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13 Fun & Best Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

13 Fun & Best Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City might be best known as the gateway to Mount Rushmore, but this friendly location has a lot to offer in its own right.

There are a variety of things to do in Rapid City that range from exciting outdoor adventures to top-notch museums and restaurants. Attractions such as the national parks, stunning Black Hills Mountain Range, and lots of South Dakota history are sure to turn any visit to the Mount Rushmore State into a great trip!

Whether you’re a lone traveler or traveling with friends and family, you’ll find something in Rapid City that will draw you in. It might be the lively downtown Rapid City atmosphere or nearby Wind Cave National Park. Maybe it will be horseback riding or one of the area’s amazing guided tours. Or perhaps you’ll want to enjoy the rugged beauty of the Black Hills Caverns or the fun of local community events.

Regardless of what brings you to Rapid City, South Dakota, you’ll find it’s a great place to visit! Here are the fun and best things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Full Day Tour
1. Rapid City: Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Full-Day Tour Top Recommendation

Experience the best of the Black Hills with this full-day tour from Rapid City. Visit iconic landmarks like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, plus Custer State Park and the Iron Mountain Road. You'll see some of the most beautiful scenery in the country and learn about the history and culture of the area. This is a great way to get an overview of everything the Black Hills have to offer.

Badlands National Park Private Tour
2. Badlands National Park Private Tour

Looking to explore Badlands National Park in a unique and private way? Then look no further than our Badlands National Park Private Tour. This tour is the perfect way to see the rare geological formations of the park up close, while also getting the chance to hike through the Badlands and see wildlife in their natural habitat. Plus, we'll make a stop at the famous Wall town, known as a gateway to the Badlands.

Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Tour
3. Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Tour with Two Meals and a Music Variety Show

Don't miss out on one of America's most iconic landmarks- Mount Rushmore! This tour from Rapid City will take you to the monument and provide you with plenty of information about its history from a professional guide. You'll also get to see other Black Hills sights including the Crazy Horse Monument, Iron Mountain Road, Sylvan Lake, and more. This is a great opportunity to learn more about American history and culture while getting some incredible views.

TLDR

  • Most significant landmark – Crazy Horse Memorial
  • Best park – Badlands National Park
  • Best free activity – South Dakota Air and Space Museum
  • Best activity for kids – Reptile Gardens
  • Best activity for adultsMount Rushmore Tours
  • Best food – Murphy’s Pub and Grill
  • Best nightlife – Downtown Rapid City
  • Best all-around accommodationRushmore Hotel & Suites, BW Premier Collection

Fun & Best Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

1. Downtown Rapid City

Rapid City Scenery

Address: 512 Main St., Suite 980, Rapid City, SD 57701

Downtown Rapid City is where everything happens! This is the perfect place to start your exploration of the city since it is home to many shops, restaurants, and bars.

The aroma of tasty food from downtown eateries like Murphy’s Pub & Grill will make you want to try everything the area has to offer! And when night falls, the downtown area comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. You can enjoy live music at the Firehouse Brewing Company and Independent Ale House.

Downtown Rapid City also features many local shops and boutiques. These sell everything from jewelry and vintage clothing to gifts and books. While you’re shopping, any kids in your group will enjoy playing in Downtown Rapid City’s splash fountains and open spaces or exploring the amazing art at Art Alley.

This unique downtown attraction is a great place to take photos and get a taste of the local art. You’ll also want to view the bronze statues of past American presidents like George Washington and John Adams while you’re in the area.

You’ll have more peace of mind touring Downtown Rapid City if you also have a nearby place to stay. Fortunately, the Rushmore Hotel & Suites, BW Premier Collection, is located in the heart of this historic destination. Book your accommodation and enjoy all the area has to offer!

See Related: Best Things to Do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

2. Main Street Square

Main Street Square
Sadads, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 512 Main St., Suite 980, Rapid City, SD 57701

Although Main Street Square is located in the heart of Downtown Rapid City, it deserves a mention of its own. The Square has become one of the most iconic landmarks in Rapid City, South Dakota. It is also one of the free things to do in Rapid City, since it offers the perfect surroundings to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

The dancing water fountain is the centerpiece of the Square. The water park creates an ambient atmosphere, and the lights change color according to the music. The area is also home to several public art installations, with sculptures creating a changing visual landscape that makes the environment even more inviting.

Main Street Square also hosts regular events and concerts. Examples include the annual pumpkin festival and the Downtown Trick-or-Treat event. This is a great place to take your family for fall and Halloween fun! Make sure to check their website to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the community events at this destination.

3. Reptile Gardens

Reptile Gardens Entrance
Paul R. Jones / Shutterstock.com

Address: 8955 US-16, Rapid City, SD 57702

Are you wondering what to do in Rapid City, South Dakota as a family? If so, you’ll want to add Reptile Gardens to your list. This top Rapid City attraction is a must-see for animal lovers of all ages. It provides opportunities to enjoy both indoor and outdoor exhibits as well as a gift shop that offers fun and educational merchandise.

Reptile Gardens is home to hundreds of animals, including snakes, crocodiles, lizards, and Komodo dragons. The gardens are also home to a bald eagle exhibit where visitors can meet Cheyenne, a beautiful example of the United States National Bird.

In addition to the many animals, visitors will also enjoy the colorful botanical gardens. These feature vibrant blossoms, well-manicured lawns, and lush vegetation. Reptile Gardens also has the Sky Dome, which harbors a tropical rainforest. It has various tropical plants and free-roaming animals like frogs and lizards.

In addition to these engaging exhibits, Reptile Gardens is home to Prairie Dog Town. Wondering what a Prairie Dog Town is? It’s a maze of underground tunnels that open up into underground bubbles, allowing you to see these adorable little creatures up close. Your kids will love the opportunity to experience some hands-on fun with the animals when they touch the giant tortoises and other reptiles!

Looking for a place to stay when touring the Reptile Gardens? There are a lot of VRBO listings in the area. Check them out and book a property that suits you.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Pierre, South Dakota

4. The Journey Museum & Learning Center

Journey Museum
WeaponizingArchitecture, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 222 New York St, Rapid City, SD 57701

The Journey Museum & Learning Center is one of the best places to learn about the history of the Black Hills. As you enter, you’ll be transported back in time to life in the Black Hills as the Native Americans first experienced it.

You’ll also learn about the earth’s crust and the rock layers beneath the surface. You can touch and feel all the gems and rocks that provide a glimpse of the Black Hills’ geologic beginnings.

If you want to review the history of the dinosaurs, the Journey Museum gives you that opportunity too! You can touch dinosaur bones and view the fossil lab in the museum’s paleontology area. Once you finish with the dinosaurs, head over to see the amazing beadwork of the indigenous Lakota people, then make sure you check out the tipi!

The incredible Journey Museum & Learning Center is one of the best things to do in Rapid City with kids. The destination has toddler time and discovery expeditions for children of all ages. Your kids will also love dusting off bones and spending time at the rotating planetarium.

Accommodations are not a problem when visiting the museum. The city of Rapid City, South Dakota has plenty of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. Book your stay here for a hassle-free experience.

5. Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA
image by Alex M/TripAdvisor

Address: 13820 US-16, Rapid City, SD 57702

The last time you saw a bear was most likely in a zoo. But what if we told you that you could see them in their natural habitat? That’s exactly what this amazing experience offers!

Bear Country USA is a drive-through wildlife park where you can see animals in a more natural environment. However, be aware that this is a seasonal attraction and is only open from spring to late fall.

Bear Country USA is home to grizzly bears, black bears, and polar bears. You can see them roaming around or swimming in the ponds. Though you may not want to encounter one of these huge animals in the wild, you’ll love seeing them in the park!

In addition to bears, you’ll find many other animals, including reindeer, elk, pronghorn, cougars, and Rocky Mountain goats. You will also see Dall sheep, bighorn sheep, buffalo, coyotes, and more. 

If you’d like to experience the animals in a more intimate setting, you can take a safari ride or enjoy walking guided tours. When you’re ready to take a break from all the animals, stop by the gift shop and grab something to remember your time at Bear Country USA.

If your kids are 4 and under, visiting Bear Country USA may count as one of the cheap things to do in Rapid City. Admission for kiddos in that age range is free! Check the destination’s website for more details about tickets, rules, regulations, and pet policy.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Yankton, South Dakota

6. Black Hills Caverns

Black Hills Caverns Entrance
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 2600 Cavern Rd, Rapid City, SD 57702

The Black Hills Caverns is one of the best things to do in Rapid City, SD if you’re looking for an adventure. This exciting attraction is a perfect place to take the family on a hot summer day. Visiting this destination is also an excellent way to learn about the history and science of the caves in the area.

The Black Hills Caverns are man-made caves that were created by mining operations in the late 1800s. The caves are now a popular tourist destination known for their beautiful rock formations.

Black Hills Caverns offers two tour options, including:

  •  The Adventure Tour: This is more comprehensive and takes about an hour. This tour allows you to explore three cave levels covering about three-quarters of a mile. You will see the best variety of cave formations during this tour.
  • The Crystal Tour: This is the easy option which takes about half an hour and covers about 1500 ft. You will see calcite crystals and learn about the cave formation process.

The temperature inside the cave is a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so bring a jacket!

Kids will also enjoy a visit to the caverns. They can even participate in gemstone panning and get to keep whatever treasures they discover!

7. Mount Rushmore Tours

Mount Rushmore

Address: 2255 Fort Hayes Dr., Rapid City, SD 57702

Fort Hays offers Mount Rushmore Tours for those who want to see the famous landmark up close. Plus, if you’re still thinking about things to do in Rapid City for couples, Mount Rushmore Tours will offer a romantic experience.

Other opportunities include an extended tour that features supper, breakfast, and a cowboy-themed music show. Or, if you’re a wildlife lover, you can participate in the Buffalo Roundup Tour. Adventure and nature lovers will be delighted with the Mount Rushmore Sightseeing Tour.

Knowledgeable tour guides will take you through the Black Hills National Forest. The guides will regularly stop for wildlife pictures and other picturesque moments. You will also enjoy a better view of Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.

Once the ranger-guided tour returns to Fort Hays, you can explore the Old West Town Square. In Fort Hays, you will find historically accurate shops that feature taxidermy, Old West clothing, and more.

You can also learn about various historical processes during the tour by testing your skills at spinning a tin plate or rope making. You can even watch the sizzling process of forging hot iron.

If you’re ready to sit down and relax after a full day of sightseeing, check out the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Music Variety Show. It operates seasonally and provides good food and family fun!

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Yankton, South Dakota

8. Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Address: 25216 SD-240, Interior, SD 57750

You can’t be worried about what to do in Rapid City, South Dakota when Badlands National Park is only an hour away! The park is a popular destination to tour for those who love nature and wildlife.

Badlands is home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and more. The national park also has scenic drives for visitors to enjoy. These drives offer stunning views of the Badlands.

Make sure you drive through Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240). This road will take you through some of the best scenery in the park.

You’ll see fantastic rock formations, canyons, and prairie dogs. If you want to get out and explore, there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from. Some of these trails offer an incredible view of the Badlands when you reach the top!

While in Badlands National Park, you can visit the Fossil Preparation Lab. The paleontologists here will be happy to show you around and answer any questions you may have. You can also stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

It features educational exhibits on the history and geology of the Badlands. To enjoy the park at night, you can stay late enough to participate in nighttime astronomy viewings. Astronomy volunteers and park rangers will set up telescopes and help you find constellations and other interesting night sky objects.

9. Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial
forcdan – stock.adobe.com

Address: 12151 Avenue of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD 57730

Located about 1 hour’s drive from Rapid City, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain sculpture and iconic landmark in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is dedicated to the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. It was started in 1948 by Korczak Ziolkowski.

Following his death in 1982, his wife and children continued his work on the memorial. The sculpture is still in the process of being completed and is currently the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. Upon its completion, the memorial will become the world’s second-tallest statue.

Visitors can take a tour of the carving site and learn about the history of the project. They can also visit the Indian Museum of North America, located at the mountain’s base.

After exploring all this destination offers, you can retreat to the Laughing Water Restaurant. The restaurant offers a variety of American and Native American dishes. Be sure to try the Tatanka stew and the Native American Taco. You’ll also want to take in the daily cultural performance, which features Lakota storytellers, singers, and dancers.

If you don’t mind hanging out at the memorial until after dark, you can view the colorful Laser Light Show. It is projected onto the side of the mountain and tells the story of Native Americans and the area’s cultural diversity.

See Related: Best Things to do in Custer State Park, South Dakota

10. Cosmos Mystery Area

Cosmos Mystery Area
image by vwcampin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: 24040 Cosmos Rd, Rapid City, SD 57702

The Cosmos Mystery Area is a fun and mysterious place to visit in Rapid City, South Dakota. The area is full of strange optical illusions that will leave you baffled. Once you enter the mystery area, the laws of physics and nature will no longer seem to apply.

You will realize that water can flow uphill, your tall friends will appear shorter, and what appears level at first will stop being level. As you go deeper into the Cosmos Mystery Area, you will enjoy the thrill of being able to walk up a wall, and while hanging perfectly, a mysterious force will push you sideways. 

The mystery area is a great place to take pictures and have fun with friends and family. You can also take a self-guided tour where you’ll learn about the history of the area and the science behind the optical illusions.

If you want a comfortable place to stay after a long day of mysteries, Book the nearby Powder House Lodge for your accommodation.

11. Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries

Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries Exhibit
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 606 Main St, Rapid City, SD 57701

One of the fun things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota, is to visit the Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries. This destination is a Native American art gallery specializing in contemporary and traditional art.

Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries is one of the largest art galleries of its kind. The gallery has a vast collection of paintings, pottery, sculptures, jewelry, and more.

If you want to learn more about Native American culture, you can take a free gallery tour. The knowledgeable staff will share their insights about the artwork on display. You may also have the chance to see some of the artists working in their studios.

The Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries is more than just an art gallery. If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, you can buy one of the store’s handcrafted items. The store sells various arts and crafts, including dreamcatchers, pottery, and jewelry.

See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Deadwood, South Dakota

12. South Dakota Air and Space Museum

South Dakota Air and Space Museum
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Address: 2890 Davis Dr., Ellsworth AFB, SD 57706

You may be concerned that there are no free things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota. Don’t worry, there are plenty of free activities, and one of them is touring the South Dakota Air and Space Museum.

This top Rapid City attraction is located on Ellsworth Air Force Base. It’s one of the best places to learn about the history of aviation and space exploration. The South Dakota Air and Space Museum has over 30 aircraft on display, including a B-1 Bomber.

It also offers tours of an intact missile silo that was used to train maintenance personnel between the 1960s and 1990s. Touring the silo will give you a rare opportunity to get a feel for what military preparation was like during the Cold War.

Beyond wartime history, at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, you can learn about the aviation industry’s pioneers. You will understand how far aviation technology, engineering, and science have come over the past century by viewing exhibits that range from the first time the Wright brothers touched down to the present day.

13. WaTiki Water Park

WaTiki Water Park
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 1314 North Elk Vale Road, Rapid City, South Dakota 57703

If you want to enjoy all the fun of an amazing water park without worrying about a sunburn, come enjoy the indoor WaTiki Water Park! This wet and wild experience not only offers a variety of water-based attractions, but features an arcade as well.

The arcade offers 50 arcade and video games that range from popular classics to modern favorites. The variety ensures that both kids and adults will enjoy hours of play!

The 30,000-square-foot indoor water park also offers hours of fun with its many themed water rides and attractions. These include swimming pools, a lazy river, the Oasis Hot Tub, Maui’s Body Slide, Parrots Plunge, and Koko’s Kingdom. There is also an activity pool and several attractions that are suitable for younger swimmers.

The WaTiki Water Park is not just a water park and arcade, it’s a full resort. There are several restaurants and hotels on site for anyone wishing to spend more than just one day enjoying everything WaTiki has to offer!

FAQ

What is the best thing to do with kids in Rapid City, South Dakota?

You can take your kids for a wildlife tour at the Reptile Gardens or Bear Country USA. They can also learn about aviation history and space travel at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. Kids may also love a trip to Bear Country USA.

What are some fun things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota?

If you are looking for some fun things to do in Rapid City, you can hang with the bear at Bear Country USA, explore the mysteries at the Cosmos Mystery Area, go on one of the Mount Rushmore Tours, or experience the beauty of Custer State Park.

What are some things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota, when it’s raining?

If you can’t have outdoor fun, you can visit the Journey Museum, the indoor WaTiki Water Park, or enjoy good food and a show at the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Music Variety Show. You can also learn about Native American culture at the Indian Museum of North America.

What are the best tourist attractions in Rapid City?

The best tourist attractions in Rapid City include touring Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Downtown Rapid City, and the Black Hills Caverns. And if you’re looking for things to do in Rapid City for adults, you can explore the hiking trails in the Badlands National Park.

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