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Many travelers pass by Rapid City on their way to the iconic Mount Rushmore, but there are lots of reasons to stop in town too. The natural area that surrounds Rapid City is absolutely stunning as well, and there’s a lot you can learn about history, geology, and culture when you come to this part of the country. Here are some of our favorite things to do in and around Rapid City, South Dakota!
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For sweeping landscapes, wide-open spaces, impressive rock formations, and beautiful sunsets, Badlands National Park is the place to be. You can take a scenic drive through the park to get a sense of what it’s all about. But definitely plan to park and get out on some of the hiking trails too. The “Door” and “Window” area of the park is popular and has its own parking area that you can walk from to see amazing views and walk among the formations and vast landscape. There’s also a nice campground at the park where you can bring your tent or RV to spend a day or longer and enjoy the beauty of the Badlands. Inside the park, you may see bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep. The national park entrance fee is $20 per vehicle or $10 if you hike or bike in, with fees covering admission for a seven-day period.
Rocks are a big part of life in Rapid City, and you’ll understand why after you’ve visited Badlands National Park. Visit the Museum of Geology to learn through hands-on exhibits about minerals, paleontology, dinosaurs, meteorites, and more. Locally found fossil specimens are found and highlight reptiles and fish found in the ancient seas that once covered South Dakota. Kids love the interactive displays, and adults can learn a lot here too. You can stop by the gift shop at the museum on the way out for a fun souvenir. The museum is part of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology but it’s free and open to the public. Stop by in the summer between 9am and 6pm or in the winter between 8:30am and 4pm.
There’s a great air and space museum in Rapid City that’s worth visiting for both kids and adults alike. Here you’ll find World War II and present-day military aircraft, as well as missiles and lots of exhibits. You’ll learn about aviation pioneers, air travel innovations, and see both outdoor and indoor exhibits here. The museum is located near the main gate at Ellsworth Air Force Base. It is open at different times depending on the time of year and tours are available between June and August. There is no charge for museum admission, and the tours are free too.
If you’re traveling with kids, a stop by Storybook Island in Rapid City is a must. This is a free kids’ theme park that’s open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You’ll be reminded of nursery rhymes and favorite stories when you visit and perhaps even get to check out a local event. In the summertime, the attraction hosts theater production and magic shows. This is a great place to visit because it’s free and even the shows are very affordably priced. Storybook Island is open from 9am to 7pm daily unless the weather forces closure. Check the venue’s website before your visit to see if any fun events are going on!
Rapid City has a deep mining history, and the Black Hills Caverns here were discovered by miners back in 1882. This was the land of the Lakota Native Americans, and the caverns are known for their calcite crystals. Today, you can tour the caverns to experience the impressive visuals and learn about how they were formed. This attraction is open between May 15 and September 30 with daily hours from 9am to either 4pm or 6pm. There are two types of tours you can take here. The Adventure Tour is more strenuous, takes about an hour, includes all three cave levels, and costs $15.75 per adult. Meanwhile, the Crystal Tour is easier, about a half hour long, only enters the first level of the cave, and costs $12.75 per adult.
One historic landmark to add to your Rapid City itinerary is Chapel in the Hills. This is a replica of an ancient Norwegian church and is complete with religious symbols, wood carvings, and interesting features. A nonprofit organization operates the chapel here on 3788 Chapel Lane. There’s a museum on site and a walking path into a quiet forest for prayer and meditation.
Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries
If you’re looking for souvenirs or just enjoy shopping, make a point to stop by the Prairie Edge Trading Co. and Galleries when you’re in town. Here you can find everything from fine art to Native American art, literature, and more. In fact, this is one of the very best collections of arts and crafts of the Plains Native Americans, while it also has a huge collection of Italian glass beads! This shop is on Main Street, where there is a lot of other places to explore as well. You can stop by an art gallery selling pottery and jewelry or pop into the Journey Museum & Learning Center to learn a bit about the region’s history. The Main Street Square is an open space that has gardens and hosts events like the Black Hills Art & Wine Festival.
If you’ve already seen Mount Rushmore, make a point to check out America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit. This exhibit features a short show and a life-size Declaration of Independence piece of artwork that reveal how a group of patriots created our country. Here you can even sign a Declaration of Independence like the forefathers did. It’s also fun to visit this site to ring a replica of the Liberty Bell and fire a Revolutionary War-style rifle. The exhibit is open from May to October and costs $12 per adult. It’s $20 for three shots on the rifle range.