Founded in 1876, Rapid City, commonly known as the “City of Presidents,” is South Dakota’s second-largest city.
It was home to almost 77,000 people, according to the United States Census Bureau in 2020.
The city owes its name to the Rapid Creek, a limestone spring that passes through the city, a world-class trout fishery, and the center of outdoor recreation in the central Black Hills.
Whether you’re into arts and culture, historical tours, or simply for a fun outdoor activity with family, Rapid City indeed has something in store for you.
To jumpstart your adventure, check out these best things to do in Rapid City, SD.
Walk around the City of Presidents
Did you know that you can see all forty-four Presidents of the United States in one city?
Throughout Rapid City’s downtown area, you can explore past Presidents' life-sized and life-like bronze statues.
This tour includes President James Monroe, John F. Kennedy, and President Barack Obama.
John Lopez sculpts these astonishing welded art pieces.
His goal is to immortalize these figures that are fading into history.
If you’re a newbie, don’t worry!
A self-guided walking tour is readily available for you and your friends.
Discover Wildlife in Reptile Gardens
Did you know that the largest reptile zoo in the world is just six miles south of Rapid City?
You won't miss this giant glass sky dome at the bottom of the hill.
Established in 1935, the Reptile Gardens is home to the largest collection of reptiles from lizards, snakes, turtles, and other exotic amphibians native to South Dakota.
Its founder, Earl Brockelsby, was a 19-year-old tour guide at a local Rapid City attraction.
He was also a snake enthusiast who discovered people’s fascination with snakes.
Today, children and adults can enjoy seven unique main exhibits in Reptile Gardens.
Meet Cheyenne the Bald Eagle, a resident of the zoo for more than a decade, and Maniac the Giant Crocodile, which is nearly 16 feet long and one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere.
The Reptile Gardens also boast interactive bird and snake shows for all ages!
Are you looking for a souvenir?
It also has a gift store and an art gallery featuring authentic oceanic art pieces from Papua New Guinea.
Hours and rates vary per season.
Generally, it opens on the first weekend of March through the end of November and closes from December through February.
Relish the Past at the Journey Museum & Learning Center
Enjoy a deep dive into the rich history and culture of the Black Hills and Native Americans at the Journey Museum & Learning Center.
Located at New York St. in the heart of Rapid City, the museum boasts four significant collections in Geology and Paleontology, Archaeology, Native American Culture, and Pioneer History.
Children and adults can enjoy 2.5 billion years of rich history ranging from massive dinosaurs to jaw-dropping interstellar space.
The museum opened its doors in 1997 following the creation of the Museum Alliance of Rapid City.
Today, locals and guests can enjoy not just its expansive museum but also its exciting roster of monthly events and exhibits.
Admission fee varies per age group.
Explore the Jurassic Period at Dinosaur Park
Dinosaur Park sits on a sandstone ridge in Skyline Drive, Rapid City.
It is one of Black Hill’s original tourist attractions, beginning in 1936.
Kids and young adults will marvel at its seven life-sized concrete replicas of dinosaurs during the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods.
These include the Apatosaurus, one of the most famous Jurassic plant-eaters, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Triceratops.
These monstrous prehistoric replicas in the park are painted dark green on their dorsal portion and white on their anterior.
Each is lined up strategically on top of a hill overlooking the city, perfect for fun shoots.
The dinosaur park also has a visitor center, gift shop, and café where you can enjoy sumptuous snacks with your loved ones.
Feel the Adrenaline at Flags and Wheels Indoor Racing
Are you an adrenaline junkie?
If yes, then Flags and Wheels Indoor Racing is perfect for you!
It is Rapid City’s premier indoor amusement park located in an expansive 47,000 square foot building.
It offers 45mph race karts, standard go-karts, laser tag, paintball, bumper cars, etc.
Before you head there with your loved ones, grab a US driver’s license to drive the race karts.
Present your license together with a waiver signature.
Capture Breathtaking Moments at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Remember that famous scene in the 1994 movie “Richie Rich”?
The iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial is just a 30-minute drive away from Rapid City.
Here, you will see colossal figures of past presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, carved on the granite face of Mount Rushmore.
The figures span 60 feet, best viewed through the Presidential Trail featuring 422 stairs.
Do you want to know an exciting bit of trivia?
A secret room behind Lincoln’s head is a legitimate historical repository containing some of America’s most important documents.
The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, designed and handled the execution of the sculpture from 1927 to 1941.
He selected the four presidents involved in the most critical events in the history of the United States.
Admission is free at Mount Rushmore.
Besides capturing iconic photos with family and friends, you can also join its Sculptor’s Studio, a 15-minute talk on the processes used to carve the figures.
There are also self-guided tours which can either be purely audio or multimedia.
Take a Tour of Firehouse Wine Cellars
Firehouse Wine Cellars is a locally owned and operated winery at the heart of downtown Rapid City.
The winery produces fine wines, ranging from oak-aged reds and crisp white wines to sweet dessert wines.
Are you looking for a specific wine?
You can join their Firehouse Club 1915, which offers exclusive perks such as complimentary tasting for you and up to four guests per visit, a complimentary glass of wine on your birthday month, and special pricing for VIP room rental.
Find them at Main Street, Rapid City.
Unwind at the Peaceful Canyon Lake Park
Canyon Lake Park is at Jackson Boulevard in Rapid City.
It is a 29-acre park and one of the oldest parks in the city.
Whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall, Canyon Lake Park exudes a serene atmosphere perfect for solo and group activities.
You can stroll around the glassy lake or meditate on the sound of water pouring over the spillway.
You can also spot turkey vultures on the park's west side if you're lucky enough.
It also has a beautiful gazebo and picnic shelters where you can enjoy sumptuous snacks with friends and family.
Are you a fan of lovelocks?
You and your partner can put a padlock in the chain fences of the bridge at Chapel Lane Road just west of the park.
Sweat it Out at Stonewall Overlook Trailhead
Slip on your trusty hiking shoes and head to the Stonewall Overlook Trailhead.
As its name suggests, Stonewall Overlook Trailhead is lined with stonewalls located at the top of Skyline Wilderness Area Park.
The Skyline Driver Preservation Group donated this space to preserve this urban wilderness.
While the hike isn’t challenging enough for most professional hikers, it doesn’t fall short in its magnificent views overlooking the city.
Experience Magic at Storybook Island
Established in 1959, Storybook Island is an eight-and-a-half-acre family theme park.
It is at Sheridan Lake Road.
It offers over a hundred storybook and fairytale-themed attractions that will captivate the hearts of children and even the young at heart.
Besides the train and vintage carousel adventures, Storybook Island has also offered live children’s theatre production for over 40 years.
Storybook Island recently received an award for excellence from the South Dakota Hall of Fame for allowing children of all abilities to participate in its activities.
The new equipment they’ve installed includes a wheelchair-accessible train car, sensory boards for children with autism, and Braille for the blind.
Enjoy Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Ahoy! It’s time to warm up your gold muscles with some half-swings.
Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf is undoubtedly a golfer’s dream course.
Located just seven minutes away from downtown Rapid City, Pirate’s Cove won the South Dakota “Beautification Award.”
It received the “Best in State” distinction for its excellence in its beautification efforts in design and landscape.
It was established in 1983 in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf now has branches in 20 locations across the United States.
Besides golf, guests can also enjoy the breathtaking view of its waterfalls and streams, lush landscaping, and unique pirate-themed decorations.
Discover the Thrills of Flight at South Dakota Air and Space Museum
In South Dakota’s Official Warbird Sanctuary, you can immerse yourself in the world of aviation with family and friends.
Whether you’re a fan of vintage aircraft, more than 30 indoor and outdoor aircraft on display will surely blow your mind away.
The museum is to the east of Rapid City, just outside the main gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base.
It celebrates the history of the United States Air Force and aviation in South Dakota.
Besides aircraft, it also has missiles on display like the “Hound Dog”— a supersonic, turbojet missile developed in 1959.
Discover Subterranean Wonders at Black Hills Caverns
Be an explorer for a day with you and your loved ones at Black Hills Caverns—a beautiful subterranean formation gold hunters discovered in 1882.
Experts say that the walls of the Black Hills Caverns consist of two different types of limestones.
One of these is the “Paha Sapa Limestone,” created over 340 million years ago.
The cave pathways are kept as original as possible to give visitors a glimpse of how the ancient explorers felt when they first set foot inside the cave.
Today, you can easily choose any cave tours that fit your interests.
The adventure tour is perfect as a complete tour of Black Hills Caverns and takes an hour to complete.
It allows you to explore all the levels of the case.
Conversely, the crystal tour is a more accessible version that takes only 30 minutes to complete.
It focuses on a first-level tour of the cave where you can marvel at the millions of calcite crystals and learn how they form inside the cave.
Black Hills Cavern is at Cavern Road, Rapid City.
Enjoy an Exciting Walk at Art Alley
Get lost in the unique works of art crafted beautifully on the walls at the brick-paved Art Alley.
They were established in 2003 as an organic community gallery by a group of artists.
They began hanging canvas artwork on the walls and eventually painted paintings directly on the walls.
Aside from its vibrance and color, artworks in this one-of-a-kind street gallery also express each artist’s stand on politics and global issues.
Due to the variety of artists who come and share their creativity in Art Alley, the place remains a dynamic landscape.
Indeed, you’re bound to see new works each time you visit the area.
Do you want to unleash your inner artist?
You need to secure a permit from the city and start painting at the Art Alley for free!
They also provide a downloadable map of available painting site locations for interested artists.
Enjoy the Attractions at the Central States Fair
The annual Central States Fair has plenty of fun-filled attractions your whole family will surely enjoy.
Drawing crowds and guests over the years with fantastic entertainment, thrilling rides, and exciting events, no wonder why the third week of August is much-anticipated in the local calendar.
Check out the music and live performances or catch the Mountain States Ford Demolition Derby to see derby cars crash and bang head to head.
Watch the Supercross Race and witness expert motorcycle riders speed up, jump, and show their grit on the track.
You’ll also enjoy watching the PRCA Range Days Rodeo, one of Badlands Circuit’s top rodeo events, with top cowboys showing their skills and talents.
And who wouldn’t enjoy the rides at Carnival Americana? Scream with excitement and get that adrenaline rush.
Likewise, you’ll enjoy seeing the animals at the Central States Fair Horse Events and Livestock Shows.
Enjoy the Spectacular Views at the Skyline Drive Wilderness Area
You’ll have more of Rapid City’s scenic outdoor views when you drive by the Skyline Drive Wilderness Area.
Skyline Drive is a two-mile road stretch while the wilderness area covers over 150 acres of forest areas and vast meadows.
You can pull over at any of the parking areas and go for an adventurous hike to enjoy more impressive views.
Wander around through several trailheads including the north Quincy Street, Flormann Street located around the central area, or the south Tower Road.
The hiking paths offer more tranquil and secluded locations so it’s perfect if you want to have a relaxing nature trip.
You can also go mountain biking to reach the top of the hillside and have a glimpse of the surrounding countryside.
Bring your family along for a scenic hike at Skyline Drive Wilderness Area.
Have an Outdoor Adventure at Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park
If you’re looking for a place to run, hike, or bike, Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park on Cowboy Hill Road is another outdoor spot you can go to.
The area spans over 20 miles of recreational trails, welcoming visitors all year with free admission.
The park was built through the generosity of the late Edna Marie “Eddie” Larsen as a tribute to her parents, Ed Larsen and Etta Hanson-Larsen.
Since 2004, this 300-acre park on Cowboy Hill has been a popular outdoor attraction for locals and tourists; it even gained national recognition in several publications.
Try one of the “best mountain bike meccas of the west” and speed your way through the trails.
You’ll also enjoy the splendid views of Harney Peak and the starting points of the Badlands and Bear Butte.
Have your next outdoor trip and challenge yourself with the trails at Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park.
Find Locally-Made Products at Dakota Drum Company
Dakota Drum Company is one unique shop on Main Street you shouldn’t miss visiting when you’re in Rapid City.
The business has been running for over 30 years specializing in traditionally-made buffalo hide drums and Pow Wow drums.
If you’re much into Native American Art, you’ll find several artistic handpainted drums, hide paintings, and ledgers made by Lakota Artist Sonja Holy Eagle.
You can also find traditional quillworks, beadworks, buffalo robes, sage, sweetgrass, and plenty of traditional arts and handcrafted jewelry to choose from.
Browse through quality Lakota items and you’ll appreciate the creativity and artistic details of each piece.
Visit Dakota Drum Company and get unique Native American products to add to your collections.
View the Exhibits at the Dahl Arts Center
The city is teeming with fascinating art spots and galleries so dropping by the Dahl Arts Center is a worthwhile stop to have some art appreciation.
The center is located on 7th Street and has been hosting contemporary visual art exhibits, art education, and performing arts programs since it opened in 1974.
It was established by Arndt Dahl, a prominent local banker who was also an art aficionado; it was his gift to the city which is now managed by the Rapid City Arts Council.
Get immersed in the visual art collections, take your kids to the interactive children’s section, and check out the Cyclorama Mural of American History.
You can also view the artworks of local and regional artists and catch scheduled art events at the multi-purpose center.
Drop by the Dahl Arts Center Gift Shop to purchase quality hand-made mementos you can gift or take home.
Grab Delicious Bites and Drinks at Alternative Fuel Coffee House
If you’re craving healthy bites and drinks, head out to Alternative Fuel Coffee House on Main Street Square.
Current owner Patti Griffin, who took over in 2018, upgraded this hometown coffee shop to make sure customers enjoy more items on their menu.
There’s always a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to welcome you during the cold weather and smoothies to refresh you on a summer day.
Pair your drinks with delicious and healthy breakfast and lunch items.
Try a variety of good eats like Biscuits and Gravy, Fruit Cup, Granola, Yogurt Parfait, Oatmeal, and more.
You’ll enjoy bites of their Breakfast Sandwich layered with egg, cheese, and your choice of meat and bread.
Grab Healthy Salads drizzled with Ranch, Caesar, Balsamic, Raspberry Vinaigrette, or Italian dressing, which you can also order with or without grilled chicken.
Try their flavorful Quiche or go for the Build-Your-Own Sandwich option; you can also have guilt-free desserts like their gluten-free cookies, and assorted treats like muffins, scones, quick breads, carmel cinnamon rolls.
Enjoy Alternative Fuel Coffee House’s coffee choices and other beverages like lemonade, matcha, bubble milk teas, and others.
Rapid City is easily one of the timeless gems in South Dakota.
It is a melting pot of past and present cultures that locals and visitors enjoy all year round.
As the banana belt of South Dakota, the city lets you enjoy all its stunning attractions in relatively warm weather during the summer.
If you’re still planning your next trip, consider Rapid City and list down the best things to do in the City of Presidents!