one-hour drive away in the Black Hills Elk Wilderness Area. Follow the Black Elk Trail and soak up panoramic views of the Black Hills National Forest from the state’s highest natural point: Black Elk Peak, which towers over the region at 7,244 feet.
The Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park offer a completely different kind of adventure. Instead of ascending, you’ll descend deep underground to explore complex passageways teeming with stalactites, frostwork and other intriguing geological wonders.
City of Presidents
Take a stroll through downtown Rapid City to uncover life-sized bronze statues of 43 presidents. From JFK giving his son a toy plane to Theodore Roosevelt dressed in a roughrider uniform, each statue showcases a side of the famous leaders you don’t normally see. Nearby is Keystone’s National Presidential Wax Museum. Head inside to meet a hundred ultra-realistic wax figures, including all 45 presidents, and have fun pretending to be the press secretary in the White House briefing room.
Rush to Rushmore
You can also spend the day at nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial to view the carved faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on the side of a granite mountain. Arguably the nation’s most cherished feat of artistry and engineering, this ode to American democracy was carved by sculptor Gutzon Borglum between 1927 and 1941 at the cost of about $1 million. The Presidential Trail delivers awe-inspiring views of the 60-foot faces of the leaders.
Do Big Things
Locals pack their calendars with exciting events. The last weekend in January marks the start of the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, the second-largest festival in the state. Rodeos, cattle sales and horse competitions are just a few of the 120 agricultural presentations you’ll get to witness. October’s Black Hills Powwow draws spectators from across the continent with its Native American dance performances and drum groups, while the Thursdays on the Square concert series keeps good tunes flowing all summer long. Other popular events include the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August and Festival of Lights Parade during the holiday season. For a glimpse of something wild, pay a visit to Bear Country USA, where visitors can see these big mammals frolic in a park setting.
Native American History
South Dakota is home to the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Sioux communities, making Rapid City an excellent place to learn about Native American heritage. Stop by the Prairie Edge & Sioux Trading Post to discover one of the top collections of Plains Indian artifacts in the country. The Journey Museum and Learning Center also tells the story of the Western Great Plains from the perspective of the Lakota people. Perhaps the best place of all to experience indigenous history is at Crazy Horse Memorial. The colossal mountain carving — which is yet to be completed — pays tribute to the legendary Lakota leader. The neighboring Indian Museum of North America offers valuable insight into the cultures of over 300 Native American nations.
Reptiles and Replicas
Just 6 miles out of town, the Reptile Gardens holds the Guinness World Records title as the world’s largest reptile zoo, with more species of reptiles than any other zoo or wild animal park in the world. For a more whimsical look at reptiles, check out Dinosaur Park, with seven large dino sculptures on a hill overlooking the town.
For More Information
Visit Rapid City
South Dakota Department of Tourism