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Spotlight: Rapid City

See dinosaurs, Badlands and buffalo in this fun-filled spot in the Black Hills

Set against the eastern edges of the scenic Black Hills and sitting within easy reach of the legendary Badlands of South Dakota, historic Rapid City is an ideal place to set up camp in the southwestern corner of the state and go exploring abroad.

As the second-largest city in the state, this Gold Rush-era boomtown is home to a full selection of world-class dining, shopping and entertainment options. It also sits on the doorstep to incredible outdoor attractions like Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Black Hills National Forest, Badlands National Park, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Park and the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs. So find a campground, park the RV and prepare to pencil in a full slate of jam-packed day-trips that mix surreal geology with an incredible history.

Before you go exploring far and wide, though, be sure to see all that the immediate Rapid City area has to offer.

SD_Rapid City_Sm01

South Dakota Department of Tourism

Hail to the Chiefs

Start with its historic downtown district, known affectionately as the City of Presidents. At its heart is Main Street Square, a picturesque public space that plays host to a full calendar of live concerts and cultural events. The surrounding streets are dotted with life-sized bronze statues depicting America’s past presidents, giving the historic district its presidential moniker.

The City of Presidents pairs nicely with a trip to the Founding Fathers Black Hills art gallery and museum, which is located a few miles south of the city center. Here, art and history intertwine to tell the story of the men who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence. The exhibit features a life-size recreation of events inside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall during the Second Continental Congress.

Black Hills Background

Continue the history theme with stops at the Journey Museum and the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. The former is located in downtown Rapid City, while the latter sits just 14 miles east of town off of Interstate 90.

At the Journey Museum campus, guests can explore the full sweep of Black Hills history and geography by way of four different sub-museums: The Museum of Geology, the State of South Dakota Archeological Research Center, the Sioux Indian Museum and the Minnilusa Pioneer Museum. Exhibits, collections and interactive displays cover everything from the final gun-slinging days of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood to ancient Native American artifacts from nearby dig sites.

Statues of presidents, tales of gunslingers and archeological dig sites aren’t for everyone, though, and those traveling with small children will want to spice up the sightseeing schedule with a bit of family fun. For this, a great place to start is Bear Country USA.

Located a few miles south of the city, this unique open-air safari sprawls across 200 acres of forests and meadows. Visitors enjoy a self-paced, 3-mile drive through a variety of enclosures that house black bears, reindeer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, cougars, bobcats, pronghorns and buffalos.

Rapid City CVB

Rapid City CVB

Creepy Crawlies

On your way back to Rapid City, you might also want to pay a visit to Reptile Gardens, which nicely rounds out the trio of animal attractions in the immediate area. The star of the show here is the resident Komodo dragon, followed closely by a rare saltwater crocodile, but the enclosures feature a large selection of other snakes, birds and, of course, lizards in an exotic setting.

Finally, if you’re looking for a taste of South Dakota’s incredible geological history head to Dinosaur Park or Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns.

Dinosaur Park has been free and open to the public since 1936. Set atop a scenic ridge, the park is home to sweeping vistas that stretch for upwards of 100 miles as well as a rich history of archeological discovery. Dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods have been discovered here along with prehistoric dinosaur footprints.

Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns, for its part, features anything but sweeping panoramic vistas. Here, visitors descend deep underground for guided tours of the world’s largest natural displays of dogtooth spar crystal. Other highlights of the tour include a subterranean lake and underground domes known as the French Chandelier Room, Crystal Palace and Rainbow Arch.

For More Information

Rapid City CVB
South Dakota Department of Tourism