Visiting the Rushmore state can seem one-dimensional. The first time I came to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore I thought that was the only thing there was to do. I quickly found out how wrong I was! Since moving here, I’m constantly discovering more and more.
Just 33 miles from Keystone is Rapid City, South Dakota. The name is nothing spectacular and I doubt it is on anyone’s bucket list, but it should be. It’s another sweet aspect of the Black Hills that can often get overlooked.
For families on a vacation, there is so much to do that is either free or inexpensive! I have compiled a list of things that won’t break the bank. I’ll order them from free or “least” expensive to activities that may cost a bit more. Remember that most of these things are affordable; even the ones on the higher end of the spectrum.
If you’re planning a trip to the Black Hills and need help, we’ve got you covered with our 4-day itinerary and audio guide. We will get you to all the best places and maximize your time while visiting!
- Visiting Mount Rushmore? Check out How Much Time Do You Need At Mount Rushmore.
- Don’t miss 15 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Keystone, South Dakota.
Dinosaur Park sits on the ridge of some of the hills in the heart of Rapid City with giant life-size cement dinosaurs. The parking area has a gift shop and cheap hotdogs and snacks, but to see the dinos is entirely free. There are many stairs to get to the top, but it’s worth it for the stunning 360-degree panoramic views. It may also help work off some of the delicious food you will consume after I list some of the best spots in town!
Storybook Island is an adorable little adventure park for toddlers and children with the theme of nursery rhymes and famous cartoon characters like Yogi Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and Snow White.
Storybook Island is a non-profit and survives on donations to enter. It is seasonal only but does open during the holidays decked out in thousands of lights. We bundled up and walked around one frigid December evening sipping hot chocolate and taking many fun videos of the attractions all lit up! They also have a train ride and a carousel that are $3 per person.
City Of Presidents Walking Tour
Downtown Rapid is very cool and among the shops and restaurants sit almost all of America’s presidents just waiting for you to take a photo of them. They are located conveniently on each corner and in the winter you will see many of them wearing scarves, beanies, and gloves that locals put out for those needing some winter wear. You can download a walking guide with a map identifying all the presidents, as well as a scavenger hunt, on the Rapid City website.
- Don’t miss the Crazy Horse Memorial and find out Can You Do Crazy Horse And Mount Rushmore In A Day?
Chapel In The Hills
It might seem weird to visit a random chapel on vacation but the Chapel in the Hills is a stunning Norwegian church from the 1800s. There is no admission fee, but they do rely on donations. You can spend some time in the museum’s quaint little gift shop housing some really cool and unique Norwegian gifts. Next, walk the meditation trail before checking out the chapel.
It really is a unique experience and has a serene vibe as you explore. The chapel is another place that is seasonal so check online before heading there to make sure it’s open.
Canyon Lake Park
Right around the corner from the Chapel in the Hills is Canyon Lake Park. If you are looking for a nice place to go for a jog or have a picnic and spend the day doing fun outdoor activities, then this is one of the best spots in Rapid City. It has a nice size lake for fishing or feeding the ducks and geese and you can also rent paddleboats. Dogs are allowed in this park and it includes a sizeable dog park as well.
Rapid City has many parks but this one would be at the top of my list!
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Rushmore Candy Company
I know this is odd to list as a thing “to do” but it really is an experience. If you are driving in the Black Hills between Rapid City and Keystone you will definitely have seen this candy store. The building is HUGE and everything you can imagine that has sugar is inside. Here you can find some unique gifts to take home to your loved ones who weren’t fortunate enough to go on vacation with you! It’s open year-round so make sure to stop by!
Sugar Park isn’t free, but it’s in the same parking lot as the Candy Store so I think it’s fitting to talk about it. Here you will find the Soaring Eagle Zip ride and get a quick thrill while enjoying the panoramic views. It is a 150-foot high zipline, that reaches about 30 miles per hour. It’s currently $15 and operates seasonally as a lot of outdoor adventures in the Black Hills do. Check out Sugar Park’s website for more details!
Even though Rapid City is technically a city, there are still quite a few places to hike or bike, if you prefer. One of my favorite spots to hike is on M hill. We frequently take our Great Dane, Chief, here on Friday or Saturday mornings.
- Enjoy hiking? Don’t miss the Black Elk Peak Hike and hikes and other things to do around Spearfish Canyon.
- Check out other great hikes in the Black Hills including The Amazing Devil’s Bathtub Swimming Hole in South Dakota and Gorgeous Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota.
We all know shopping isn’t free, but you can do it freely! Rapid City has a great number of wonderful shops and boutiques. Downtown Main Street is the hub of it all, including restaurants, coffee shops, pubs/breweries, and even an old-fashioned movie theater.
In the summertime, Main Street Square turns into a fun interactive water fountain for kids, and in the winter it will become a large ice skating rink. Make sure you grab a scoop of handcrafted ice cream at Silver Lining Creamery located in the square!
There’s a super cute and fun bookstore called Mitzi’s Books that you must check out if for nothing else than to just see the inside and explore the magic of books and the whimsical atmosphere. It’s the sweetest little bookstore in Rapid!
If you enjoy antique stores and pawn shops then look no further than Presidential Pawn and St. Joe’s Antique Mall both on St Joseph Street. They are both easy to find and just one block over from the Main Square. You can spend hours in both stores and the Antique mall is HUGE. Presidential Pawn has items like Michael Jackson’s glove and other famous movie and celebrity paraphernalia. You be the judge whether it’s authentic or not…it’s an ongoing debate in my house.
- Check out the famous Wall Drug nearby in Wall, South Dakota.
- Find out if Badlands National Park is worth visiting.
Of course, there is always food involved on vacation and I wanted to give you a few of my recommendations.
The Mud Hole of the Black Hills
Have you ever been inside a thrift store combined with a diner? I hadn’t either until I visited The Mud Hole Of The Black Hills. Located in Downtown Rapid City this literal “hole” in the wall diner serves some of the best breakfast you will ever have. It’s all served on paper plates in the middle of a thrift store. You can walk right up to the window and order inexpensive a la carte items. Most things are around $2 and $3. Don’t miss the biscuits and gravy and the waffles!
Tally’s Silver Spoon
Tally’s Silver Spoon is another go-to restaurant in Rapid City. Much, much pricier than the Mud Hole, but worth the price for truly delicious dishes stacked high with generous portions. I highly recommend this place if you enjoy going out for breakfast or brunch.
Sickie’s Garage Burgers and Brews
Another popular place to eat is Sickies Garage Burgers and Brews. This place is so cool, inside and out! The ambiance is exactly what you would think from the name. The menu is huge and it is always crowded so be prepared to wait. They offer 20% off for military and first responders.
Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Show
Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Show is another attraction in the Black Hills on your way to Mount Rushmore. Often you can find package deals including dinner and a tour of Mount Rushmore. They don’t have a website, but if you google it you can find information and a place to book reservations and tours.
This is definitely going to be more pricey because you get an experience along with your meal. You’ll get a generous helping of “cowboy food” as well as a music variety show and the opportunity to walk around a little old west town. You can see the set and some of the props from the Hollywood film, “Dances With Wolves,” browse a cool gift shop and if you are up to it, ride the Buffalo Hunt Roller Coaster! These are all things I’ve yet to do, but they are on my list!
*Note: most places I’ve visited in the Black Hills offer military and first responder discounts.
- Discover The Best Places To Eat In Each City Of The Black Hills and Where To Eat IN And AROUND Mount Rushmore.
Rapid City has one of the best mini-golf courses I’ve seen. Pirates Cove Adventure Golf is not only really fun but it’s also beautiful! The landscaping is stunning with flowers and greenery everywhere. This is also where I saw my first hummingbird moth. If you haven’t seen one, then I hope you get to experience it too because they are amazing! If you like to mini golf then this place is a must.
Old MacDonald’s Farm
I love animals and when I say love I mean LOVE. If you want to take the kids to one of the best petting zoos they have ever seen, then visit Old MacDonald’s. There are over 100 animals that you can interact with and in the spring the baby goats are just so adorable I can hardly stand it! Bottle-feed a baby cow or take a pony ride at this adorable sweet farm.
There is a fee to get in as well as feeder machines for a quarter. Tickets for pony and train rides must be purchased separately.
- See our review on The 1880 Train in South Dakota: should you ride it?
This Dinosaur Museum is a very reasonably priced museum for fossil or dinosaur enthusiasts alike! Let your little ones participate in a mini dig or touch the real leg bone of one of our prehistoric friends. There are a lot of interactive things to do as well as a mirror maze and a mini golf course.
Dogs are allowed!
One of my favorite things to do in Rapid City is visit the Reptile Gardens and I don’t even like Reptiles! This place is such a treat and fun for all. Not only can you see tons of snakes, lizards, and bugs, but you can also touch the biggest tortoises imaginable, watch an alligator show, and view many really cool and exotic birds!
There’s also a playground, botanical garden, sky dome (my favorite), and a prairie dog town. And when I say don’t skip the snack bar, I mean it. The best funnel cake I’ve ever had was at the gardens and the cheeseburgers are really good too!
I really can’t recommend this place enough! To top it off, they offer a season pass to anyone willing to take a selfie with the turtle sign inside the park. You can read more about the Reptile Gardens in my article Should You Visit the Reptile Gardens in Rapid City South Dakota?
Last but not least, and topping off the more expensive side of activities, is the wildlife drive-through safari, Bear Country. The price is per person with a maximum cost per carload.
You will drive through many sections of animals roaming freely. The coolest attraction was definitely the area with the bears. There are bears everywhere! Lounging, walking around, eating, and swimming. All the animals were really fun to observe, but I especially loved the bears.
Finishing out your trip in Bear Country you will park and walk through a tiny, but neat, small animal zoo. Depending on the season, you may see lots of adorable baby animals as we did on our first trip. Baby bears playing and chasing each other is a hoot to watch! You will end with a fun stop in the spacious gift shop. I always mention gift shops because it’s one of my favorite things to do after a cool activity. Sometimes shopping is the best part!
This pretty much wraps up all of my favorite things to do in Rapid City. I hope to see and experience more to add to the list in the future but for now, I think this is plenty, especially if you have limited time in the Black Hills. Remember, this is only Rapid City. There is still so much more to see and we can help you!
Planning a vacation shouldn’t be stressful. We created a step-by-step itinerary so you can visit the best places at the right times.
Not only that, but we’ll tell you about the Black Hills while you drive with our audio guide! Stop planning and start having the vacation of your dreams now!
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