downtown rapid city

Rapid City is located in the heart of The Black Hills of South Dakota. It is such a beautiful part of the country with tons of unique things to do for the solo traveler. It is also a great place to host friends who want to see this part of the country. According to the National Forrest Service “The name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black.” Seen from a distance, these pine-covered hills, rising several thousand feet above the surrounding prairie, appear black.”

I choose Rapid City because of its proximity to Mt Rushmore and the Black Hills. I visited the city in the month of July and it got super hot (over 100) for several days in a row so I opted for a few movie afternoons, to avoid the heat. The good news is that it is still fairly cool in the morning so I hiked early and got off the trail by 9 am. 

Rapid City is the largest city in the Black Hills, with tons of small towns close by to explore. it is located about 30 minutes from Mt Rushmore and Crazyhorse. It is also close to Custer State Park, Spearfish Canyon, and Badlands national park. Hiking was my favorite thing to do in Rapid City and I have an entire post dedicated to hikes in the area, here. 

Things to do in Rapid City

Downtown Rapid City is a cute little place to shop and dine. When I visited downtown Rapid City, I enjoyed the small town feel with fun local shops and restaurants. Also, be on the lookout for your favorite presidents. You read that correctly! On every street corner in Rapid City stands bronze statues of past presidents. This is why the city is called The City of Presidents! 

Dinosaur Park – super easy hike right in the middle of downtown Rapid City. I did this short, easy hike around the dinosaurs and had a great view of the city below. It is less than 2 miles around the mountain and very close to civilization. 

Canyon Lake is a great little park and walking trail. If you have a pup, this park has wide sidewalks, lots of ducks, and lovely views. Tink and I walked this trail every week we were in town and both of us enjoyed it! You can also take the walking path down to Rapid Creek and enjoy the sounds of nature.

Rapid City Farmers market happens on Saturdays. They have several vendors with gluten-free items as well as local produce and art. 

My friend and I used our let’s roam app to discover some history about the city and several presidents. Main Street Square is located in heart of downtown and is where local events are held for the community. There are multiple retail locations on the Square along with water fountains for kids to plan in. If you are in the area, be sure to check out Visit Rapid City to learn about the summer concerts held in the Square along with local markets that pop up during the warmer months. 

president in downtown Rapid City

When you are downtown check out the Hotel Alex Johnson. It was built before Mt Rushmore and highlights the entrepreneur’s love of the Lakota Indians and german influence. Its first guest was Paddy O’Neil and since it first opened, Hotel Alex Johnson hosted a myriad of the rich and famous in our country. 

There is a rooftop bar that is open to the public with a gorgeous view of the mountains. We were lucky enough to be there at sunset. Vertex Sky Bar is newer and offers great views of the mountains and it’s a fun place to watch the sunset. 

sunset in Rapid City

Elks movie theater was established as an Opera House in 1912 and is now a small theater. Only 2 theaters and tickets are just $7. If you are caught up in rain or it’s too hot, check out the theater. 

Places to Eat in Rapid City

There are a few other local restaurants worth mentioning here. Firehouse Brewing Company. It is a favorite among locals and tourists. They don’t have a lot of gluten-free options but their barbeque is good and their drinks are strong. The atmosphere is fun! Next to Firehouse brewing is the winery. A tasting is only $5 for 5 tastings. They are actually pretty good and have a charcuterie tray that is delightful. Check out Murphy’s pub to enjoy local drinks and good bar food. Blaze Pizza offers gluten-free crust and pizza is always a fan fave! 12 Fun Things to do near Rapid City: 

Most Popular Attractions

Mt Rushmore of course is the highlight of the Blackhills for any tourist. It was amazing to see it in person. I highly recommend getting the audio tour, which gives a unique insight into the carving. It took us through the .6-mile loop along the presidential trail. The cost for the audio tour is $6 PP and there are 23 stops on the tour. Honestly, I’m so glad we did the audio tour because we learned a lot about Borglum (the artist who created the sculptures) as well as each president. We also learned about the 12 years and hundreds of workers it took to complete the project. The part that interested me was how Mt Rushmore affected the Native Americans in the area at the time and now. 

Crazyhorse should not be missed while you are near Mt Rushmore. It is about a 30-minute drive and it’s quite beautiful. Upon arrival take time to watch the orientation film that explains how the monument was constructed and the family who made sure that the construction will continue. 

Crazy Horse Memorial is just part of a much larger project to pay tribute to the Native Americans and help educate Americans on our native heritage. There are several museums near the Crazy Horse memorial that highlight the tribes from the area as well as information about the artist. When it is complete, Crazyhose will be the largest mountain carving in the world. Take time to learn about the Native Americans and their culture when you visit Crazyhorse. 

Other Unique Attractions

Cosmos Mystery Area is pretty freaky. As the legend goes “ The cosmos of the black hills was discovered by two college boys looking for a place to build a summer cabin. When they entered this area, they discovered something was off. The boys decided to camp out while investigating the odd phenomena. They came to a conclusion that there was something of interest to the general public.”

When my best friend was in town we noticed a road sign for it and decided to check it out. It is definitely a family attraction and geared more toward kiddos. We had fun though! They ask you not to take photos or share too much about the attraction because it really has to be experienced. We couldn’t figure out how the whole thing worked but we definitely felt there was a “mystery” to the whole thing. It was a fascinating place to visit!

Cosmos Mystery Area outside Rapid City

Chapel in the Hills is close to downtown Rapid City. It is a sweet little chapel that is a replica of the Borgund in Norway. There is a museum and gift shop on the property that are fun to look through. The chapel is open May – Nov 8 AM-8 PM. There is a prayer walk right behind the chapel with statues and things to pray for. It is a quiet and lovely little walk perfect for reflection. 

One of my favorite activities, while I stayed in Rapid City, was a Black Hills Bushwhack Adventure with Greg. I booked the adventure through Airbnb Experiences and it was wonderful. Greg took us on a hike we never would have seen on our own to an old mining community and then took us off-road in his jeep to explore a couple of really cool caves in the area. 

Mammoth Dig site is located in Hot Springs. The drive from Rapid City is about an hour. The dig site is located indoors, which was great for me because it was 105 degrees during the day. It was really cool to see an actual dig site along with the fossils that have been uncovered. I took about an hour checking out the dig site and enjoyed some air-conditioning! The town of Hot Springs is also a cute little town to check out briefly. 

Family Things to do near Rapid City

Chuckwagon Supper and Music Variety Show is one of the most fun and unique things to do in Rapid City. They have shows during the summer. Seating starts and then they make a cattle call for supper. Walk through the line and get a foil-wrapped potato, baked beans, a choice of chicken or beef, and handmade applesauce. They put all the bread on top but I opted out of that option being gluten-free. It is all served on a tin plate and lemonade is served in a tin cup. It feels like a real cowboy experience. After dinner is the live music show. It was so much fun! All the songs we were familiar with so there were many opportunities to sing along. We had an absolute blast. 

Chuckwagon Show

Before the show, be sure to check out the Dances With Wolves movie set and old west replica town. We had a great time!

Bear Country is a drive-through zoo located on Hwy 79 near Rapid City. The cost is $20 PP and you never get out of your car. The animals are up close and personal and you are guaranteed to see them all. During the tour in our car, we saw fox, Elk, bears, bison, and reindeer. It was a treat to see all these animals and sit in the air conditioning of our vehicle. 

Rapid City is the perfect place to stay in the Black Hills. It is close to many wonderful unique adventures as well as the cool tourist activities in the area. Check out my 15 favorite hikes in the Black Hills.