Rapid City is located in the Black Hills area of western S. Dakota. With a population of about 68,000 it offers many amenities and is located close enough the main attractions that you could easily make into a day trip if you were staying in the city.
The Black Hills
The Black Hills National Forest is not only home to Mt. Rushmore, the area’s main attraction, but has several parks and campgrounds. The National Forest area allows for boon docking, or dispersed camping (not in any campground, no hook-ups for electric, sewer or water), so long as you are not next to a campground or other lodging businesses. You can pick up a map that shows where the dispersed camping is allowed at the US Forestry Service located on Highway 16, east of the Black Hills. This is a good option for someone that wants to take in scenic views and be away from all the tourist activity.
A popular place within The Black Hills is Custer State Park. There are campgrounds to choose from here. If camping is not your thing, the Custer State Park Resort offers lodges and cabins. This park offers much for hiking, fishing and biking. You could take a drive on the Wildlife Loop Road, enjoy a day at any of the lakes such as Sylvan Lake or Bismark Lake. If you’d prefer a challenging hike, Black Elk Peak is the highest summit in S. Dakota that offers magnificent views from the top. There you will find the stone fire lookout tower.
A popular scenic drive is the Needles Highway. It’s known for the narrow tunnels that spiral through, called the pig tails. The highway is open during summer months and is closed in winter. It offers amazing views with a glimpse of the Catherdral Spires in the distance that can be reached from a hiking trail along this highway.
If you’re a history buff or just enjoy historical sites, there are a couple of those within the park. Badger Hole Historic Site is the location of the cabin for one of S. Dakota’s most beloved citizens. The Gordon Stockade is a replica of a log fort built on the original site of the fort that was built during the 1874 gold rush. It was built to protect against Lakota Sioux attacks. This site is open from June to August. Also in the town of Custer, you can check out the 1881 Courthouse Museum.
There is something for everyone in Custer State Park and with all the trails sites and scenic drives, there is too much to cover in this blog. Whatever it is you decide to do, it will entice you to go back for more.
On the Way to Mt. Rushmore
When heading west on Highway 16 from Rapid City, there are a few places to stop at along the way.
At Fort Hayes Old West Town you can start the day off with $.99 all you can eat pancakes. For an extra charge, you can also have bacon, sausage or biscuits and gravy with them. There you can see the buildings from Kevin Costner’s movie “Dances With Wolves.” There are craftsmen shops to visit such as a blacksmith, tin shop and sawmill to name a few where you can see their hand-made wares. Fort Hayes is where you can pick up a bus tour of Mt. Rushmore and leave the driving to someone else. End the day with their Chuckwagon Supper and Show.
Reptile Gardens exhibits, you guessed it, reptiles! It is known for it’s glass dome that houses a beautiful collection of orchids and some go just for the orchids.
Americas Founding Father’s Exhibit is right next door to Reptile Gardens. Scroll down to the Museums heading for a description.
Bear Country, USA is a self-guided tour where you drive through the park and view various animals. The most they have are black bears, but you can view reindeer, big horn sheep, mountain lion, bison and others along the way. Drive slowly as the animals roam freely through this park and will cross the road in front of your vehicle at any given time.
The historic town of Deadwood is 41.5 miles north and west of Rapid City. This gold mining town is known for being home to the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Both are buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery and you can visit their graves as well as other figures that make up part of Deadwood’s history. You can have a drink at the #10 Saloon, where it’s said to be the place that Wild Bill was shot and they claim to have the chair he was sitting in on display. You can try your luck at any of the casinos. The Days of ’76 museum is another area attraction.
There are a variety of museums. Here is a list of just a few within Rapid City.
The Journey Museum and Learning Center has 4 collections with interactive displays and exhibits. It’s a museum of humanity’s journey through time from creation to present day.
Dinosaur Museum is exactly that. It boasts 50+ life-size dinosaurs on display and an actual dinosaur bone that can be touched. While at the museum, you can take a walk through the Mirror Maze and have a round of mini golf!
Museum of Geology is located on the grounds of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and is free to the public. The displays of fossils from dinosaurs, mammals, marine, reptiles and fish that once roamed S. Dakota. There is also a collection of minerals from all over the world.
America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit is about the 56 men that signed the Declaration of Independence and tells the story of how America was founded. You can ring the replica of the LIberty Bell and shoot an actual musket.
For some culture, there is a variety of art galleries in the city. Bonzeye Studio, LLC, Dahl Arts Center, Suzie Cappa Arts Center and Shaviq Boutique and Art Gallery to name just a few.
Wines and Brews
Firehouse Wine Cellars and Firehouse Brewing Company are next door to each other, located in a former firehouse. Pub-style food and live entertainment.
Zymurcracy Beer Company is owned by veterans. Show them some support and visit their tap room.
A ride to Hill City, SD will offer Prairie Berry Winery and they serve light lunches and sandwich fare from 11 to 7:30. Next door will take you to Miner Brewing Company. You can order food from Prairie Berry Winery’s menu. Check their website for dates when they have live music.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to do in Rapid City and surrounding area. There’s much more to it than Mt. Rushmore.