It might be the group travel hub of the Black Hills, but Rapid City is more than just a gateway to Mount Rushmore. This city also embraces art, history and good old-fashioned hospitality.
Rapid City encourages visitors to “Do Big Things,” and there is no shortage of big things, old and new, in the area. With multiple national parks and monuments within a few hours’ travel – plus a rich and well-preserved history – finding memorable things in Rapid City’s environs is not an issue. There are enough attractions to keep travel groups happy for weeks. But what if you don’t have weeks to explore this part of South Dakota?
The easy answer might be to visit some of the attractions Rapid City locals take in with an enormous amount of pride. Let yourself be inspired by the truly epic stone faces of Mount Rushmore Memorial; or visit Crazy Horse Memorial and feel the Native American spirit and energy that is so characteristic of this area; or stop in Rapid City, take a stroll down Art Alley and spend the day exploring the rest of Downtown.
An abbreviated tour not only misses the real purpose of traveling to the Rapid City area, but it also seriously shortchanges visitors who want to see what this corner of the world is all about. So what can you do?
Four Ways to Experience the Best of Rapid City
Surrounded by bucket list-worthy experiences, Rapid City is at the heart of one of the nation’s most popular touring regions. It’s also home to tour planner favorites including Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, Devils Tower, the Journey Museum – and there are many more. So rather than rushing from one monument to the next, consider adopting one or more of these themes for your next group travel excursion to Rapid City:
Tour the Black Hills and Badlands. With its moon-like surface, the Badlands have one of the most distinctive landscape profiles in the nation, and the Black Hills are home to history and legend — plus great beauty. The jagged spires, eroded buttes and deep crevasses of the Badlands offer unique scenery you can explore on foot, and there are additional routes nearby, giving you access to the rest of the Black Hills. Traverse the distinct landscape through the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway as one of the most breathtaking drives you’ll ever experience; adventure through the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to cut through limestone cliffs and take advantage of the pristine waterfalls for ideal photo backdrops; or journey through the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop to marvel at the freely roaming buffalo, pronghorn antelope, deer, and bighorn sheep.
Visit Rapid City’s Historic Districts and Main Street Square. Rapid City has not one but two historic districts. The first, Downtown Historic District, is built around commercial buildings and landmarks from the turn of the 20th century, including the beloved Lion’s Head Fountain. The second, West Boulevard Historic District, is made up of 18 blocks of residential housing from the same period. Main Street Square is the heart of the town’s community life: it hosts weekend Spring markets to feature local foods, crafts and other items, offers Summer concert series every Thursday from May through August, and provides a variety of lively festivals and celebrations.
Brush Up on Art and Culture. Starting with Art Alley – a community art project that expanded into a popular tourist draw – and continuing on to life-sized presidential bronze sculptures, Rapid City is obviously dedicated to preserving and growing its thriving art scene. There’s the City of Presidents (the statues mentioned above) and The Sculpture Project – Passage of Wind & Water, a new public art installation that will encompass 21 granite sculptures. Galleries and art museums flourish here too, including the APEX Gallery, which houses rotating art and science exhibits, and the Dahl Arts Center, which embraces contemporary art, performing arts, interactive galleries and formal gardens.
Get a Sense of History. History has made its mark in these parts since the Oligocene epoch 37 million years ago. Badlands National Park hosts one of the richest fossil deposits from that prehistoric age. For a comprehensive take on history, your group can visit the interactive Journey Museum. Other historic points include the Museum of Geology on the campus of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base, and the small but captivating Museum of the American Bison.
Getting There and Getting Around: Practical Travel Info for Rapid City
Getting to Rapid City is convenient from any coast – it’s almost exactly in the middle of the USA. It can be reached on I-90 or by flying in to Rapid City Regional Airport. Airlines that serve Rapid City include Allegiant, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta and United.
You’ll also find plenty of group-friendly lodging and dining options in the area. With a bit of planning, travel groups of all types will find a Rapid City experience that suits them. And the region’s abundance of different attractions may well tempt them to plan a return trip.
Contact the Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau and your group may be eligible to claim a free gift.