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Looking to do the best things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota? This guide will help you plan what to do, and the top things to not miss in the city and nearby area.

Rapid City, South Dakota is often known as the gateway to Mt. Rushmore. East of the Black Hills National Forest, a section of land rich in history, has a bit of everything to enjoy for everyone. For my first time in South Dakota, I didn’t know too much about the region.

I was very excited to explore Rapid City proper and the surrounding area. As part of a partnership with Visit Rapid City, I spent four days exploring the ins and outs of the destination. I returned home with a new appreciation for this city booming with adventure and downtown culture.

At first stroll, it’s hard to not be smitten with the charm of downtown Rapid City. Storybook buildings line Main Street, transporting you back in time. But beyond being historic in character, the city is booming with exciting eats, watering holes, and rooftops with views.

What often makes Rapid City so famous is its proximity to six national parks. While on this trip I had the chance to do the big two, Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park, you could easily spend a proper week doing it all.

Within Rapid City and the nearby famous Crazy Horse Memorial, is a chance to discover and learn about the culture of North American Indians. Something I was completely unfamiliar with, it was a chance to learn not only the about the history but the living heritage of North American Indians.

All of this and more can be experienced here. Whether you’re looking for an exciting bite to eat or want to hike an epic trail, don’t miss the best things to do in Rapid City.

Planning a Trip to Rapid City? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Rapid City:

  1. Hotel Alex Johnson, for the best overall hotel
  2. Holiday Inn Express & Suites, for the best newer hotel

Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota


1. Explore Downtown Rapid City

Every trip should start in downtown Rapid City. With Main Street and St Joseph Street running parallel, this is where you’ll find most of the action in town.

As you explore downtown, there are several little gems to find. From vintage stores like Garbage Tale Vintage to even a cigar lounge, simply just go for a walk and soak it all in. While you walk around, keep your eye out as well for the presidents. Life-sized bronze statues of past U.S. presidents are all around the city — you can even embark on a walking guide through this “City of Presidents.”

Two places I do recommend stopping to learn more about North American Indians are the Dakota Drum Company and the expansive Prairie Edge Trading Co. Both provide incredible opportunities to learn more about Native American Art and sell beautiful cultural items. The two stores are just across from each other.

2. Get Cocktails at Windsor Block Bar

One of my favorite things we did in Rapid City was stopping into the Windsor Block Bar for a cocktail. It’s a chic watering hole filled with a library of unique liquours and an extensive whiskey selection (600+ liquors). This is the spot to come in for craft cocktails.

If you want to venture off-menu, let the bartender know your alcohol of choice and they’ll whip something delicious up. On weekends this spot is lively, making it the place to be in Rapid City.

Address: 627 St Joseph St, Rapid City, SD 57701

3. Eat Ramen From a Food Network Champion

Who knew you would be transported to Japan with a meal in Rapid City? In comes Bokujo Ramen, the brainchild of Food Network champion Chef Justin Warner.

With an affinity for all things Japanese, the short and sweet menu features a selection of traditional ramen like tonkatsu and a spicy miso broth. Now for me, one of the highlights was the hidden karaoke room. If you’re looking to sing the night away and eat delicious ramen, do book this room.

Adjacent to Bokujo Ramen, you’ll find Justin Warner and his wife, Brooke Sweeten’s natural wine bar. BB’s Natural has this laidback vibe and a killer menu of pet nat and small plates.

Address: 518 Mt Rushmore Rd, Rapid City, SD 57701

4. Catch Sunrise at Badlands National Park

Just under an hour’s drive from Rapid City, Badlands National Park is one of the top visited spots around for good reason. I felt transported to an entirely different planet in the vast lands of steep and rugged geological formations.

There is so much to do in the park, that you could spend two full days hiking all the trails. One thing I do recommend is coming for the first light to watch the sun come up and color the formations. Head straight to Big Badlands Scenic Overlook for the best sunrise view.

Travel Tip: Afterward, I’d recommend driving just a bit further to hike the Notch Trailhead. There’s this cool ladder that brings you up in elevation for a great view of the formations. *Recommended to wear sturdy shoes

5. Enjoy Sunset Drinks at The Tallest Building in Town

Make your way to the Vertex Sky Bar at the Alex Johnson Hotel, the tallest building in Rapid City. With unparalleled views of downtown and foothills, it’s the spot to be at sunset.

The menu has a variety of cocktails, wines, and beers to choose from and an extensive food menu. One of my favorite parts was enjoying the rooftop terrace with firepits to unwind after a day of exploring.

6. Stroll Down Art Alley

One thing not to miss in Rapid City is Art Alley. Set between two streets that back up to businesses of downtown, the entire alley has become a living art gallery.

It is filled with graffiti and various artwork done by artists (permit required), making for a wonderful stroll in town. I loved getting to see the different pieces of artwork here, and you may find something that speaks to you!

Address: Main Street / St. Joseph Street, Rapid City, SD57701

7. Visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial

No trip to Rapid City would be complete without seeing the famous and iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial. On. Getting to Mount Rushmore from Rapid City is about a 30 minute drive, so it’s quite easy to get to from downtown.

Mount Rushmore is a National Memorial with over 2 million visitors coming each year to look at the 60. ft high granite faces. With U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountainside, it’s a sight to see.

There is also a museum and restaurant on-site, so if you plan your day around it, I’d recommend coming later in the afternoon for less crowds.

Entrance fee: there is no entrance fee specifically for Mount Rushmore but a $10 per vehicle parking fee.


Don’t have a car and want to visit by tour? Check out these popular Mount Rushmore tours:


8. Experience The History and Wonder of Crazy Horse Memorial

At the top of my list of places to understand and learn more about the culture of North American Indians is Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s one of the most impressive works of sculptural art that is still in progress today. Some quick details on this…

Chief Henry Standing Bear shared his vision for this important project with sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948. Korczak would embark on a project that would far pass his lifetime — a 563-foot monument, sculpted in Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills. When finished, it will be the largest mountain carving in the world.

The memorial is a sculpture of Lakota Leader Crazy Horse, riding a horse, pointing to his tribal lands. An important story shared to “to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians” is the mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. Today, Crazy Horse is home to not only a museum and memorial but also the Indian University of North America.

When you visit, I recommend three things: first, watch the informative movie held inside the museum. Second, stroll through the museum to learn more about the ongoing work and local history. And finally, do book the bus ticket to go up closer to the monument — it’s beyond incredible closer up.

9. Get Ice Cream at Armadillos Ice Cream Shop

Whether or not you spent your day out hiking and exploring, it should end at Armadillos Ice Cream Shop. The lines are long on the weekends and for good reason, this small-city classic is delicious.

They serve a variety of ice cream flavors, freezes, floats, and more. The inside feels like a classic ice cream parlor and there is a patio to enjoy as well!

Address: 130 Main St, Rapid City, SD 57701

10. Eat Breakfast in a Second-Hand Store

One of the most unique things to do in Rapid City has to be a meal at The Mud Hole of the Black Hills. Not far from downtown, this little diner is set right inside a second-hand store and is a total gem of a spot.

You’re coming here for the breakfast classics like their famous biscuits and gravy which can’t be missed. Afterward, go for a stroll through the vintage and second-hand finds.

Address: 7 Main St, Rapid City, SD 57701

11. Visit Dinosaur Park

Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Whether you fly or drive into Rapid City, you can’t help but wonder if there truly are dinosaurs roaming the hills. Up on Dinosaur Park is a small museum and seven dinosaurs “roaming” in the park. It’s an original attraction to Rapid City and a good family-friendly spot to catch views of downtown.

Address: 940 Skyline Dr, Rapid City, SD 57701

12. Take a Scenic Drive Through Custer State Park

Dive deep into the heart of the Black Hills through Custer State Park. A very untouched part of South Dakota and close to Rapid City, this state park is a wonderful location for not only hiking but even a scenic drive.

There are several stops along the way, like the picturesque Needles Highway and the Wildlife Loop Road where you might even spot bison roaming. If you want to spend more time in Custer State Park, there are several hiking trails and lakes to enjoy as well.

13. Have Breakfast and Coffee at Harriet & Oak

This was such a fun stop-off while in Rapid City. Come into Harriet & Oak for a hip breakfast and coffee joint. You can’t miss their iconic VW van parked inside which you can actually eat in!

The breakfast menu features everything from housemade pop tarts to hearty breakfast bowls. There’s an extensive coffee list as well, and it’s the spot to hang out for a few hours.

Address: 329 Main St, Rapid City, SD 57701

14. See Chapel in The Hills

One of the must-see places just outside of Rapid City is Chapel in the Hills. A wooden church is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway.

Asides from being quite beautiful to see and tour, the setting itself feels very peaceful. Set within the foothills of the Black Hills, it’s surrounded by towering pine trees.

Address: 3788 Chapel Ln, Rapid City, SD 57702

15. Enjoy Freshly-Made Pasta at Sabatino’s Italian Ristorante

If you’re looking for all things Italian, make a reservation at Sabatino’s. Their curated menu of Italian classics is some of the best food in town.

I’d recommend getting any of their freshly made pasta, and consider some of their starters like the burrata salad.

Address: 617 Main St #1, Rapid City, SD 57701


Rapid City FAQ

Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Where to stay in Rapid City, South Dakota?

For those looking to stay in downtown Rapid City, consider the historic Hotel Alex Johnson, Curio Collection by Hilton. It’s well located within walking distance of everything in town. For a more modern and newer hotel, stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites which is just outside of downtown.

How many days in Rapid City?

I would recommend spending a minimum of three nights in Rapid City to properly explore the downtown and 1-2 sights nearby. You could easily have this be a home base for exploring more of South Dakota as well.

What time zone is Rapid City in?

Rapid City is Mountain Time Zone (MST). It can be confusing as part of South Dakota is in Central Time Zone as well. Keep this in mind if you plan to road trip across.


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Things to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota

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1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

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Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

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Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

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Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

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I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

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Xx,
Jessica

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