Rapid City is most well-known as the gateway to the iconic Mount Rushmore. But don’t just drive on through the city, as it’s home to some excellent attractions. For free things to do in Rapid City, SD, check out Custer State Park, Storybook Island, Black Hills National Forest, and Mount Rushmore of course.
As for unique things to do in Rapid City, SD, visit Chapel in the Hills and Bear Country USA – a drive-through wildlife park. For the best shopping in Rapid City, SD, the number one place to go is downtown, around Main Street Square. This just so happens to be the city’s entertainment and dining hub too. Keep on scrolling for plenty more outdoor and indoor things to do in Rapid City, SD.
1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Nearly three million people visit the Mount Rushmore National Memorial annually, with the busiest months being in summer. The amazing sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore features the 60-ft granite faces of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Other things to do at the site include trying Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream; walking along either the Blackberry or Presidential Trail; visiting the Sculptor’s Studio; and renting an audio or multimedia tour.
2. Reptile Gardens
Established in 1937, Reptile Gardens is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest reptile collection. Some of the animals calling the Reptile Gardens home include Maniac the giant saltwater crocodile, black-tailed prairie dogs, giant tortoises, and several different snake species. One of its stand-out attractions is the Sky Dome – a tropical oasis overflowing with unique flora and fauna. Check it out when looking for family-friendly things to do in Rapid City, SD.
3. Dinosaur Park
Dinosaur Park is one of the city’s original tourist attractions – opening to the public in 1936. It’s situated on a sandstone ridge overlooking Rapid City, where dinosaur fossils have previously been found. It features seven life-sized concrete dinosaur replicas, including a triceratops, tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus, and an apatosaurus. Only open from May until October, Dinosaur Park also has an onsite visitor center, gift shop, and cafe. It happens to be one of the city’s best viewpoints as well.
4. Custer State Park
Established in 1912, Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park. It’s most well-known for being home to a herd of nearly 1500 North American bison. However, there are many impressive natural attractions to see across its 71,000 acres as well, such as Sylvan Lake, The Needles, Black Elk Peak, and Little Devils Tower. Popular things to do within Custer State Park include hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, horseback riding, and enjoying a meal at State Game Lodge.
5. Storybook Island
Another one of the best things to do in Rapid City, SD for families is to visit Storybook Island. A free children’s theme park, it has over 100 settings from well-known fairytales, nursery rhymes, and storybooks. This includes sets featuring Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, and Pinocchio. Storybook Island has plenty of play space, the Storybook Line train, and live theatre performances as well. You can visit Storybook Island between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend.
6. The Journey Museum and Learning Center
Journey Museum and Learning Center is dedicated to sharing the interesting history of the Black Hills region through four specific collections: Geology and Paleontology, Native American Culture, Archaeology, and Pioneer History. It takes you back 2.5 billion years and then towards the Western frontier. There are many interactive exhibits, as well as hands-on experiences for kids. The museum is also surrounded by seven acres of gardens featuring local plants and plants native to the Western Hemisphere.
7. Black Hills National Forest
Black Hills National Forest straddles the South Dakota and Wyoming border. Measuring 65 miles wide and 125 miles long, it has 11 reservoirs, two scenic byways, 30 campground sites, several designated picnic areas, two impressive outlooks, and over 350 miles of hiking and biking trails. Black Hills National Forest is also home to an extensive cave system, and Homestake Mine. Spend your time in Black Hills National Forest hiking, fishing, biking, wildlife spotting, and horseback riding.
8. South Dakota Air and Space Museum
The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located outside the main gate of the Ellsworth Air Forse Base. The free attraction aims to promote both the US Air Force and South Dakota aviation history. Its four main galleries cover Aerospace Technology, Cold War History, Aviation Pioneers, and Ellsworth Air Force Base History. The museum also has four different missiles and over 30 military aircraft on display; from World War II bombers to a present-day B-1B Lancer.
9. Chapel In the Hills
A visit to Chapel in the Hills is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Rapid City, SD. The stave church was built in 1969 as an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke church in Laerdal, Norway. Initially housing the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry show, today people can check out the visitor center and gift shop; visit the museum filled with 19th-century Scandinavian artifacts; join a worship service; and walk along the Meditation Trail.
10. Downtown Rapid City
Downtown Rapid City is home to the city’s best dining, shopping, and entertainment options. There are over 30 restaurants and bars to choose from, but locals say you shouldn’t miss the skyline views from Vortex Sky Bar. The next stop on your tour downtown should be Art Alley, which features a colorful explosion of art on its walls. Then there’s Main Street Square, which hosts over 200 fun events annually, including seasonal ice skating, and live concerts.
11. America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit
Travel back to 1776 at America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit, as its main diorama is an amazing life-size rendition of John Trumbull’s iconic Declaration of Independence painting. Accompanied by a 20-minute light and sound show, visitors can watch and learn the story behind the 56 men who shaped the American Revolution. While at America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit, you can also ring a (replica) Liberty Bell, sign the Declaration of Independence yourself, and shoot an authentic flintlock rifle.
12. WaTiki Indoor Waterpark
Repeatedly named the number one public golf course in South Dakota, The Golf Club at Red Rock is an 18-hole championship golf course. Sitting on the edge of Black Hills National Forest, the course is home to lush fairways and surrounded by native grasses and tall pine trees. The Golf Club at Red Rock is said to be the only golf course in that state that remains open year-round as well. Avid golfers can book a tee time online.
13. Black Hills Symphony Orchestra
Located in Rapid City, Black Hills Symphony Orchestra is a member of the League of American Orchestras. The orchestra uses about ninety musicians for approximately five performances every season. In the past, the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra has collaborated with Dakota Choral Union, Bells of the Hills, and Black Hills Dance Theater and Community Theater. Their principal venue is the city’s Performing Arts Center. Visit their website to purchase tickets for their upcoming performances.
14. Bear Country USA
Open from spring to late November, Bear Country USA is a wildlife park with a difference. It’s a drive-through park, so you can see over 20 different North American animal species from the comfort of your car. Keep your eyes peeled for bears (as the name suggests), elk, arctic wolf, mountain lions, reindeer, buffalo, and more. After your scenic drive, head on the wildlife walk, which is home to furry animal offspring and the park’s resident grizzly bear.