Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (2023)

Rapid City - the second largest city in South Dakota - is known for being the gateway to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. But no trip to the state's western edge is complete without a broader exploration of the region. From Rapid City, visitors can learn important facts about the Native American experience, walk the prairies with the famous buffalo, and even travel back in time to the Ice Age through active archaeological digs. Here are the best day trips from Rapid City, South Dakota.

01Since 2007

Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Bucket List Views

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (1)


13000 SD-244,cornerstone,SD 57751,USA

Telephone+1 605-574-2523

Going to South Dakota You Can't Skip This Tripmount rushmore. Indeed, the 60-foot-tall faces of four of America's most influential presidents, carved on sacred Native American land between 1927 and 1941, look smaller than one might think. But it's hard to deny that strolling along the state-flag-flying promenade and admiring the sculpture's "big view" remains a popular wish-list item. At the foot of the sculpture there is an 800m walking track (President's Walk), a gift shop, a restaurant and an amphitheater that hosts nightly demonstrations, including ranger talks and a short film before the sculpture lights up.

reach there:Mount Rushmore is just a 30-minute drive from Rapid City and near the popular tourist town of Keystone. Parking at the National Monument is $10 per car, motorcycle, or RV ($5 for seniors) and is not included with any National Park Service pass.

Travel Tips:The ice cream parlor at the foot of the mountain serves Thomas Jefferson's own recipe for vanilla ice cream. It's a little more expensive than other historic options in the store, but it's worth it!

02Since 2007

Crazy Horse Memorial: Honoring All Native Americans

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (2)

Mount Rushmore isn't the only mountain sculpture in town, nor is it the most impressive. Only 40 minutes from the roadCrazy Horse, and its backstory (and sheer size—the sculpture's head alone is 87 feet tall) are enough to make the attraction worth a visit. Carving this famous sculpture of Chief Oglala Lakota at the Black Hills sanctuary was the idea of ​​Chief Henry Standing Bear, who approached Colzak Zior, an assistant sculptor who had worked at Mount Rushmore Kowski, and came up with the project in hopes of sharing Native American history with others. Tsiolkovsky sculpted the monument alone from 1948 until his death in 1982, refusing millions of dollars in government funding in the process. The sculpture, now an unfinished work, was directed by Tsiolkovsky's two daughters, who took up the project after their father's death in 1982.

Crazy Horse visitors can take a bus ride to see the sculptures up close and learn all about the history of Native Americans (and carvings) at the site's impressive museum. Admission fees support the foundation's ongoing on- and off-site sculpture, museum and educational programs.

reach there:The Crazy Horse Memorial is located in the heart of Black Mountain, less than an hour from Rapid City, between Hill City and Custer Township. Entry for visitors is approximately $12 per person per vehicle, or $30 per vehicle if there are 3 or more people. Motorcycle admission is $7 per person, free for Native Americans, active duty military, Custer County residents, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (in uniform), and children under 6 years old.

Travel Tips:Don't miss your chance to bring a piece of the mountain home - head to the rock box near the sculptural scale model and pick up a rock blasted by the mountain crew from the rock carvings.

03Since 2007

Custer State Park: Where Buffalo Roam

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (3)


Heart House,USA

Telephone+1 605-255-4515

No trip to South Dakota is complete without a good look at where the buffalo roam. 110 square milesCuster State ParkAmple opportunities are provided to get up close and personal with patriotic cattle, marmots and donkeys as they graze on the meadows below the park's cliffs. Many parkgoers take the Wildlife Loop, which winds through the center of the park and takes about 45 minutes to complete.

But each late September, visitors can watch real-life cowboys round up the park's 1,300-head herd for testing, marking and sorting. Custer State Park's annual buffalo hunt draws some 20,000 spectators to the park and is a true show of true Americana.

reach there:Custer State Park is a 40-minute drive south of Rapid City. The best way to see the park is by driving. Expect to pay a temporary license fee of $20 per car ($10 per motorcycle) upon entry.

Travel Tips:After leaving the park, head north on Iron Mountain Road and encounter the narrow Scovel Johnson, C.C. Gideon and Dorn Robinson Tunnels, each beautifully rendered Silhouette of Mount Rushmore.

04Since 2007

Pine Ridge Reservation: Native American Experiences Past and Present

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (4)


Pine Ridge Reserve,Manderson-White Horse Creek,SD,USA

The Oglala Lakota people face challenges that many Americans cannot imagine, and a visit to Pine Ridge—one of the largest Native American reservations in the United States—certainly demonstrates in many ways the hardships of life for Native Americans. But the reservation also holds silver linings for its thriving schools: Oglala Lakota College and Red Cloud Indian School.

Founded in 1971, Lakota College of Oglala today enrolls approximately 1,500 students each semester and awards more than 3,000 degrees in popular fields on the reservation, such as teaching and nursing. The college features a History Center that displays photographs and artwork of the Oglala Lakota from the early 19th century to the Wounded Knee massacre.

Not far from the college, the nearly 100-year-old Red Cloud Indian School was founded by the Jesuits in 1888 and today plays an important role in preserving the Lakota language. Visitors can visit the site's Lakota Catholic Church, which was rebuilt in 1998 with a perfect blend of Hindu and Catholic architecture and symbolism, as well as one of the tribe's most important leaders - The grave of Red Cloud himself. The school holds an art exhibition every year,Red Cloud India Art ExhibitionAnd features a wonderful gift shop that works only with Lakota artisans.

The site of the Wounded Knee Massacre is also at Pine Ridge. The site is now marked by cemeteries and mass graves, offering a blurred view of the plight facing the Oglala Lakota people. Reports of harassment by vendors in the on-site parking lot have been addressed by Lakota leadership, but should not be ignored—visitors should be prepared to politely but firmly say no if approached by vendors selling dream catchers and crafts.

reach there:Red Cloud Indian School (the southernmost tip of the reservation mentioned here) is located 90 miles southeast of Rapid City. Plan a full day for a comprehensive tour of the reserve.

Travel Tips:Dhaka Rez TurzThe business run by Oglala Lakota College student Tianna Yellowhair and her father, Warren Guss Yellowhair, is the only one on the reserve Licensed tour guide company. The couple can organize tailor-made tours and experiences, including traditional performances, sensitivity training and classes on medicinal plants and herbs.

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05Since 2007

Wall Drug: Knick-knacks and nostalgia

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (5)


510 Main Street,the stick,SD 57790,USA

Telephone+1 605-279-2175

If you haven't lived indoors in your entire life, chances are you've seen the signsWanderrog. The street attraction's eponymous sticker adorns bar toilets and choppy RV bumpers around the world, not to mention dozens of signs along the highway between Rapid City and Wall. Wall Drug was founded in 1931 by the Hustead family, who grew their business by offering free iced water to every passerby. Today, the third generation of Husteads still offers free iced water but runs a much larger empire — the small drugstore has grown into a 76,000-square-foot entertainment powerhouse, and a Western-style mall selling everything from cowboy boots to Everything from Black Hills Gold. Sell ​​. Sit outside on the giant, enigmatic jackalope, or pose in front of the Mount Rushmore mural. Who needs originals?

Decorated with the largest collection of Western art in the country, Wall Drug's black walnut-paneled cafeteria is the place to enjoy the family's famous hot beef sandwich (soaked in thick gravy) and homemade maple donuts.

reach there:Located 49 minutes east of Rapid City, off I90, Wall Drug may be the best signposted repair shop in the world. You can't miss it.

Travel Tips:Not driving? The Wall Drug Cafeteria has arguably the best ice-cold Bud Light kegs in the world.

06Since 2007

Badlands National Park: Pinnacles and Prairie Dogs

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (6)


Heart House,USA

Telephone+1 605-433-5361

badlands national parkThe nearly 380 square miles of prairie give way naturally to rugged red pinnacles and hills, which can be reached in a variety of ways. As the sun moves across the park each day, the park's eroded landscape takes on different moods and landscape features vary throughout the park.

Enter the park from the Badlands Pinnacles entrance and head to the Pinnacles Lookout for one of the most colorful sunsets in existence. Or, after a day at Pine Ridge, head back to Rapid City via the stunning Red Shirt Table Observation Deck - where the sudden transition from green grass to red sand is like the end of the world.

reach there:The Badlands Pinnacles entrance is located 56 minutes from Rapid City in Wall, South Dakota, not far from Wall Drug. Red Shirt Table Overlook is a 49-minute drive southeast of Rapid City.

Travel Tips:Don't want to drive back to Rapid City after sunset? Make an appointment to visit the parkCedar Pass Lodge, a range of lodges and cozy campsites offering sustainable accommodation, stunning sunrises and truly delicious dinners.

07Since 2007

Hot Springs, South Dakota: Mammoths and Wild Horses

Best Day Trips from Rapid City, South Dakota (7)


hot spring,SD 57747,USA

Spa Town This sleepy town offers more than the hot spring water it's named after. In 1975, a land developer stumbled across the sinkhole that contained more than 60 mammoths, making the site the largest collection of mammoth fossils in the world. today'smammoth ruinsVisitors have the opportunity to participate in active paleontological digs and see fossils of two species of mammoth, as well as other species found in the cave, including camels, wolves and bears. During the summer digs, kids can even dig for themselves! The grounds are fully fenced—tickets range from $7 to $10, and visiting hours vary by season.

After encountering the Ice Age, go toBlack Mountain Wild Horse Sanctuary– A private ranch with over 500 wild horses released by the Bureau of Land Management to rancher Dayton O. Hyde, where the wild horses have been in state care since 1971. Today, these lucky horses own more than 6,000 acres along the Cheyenne River, where they live largely undisturbed, sharing the land only occasionally with Native American ceremonies and Hollywood movie sets. Visitors can take different types of tours—from two-hour guided bus tours ($50 per adult) to tours for the most experienced photographers—and even sponsor a Mustang with a $400 annual donation to name it. Funding for the sanctuary comes entirely from donations and tourism.

reach there:Hot Springs is a 57-minute drive south of Rapid City.

Travel Tips:Don't miss the 8,000 to 10,000-year-old petroglyphs carved into the cliffs at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.


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