Rapid City was founded in 1876 by a group of 11 miners whose pursuit of gold was unsuccessful. They set up camp in a large river valley centrally located between the Black Hills and plains and sold supplies to the area’s prospectors and homesteaders. Rapid City became an important transportation hub and eventual tourist destination once work on Mount Rushmore National Memorial was completed. Today, this vibrant community is focused on growth and economic development. Rapid City retains much of its small town charm even as it looks to an even bigger, brighter feature. The “City of Presidents” remains a prime hub for tourists visiting the Black Hills, and offers a large variety of attractions and events year-round.
Whether you’re looking for art, history, entertainment, or wildlife, Rapid City chock-full of options for all ages. Be sure to set aside some time during your stay to explore all the city has to offer.
Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents due to its collection of life-size bronze statues depicting all 44 past presidents. Located on street corners downtown, the sculptures offer brief glimpses into the lives of our nation’s leaders and make for a great walking tour. While you’re wandering the streets, be sure to duck into Art Alley, a downtown mural for aspiring graffiti artists. It’s located in the alley next to the famed Hotel Alex Johnson. Located next to Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Memorial Park is a 27.5-acre greenspace that parallels Rapid Creek. It was developed as a memorial to the victims of the devastating 1972 flash flood and includes walking paths, picnic areas, a band shell, a Berlin Wall Memorial and Veteran’s Memorial. Art aficionados can also check out the Dahl Arts Center, which showcases contemporary exhibitions from local artists, as well as classes for aspiring artists, live performances, and special events. Don’t miss the Suzi Cappa Art Center, a nonprofit art studio and gallery that welcomes artists of all abilities. The historic Elks Theatre dates to the early 20th Century and screens movies at family-friendly prices. Be sure to try their legendary popcorn! Just a short drive from Canyon Lake Park, Chapel in the Hills is an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke in Norway. It’s a popular spot for weddings and vow renewals, and the picturesque setting makes for a great photo opp.
Dinosaurs are big here, too—literally—and Dinosaur Park is home to seven life-size concrete replicas of these prehistoric reptiles. The park opened in 1936 and its location atop a sandstone ridge offers stunning 100-mile views of the Black Hills and Badlands. There’s an onsite gift shop and ice cream parlor, as well. Storybook Island is sure to win over the hearts of little ones! This 8.5-acre playground includes replicas of favorite storybook characters, a train, carousel rides, bounce house, and lots more. If your kids still have energy to burn, a visit to WaTiki Indoor Waterpark Resort is the perfect place to splash around. This 30,000-square-foot attraction is open 365 days a year and features water slides, an activity pool, hot tub, lazy river float, arcade, snack shop, and bar & grill serving up everything from pizza and subs to Pina Coladas and beer. Main Street Square is the city’s unofficial “living room” and the site of many popular year-round events. This oasis in the heart of downtown is surrounded by shops and restaurants and the interactive fountains are a hit with kids during the summer months. In the winter, the square is transformed into an all-ages ice-skating rink. Be sure to check out stone sculptor Masayuki Nagase’s “Passage of Win & Water” granite sculptures that surround the square. The Journey Museum & Learning Center is another year-round favorite of locals and visitors alike. True to its name, the facility takes guests on a journey through Black Hills history and includes exhibits devoted to Native Americans, pioneers, geology, paleontology, and archeology. Seven acres of gardens planted with indigenous flora cover the outdoor landscape.
Highway 16A offers a direct route to Mount Rushmore, but be sure to take your time; there is plenty to see and do along the way. Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show is home to the South Dakota Movie Museum and Academy Award-winning Dances With Wolves film set. The authentic Wild West setting offers visitors an opportunity to attend various workshops. A Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show is perfect for those with hearty appetites and a hankering for Wild West entertainment. Reptile Gardens is one of the Black Hills’ oldest and most beloved tourist attractions. Opened in 1935, it is the largest reptile zoo in the world and features hundreds of snakes, crocodiles, lizards, tortoises, and more—including birds, prairie dogs, and a Sky Dome filled with tropical flora and fauna. Got young ones too skittish for reptiles? Old MacDonald’s Farm is home to over 100 farm animals and offers kids a chance to pet and interact with the animals, ride a pony, and watch intrepid goats cross the wooden Billy Goat Bridge high overhead. Farther down the road, Bear Country U.S.A. is a drive-through wildlife park that provides close-up looks of black bears, elk, mountain lions, buffalo, reindeer, and other mammals. A separate walking area offers glimpses of smaller animals, including baby bears.
There is never a shortage of things to do in Rapid City during every season. Those seeking to beat the winter blues can take advantage of great deals in town when local chefs dish up specials for Downtown Rapid City Restaurant Week. Participating restaurants offer diners specially-crafted menu items at mouth-watering prices. It’s a great excuse to get out for a night on the town (or several) in the middle of January. Winter fun isn’t limited to food; the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo is the second largest event in South Dakota after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. This premier event, recognized as one of the top five indoor PRCA rodeos in the country, draws people from across the Midwest for10 days during the last weekend in January and first weekend in February. There are dozens of events including team roping, cattle cutting, barrel racing, bull riding, bull and bison sales, a banquet/ball, and an auction.
Events kick into high gear after Memorial Day, beginning with Summer Nights, a free downtown concert series that takes place every Thursday night through August. In addition to live music from a diverse lineup of local bands, there are food and craft vendors, a beer garden, and children’s activities. The return of warm weather brings beer enthusiasts and craft lovers alike to Main Street Square for the annual Frühlingsfest + Spring Market in June. Attendees can sample more than 30 craft beers and browse the vendor lineup for food, handmade artwork, and specialty items. With summer vacation fast approaching, families fill the square in June for the Kids’ Carnival, an opportunity to enjoy games, crafts, entertainers, train rides, and educational booths. Classic cars take to the streets every July for the annual Cruiser Car Show & Street Fair. There’s something for everyone, including an auto showcase where you can cast a vote for your favorite; a Kidz Zone; food vendors; a beer garden; and musical entertainment. Hills Alive is a free, two-day Christian music festival held every August in Memorial Park. It features performances from the nation’s top Christian musicians as well as a Kids Zone with outreach ministry, stage shows, a bounce house, and vendors selling everything from food and beverages to merchandise. As summer winds down, families flock to the Central States Fair in mid-August for nine days of good ol’-fashioned county fair fun. Carnival rides; food, livestock, and arts & crafts exhibits; rodeo events; concerts; and funnel cakes (of course!) tempt residents and visitors. All those choices practically demand repeat visits! Brides- and grooms-to-be can plan for their special day at the Love² Wedding Expo in August. Dozens of vendors are on hand to showcase the latest in wedding trends.
Once the leaves begin to change color, thoughts turn to fall. The Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival is Rapid City’s largest event, attracting people of all ages to Main Street Square in late September for pumpkin catapults, a giant pumpkin weigh-off, a Kidz Zone, food and craft vendors, and a downtown pub crawl. To coincide with Oktoberfest, Bierbörse draws craft beer aficionados downtown to sample microbrews from a variety of local breweries. Attendees can dance to polka music, watch home brew demonstrations, try their luck at keg bowling, and participate in the popular beer stock exchange, where prices fluctuate based on real-time trends. October brings one of the city’s most unique events, Raw Couture. This high-energy, abstract fashion show incorporates costumes made from recycled ingredients and benefits a local nonprofit organization. The Black Hills Powwow, held every October, is one of the nation’s premier celebrations of American Indian culture. Spectators fill the civic center for Native singers, dancers, and artisans, as well as a fine arts show, beauty and talent pageant, tournament games, and more. Costumed kids (and adults) can enjoy an afternoon of spooky family fun at Scare in the Square, a Halloween celebration featuring food, entertainment, and trick-or-treating at participating downtown businesses.
Ice skaters rejoice every November when the Main Street Square ice rink opens. Crews work tirelessly to transform the square into an ice skating rink offering rentals and open skating through mid-February. There’s a cozy fire pit to take away the chill, and hot cocoa and coffee are available from nearby businesses. The season kicks off with a “Skatesgiving” food drive to benefit area residents in need. Be on the lookout for special ice skating parties on select weekends. The annual Holiday Celebration & Winter Market kicks off the holiday season shortly after Thanksgiving. The free event features a market where local vendors sell food items and handcrafted goods, and gives kids an opportunity to pose for pictures with Santa. A holiday concert and tree lighting ceremony are guaranteed to get you into the spirit of the season! Be sure to stick around after dark for the annual Festival of Lights parade to see floats festively decorated with lights travel down Main Street.
Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain events may be postponed or canceled, and attractions may not be open as regularly scheduled. We encourage you to check with each venue before planning your visit.