13 Cool Things to Do Around Rapid City, South Dakota (2023)

If you had told me a few months ago that I would be exploring the Rapid City, South Dakota area, I would not have believed you. To be honest, South Dakota is not my top choice for 2019, nor will it be for years to come!

but if my friendjessicacall me for a road tripMontanapassWyomingI was sold to South Dakota! I love road trips, especially with Jesse. Interestingly, in September 2018 we did awest coast road tripIt was a lot of fun and in September 2019 we hit the road together again. #reunion!

Since Jesse and I love a good road trip, I thought, "Hey, why not!" Let's go. Unsurprisingly, I was struck by this little corner of America and liked it more than I thought.

Here's a rundown of my fun times in South Dakota. Be sure to check out the rest of my posts on Montana and Wyoming:

  • Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Itinerary
  • 14 Best Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park
  • Glacier National Park Activities Guide
  • Overnight in Glacier National Park

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Things to do near Rapid City, South Dakota

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have much hope for South Dakota. I find this state somehow... a little boring.

But that's mostly because I don't know much about it and don't think much is happening in "that part of America". Everything is flat and boring. I know I'm stupid right? As it turns out, South Dakota, especially its west side, is pretty cool (and not flat at all!).

I'm always willing to admit when I'm wrong, and I'm wrong. However, I've never been one to say I won't try anything new, so I'm glad I tried South Dakota because I ended up liking it.

only problem? South Dakota doesn't love me...it rains a lot during my time here, preventing me from visiting some of the coolest places. But that didn't stop me, I tried anyway, but thick billowing clouds and frequent rains often blocked my view. And if it is not rainy and cloudy, just close it at will.

You'll see what I'm saying below. But that's okay; I still love you South Dakota! This article gives you a taste of some cool things to do in Rapid City (spoiler alert: you'll actually be out of Rapid City a lot).

I did everything on this list to the best of my ability, but was unable to fully complete my adventure due to the weather and closures. So I've added some stock photos here to better show you what I'm hoping to see and what I should be seeing.

1. Art Alley – a hot spot in Rapid City

Stroll off the city's main streets and soak up the arts scene in Rapid City. Located between 6th and 7th Streets, creative souls unleash their talents with a brightly colored mural.

While you might not think Rapid City is one of the coolestoutdoor art goals, it can definitely be sweet and quaint in its own way. The community provides incredible support to local artists whose inspiring ideas continue to change the art world.

Stroll down this narrow alley and you will find spiritual and political expression that goes straight to your heart. You'll see many murals focusing on some of the most challenging issues of our time affecting communities around the globe. If you're lucky, you might meet the next great artist perfecting their craft on concrete canvas.

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It's a cool thing to do that will only take up a fraction of your time in the city. It might not be the best graffiti street you'll ever see, but it's still a cool place to wander.

Well, other events in Rapid City don't actually exist in Rapid City at all. There are more things to do in town, but I think the best places are (literally) a little outside!

It's a city with a great location, and if you want a green space, cool lake, fun hikes, and other outdoor options - I'd go out of town and go there! So everything is out of town from now on.

related:Best Walking Tours Near Washington DC

2. Black Hills National Forest - Best Areas Near Rapid City

So what's that big green space outside of Rapid City, you might ask? This is Montenegro.

The Black Mountains consist of over a million acres of native forest, steep cliffs and stunning lakes. Established in the 19th century as a nature preserve, it has one of the most diverse landscapes in South Dakota. An abundance of babbling creeks, mysterious caves and unique rock formations create a playground for adventurers.

Rising above the adjacent plains, this mountain range was a sacred sanctuary for Native American tribes centuries ago. In the 19th century, this peaceful forest became a haven for settlers due to the discovery of gold in the area.

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Today, the splendor of this fascinating ecosystem attracts millions of outdoor enthusiasts every year. Hiking, rock climbing, camping, and wildlife viewing are just some of the ways to enjoy the beauty of the forest.

Most of the attractions near Rapid City listed here are within the Black Hills National Forest, west of Rapid City.

3. Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave's fascinating subterranean passages have intrigued generations of explorers. With over 200 miles of mapped corridors, Jewel Cave is one of the most important cave systems ever discovered by man.

Nestled beneath the beautiful Black Mountains, this stunning world of rock formations and vibrant colors is shrouded in mystery. Gleaming crystals illuminate the hallway, and plaster and limestone are among the other fascinating textures on the walls.

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A guided tour of Gem Cave is a valuable educational activity near Rapid City that will enrich your knowledge of the cave system. Your guide will introduce you to each formation and lead you to secret passages hidden in plain sight.

Unfortunately, while Jewel Cave looked like a great place to explore, it was closed during our visit. We were able to wander around the visitor center and surrounding area but couldn't see what was actually on offer as it was closed during peak season. sure, thatCheckbefore you visit us.

read more:

4. Wind Cave National Park

Explore below the surface and marvel at this incredible cave system. More than 150 miles of subterranean beauty make this one of the largest caves in the world. Not only is the Wind Tunnel a great place to escape the heat, but you'll also find many curious formations along its walls.

You'll find many strange box structures that take on a unique honeycomb shape. This formation is a rare find, making the Wind Cave a particularly unique cave system.

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Above this endless underpass, the park is home to a vibrant ecosystem, home to a variety of animals. Bison, deer, coyotes, and other fascinating wildlife roam freely in the meadows above the caves.

Luckily, the wind tunnel's elevator wasn't working when we were there. So here we are, another cool place with a cave that we didn't visit. again,CheckIf there are any questions, please contact us before your visit so that you can better plan your trip.

There are several hiking trails in the area and we went for a walk. It started to rain and we got back to the car only to find a bison blocking our way. We had to walk through tall bushes to get past him!

5. Buffalo Review

Feel the ground trembling under your feetCuster State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival. This cherished tradition is one of the most exciting things to do in Rapid City. Thousands of beautiful buffalo are brought into the stables to ensure the herd remains healthy.

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The weekend event was an incredible sight and it was an amazing experience to watch so many buffalo rush across the grasslands. Custer State Park accepts 20 public riders for the event each year. The lucky few who are selected to drive the buffalo must meet strict criteria to participate in the raid.

With approximately 20,000 annual visitors in South Dakota, the accompanying arts festival is a huge boost to the state's economy. More than 100 vendors will sell local handicrafts and delicacies before the extravaganza begins.

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  • Please bring a folding chair as you may have to wait a while. A picnic blanket isn't the best option as it can get muddy (that's when we were here - surprise!).
  • Dress warmly. It will probably be cold and wet while we are here too!
  • Get out early. how early. The normally 30 minute drive took almost two hours and we got outside at just the right time.
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  • Especially surrounding cities like Rapid City and Custer will be very crowded. There were two hour waits in restaurants, hotels were fully booked, and everything was a little crazy. Book accommodation in advance.
  • Named the bison "Beefy Boys". Jess called them "Strong Boys" on the trip, and we've been calling them that ever since. Promise me it's super fun. How many strong guys will you find in a raid? Aren't chubby boys cute? Well! It was so much fun...

6. Mount Rushmore

Four of America's most revered presidents are carved into the granite cliffs of beautiful Black Mountain. Beautiful carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt dominate the landscape, and millions of visitors pay tribute to these American leaders each year.

The sculptor Gertzen Borglum, who created this masterpiece, believes that each president-elect represents a milestone achievement in American progress.

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Besides admiring the famous works of art, one of the most educational things to do near Mount Rushmore is to visit the sculpture studio. This mesmerizing experience offers insight into the monument's intricate carving process.

To enjoy the beautiful scenery around Mount Rushmore, hike the Presidential Trail and enjoy the views of the rugged cliffs.

read more:

Things to do near Mount Rushmore

Don't think Mount Rushmore is! The area is beautiful and there is much to see and do around Mount Rushmore. The following locations are all within minutes of the famous head...

7. Crazy Horse Memorial

In 1948, Korczak Ziolkowski first laid the foundation for this stunning carving of a legendary Lakota Sioux warrior. More than 70 years have passed, and this huge project has not yet been completed.

The talented sculptor's family continues the project to this day. When the colossal sculpture is finally completed, it will be the largest sculpture in the world at 641 feet by 563 feet. Its size would completely dwarf Mount Rushmore.

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An exciting activity near Rapid City is to climb to the top of this remarkable monument to see its details up close. Every year during Crazy Horse Festival there is an opportunity like thisfolk march. For two days in the spring and one day in the fall, thousands of hikers scale the monument. The 6.2-mile hike is a great activity to see work in progress.

Next to the actual monument there is a fascinating museum with a video showing the creation of Crazy Horse and who he is. While the story is important, the actual monument may be a bit of a letdown for some. First, visiting the unfinished monument is a hefty $30 per vehicle (or $12 per person).

You can't climb it unless you come during the People's March, even a littledisputeAs someone said, Crazy Horse doesn't even like his pictures, let alone his engravings.

We didn't even see Crazy Horse, though, because if you haven't told this article, the weather wasn't great. Thick fog prevented us from seeing a small part of the mountain. We had no idea which direction the mountain was facing, the fog was so thick!

8. Needles Highway

It stretches for nearly 14 miles through majestic landscapesCuster State ParkThe picturesque Needles Expressway (Hwy 87) is a true engineering marvel. Many skeptics considered the construction of the trail a foolish undertaking, but its creation provided motorists with an exciting route.

Get ready for sharp 180-degree turns, tunnels narrowed by overhanging rock faces, and other tough challenges that will put your driving skills to the test. The journey takes you through three stunning tunnels, the most notable of which is the narrow Eye of the Needle Tunnel.

Slow and steady driving defines your day on this expedition as you pass countless impressive sights. Serene lakes and granite towers are the most beautiful places to stop and admire the extraordinary scenery.

related:19 Mistakes to Avoid on a Road Trip

9. Horse Thief Lake

Surrounded by stunning pine forests, Horse Thief Lake is the ultimate nature getaway away from the crowds of Mount Rushmore. Just three kilometers from the famous monument, the lake is an ideal camping site for a peaceful holiday enjoying nature.

Horsethief Lake Campground has limited space with only 36 campsites. Since this is one of the most popular events near Mount Rushmore (just 10 minutes down the road), planning will help secure a seat.

There are countless recreational opportunities around the lake, including hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Interestingly, horses have played a role in the lake since the Wild West became a haunt of horse bandits in the late 1800s.

There is a short trail that runs along the southern end of the lake, and some other trailheads start here. The Horsethief Lake Trail is an easy, scenic 5-mile round-trip trail.

10. Forest Lake

For nature lovers, this beautiful swimming hole is one of the most beautiful things to do around Mount Rushmore. Visitors to Custer State Park can relax by the lake on a sunny day while admiring the view of the cliffs. The beautiful surroundings of tranquil forests and granite walls provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities.

The lake made its big-screen debut in the film National Treasure 2: The Book of Secrets. Even before he was in Hollywood, Sylvan Lake was a popular vacation spot with cult statusSylvan Lake Lodge

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If swimming is not your thing, canoes, pedal boats and other non-motorized vehicles are available for hire. Climbing and hiking trails add to the fun around the lake, and there are plenty of picnic spots to recharge your batteries.

11. Cathedral Spire Walk

distance: 1.6 miles
path type:round trip

Although the journey is not long, theCathedral Spire WalkHikers can enjoy stunning views of the craggy towers overlooking the valley. Trekking poles may be useful for less experienced hikers, as the climb is rocky. Still, the final climb gives you beautiful views of the Granite Tower and the cozy town of Custer.

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A detour off the main road leads to the Imp's Tower. This trail puts you in direct contact with the fantastic rock formations and gives you an idea of ​​their incredible size.

With tall towers surrounding the trail, climbers have ample opportunity to hone their skills. The Cathedral Spire area offers dozens of climbing routes for all skill levels. Climbers will have a great day on some of the longer routes in the Black Hills National Forest.

We really wanted to do this hike and tried it a few times, but the constant rain and fog we experienced here didn't allow us to. Wangpu Wangpu

Day Trips from Rapid City

Black Mountain is undoubtedly the highlight of Rapid City. As you drive west from the city, you'll see countless incredible views and adventures. But as you head east, the options for activities dwindle. Two things not to miss on your drive east from Rapid City!

12. Wall Pharmacy

This remarkable roadside attraction is a unique one in the Rapid City neighborhood. What started as a simple pharmacy in the small town of Wall has grown into a global phenomenon, attracting millions of curious tourists.

The store's original owner, Ted Hustead, placed a free ice water billboard on the highway to attract customers. The huge success of the painted signs inspired Ted to grace the nation's highways with thousands of creative ads.

A catchy tagline and friendly service draw wandering travelers to this humble store. Thirsty drivers will occasionally drop into the store for ice water, ice cream cones or refreshing sodas.

Today, Wall Drug has grown into a global icon with 18 retail stores, a restaurant, gift shop, quirky mechanical animals, and plenty of refreshing treats for walkers.

This is the place to visit before or after your badlands for some snacks and drinks.

related:Your road trip must-have packing list

13. Badlands National Park (everyone's favorite thing to do around Rapid City!)

Stretching across the vast prairies of South Dakota, Badlands National Park is made up of many unique rock formations that soar into the sky. An air of mystery pervades the isolated landscape as you drive down lonely roads.

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Driving through this rugged terrain is probably your best bet around Rapid City. Steep canyons, colorful stripes and spiky pinnacles will transport you to another dimension. Stunning shades of red, yellow, orange, purple and white are a testament to the often dangerous conditions that wastelands face.

A closer look reveals stunning fossil beds, some of the best preserved in the world. Remains of animals that lived on the plains long ago are still being discovered today.

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Drive along the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway and enjoy breathtaking scenery from 16 designated viewpoints. This 40-mile (63-kilometer) circular route stops at numerous hiking trails, allowing you to explore these remarkable landmarks on foot.

How to Complete Badlands National Park

This has got to be one of the easiest national parks to visit. There is a street with a car park where you can get off your car for a short hike. It's that easy! Here you will not get lost or take detours.

Drive along Sage Creek Rim Road, stopping as often as you like - this can be frequent. The journey itself is breathtaking. Be careful and keep an eye on the road. The road is perfectly signposted, where you can get out of the car and stretch your legs.

Hiking, or rather walking, short and fast, is a great way to see wild landscapes up close or from a different perspective.

You'll need a day to see the entire park, hike and do everything Rapid City has to offer. It's quick, easy, and well worth the hour-long detour.

Where to stay: Rapid City vs Custer

While this article uses Rapid City as its "base" for exploration, you can also use Craster. In fact, we've used both. Depending on how many days you have and what exactly you want to watch, you can choose between the two. Or use both like we do.

Custer fits your criteria but is affordable and comfortableComfort InnStay and find the same level of comfort in Rapid CityHampton Inn. You can't beat the level of comfort, cleanliness and affordability that both offer.

The Comfort Inn in Custer even provides an additional breakfast for all guests participating in the Buffalo Roundup.

how to travel

I always check for rental cars in the areahereFirst, you'll be given a list of businesses. If you want another drop off location to avoid the one-way fee, be sure to ask if a vehicle is required for "specific directions".

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I hope this helps you plan your trip and gives you some ideas of things to do in and around Rapid City.

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Nina Ragusa

Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bread guru, breakfast fanatic and full-time travel blogger. She has been abroad since 2011 and blogs about "Where in the World is Nina?" Almost as long. Nina helps people like you travel the world and make money along the way. she likes to talk about itHow to work abroad and onlineTravel longer!



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