Rapid City2021-03-15T21:58:45+00:00

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Rapid City is known as the banana belt of South Dakota and gets more sun than Miami and Honolulu.

Dinosaur Park is located near a spot where real dinosaur tracks were found.

Rapid City is known as the City of Presidents with 43 life-size bronze presidential statutes throughout downtown.

Welcome to Rapid City!

Rapid City: Just Fun to be Around

Rapid City has cool restaurants, a cold-water creek where you can fly fish for mountain trout and dinosaurs on a hill. It’s a location that blends together Native American culture with ranching, history and the beautiful outdoors. Statues of the U.S. presidents stand on downtown streets, an inclusive complement to the Big Four singled out for nearby Mount Rushmore. Saddle makers, potters, lawyers, shopkeepers, rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, brewers and hoteliers thrive here — lots of hoteliers, thanks to Interstate 90 and Mount Rushmore. Rapid City seems like a favorite aunt; happy to see you, fun to be around and never needy.

Plan on Four Meals a Day

That’s the only way a visitor could begin to discover the huge mix of eateries in Rapid City. We counted around three dozen in the downtown area alone, not including fast food places (which should be counted because Hardees biscuits are that good.) Where to begin? Breakfast staples include Black Hills Bagels and the French omelets at Tally’s Silver Spoon. Aficionados of today’s coffeehouse culture will like Harriet & Oak (329 Main), with its tasty pastries and a VW bus parked between tables. The legendary Firehouse Brewing Company (with its signature Hook & Ladder soup & sandwich) has lots of outdoor seating. The list of diners keeps growing. Now there’s a Lakota-owned catering company called Etiquette Catering that offers picnics to-go of Native American and European favorites. Dakotah Steakhouse on the east side of the city has quickly gained a reputation as one of the West’s finest places to enjoy the top quality beef and bison raised on surrounding ranches.

History and Nature on the City Trails

Rapid City’s urban trails are rich with history, nature and beauty. A favorite of locals is M Hill, a 1.4-mile hike located minutes from downtown. A tradition was established in 1912 when students used horses to carry rocks up the hill to create the M (for Mines). Freshman students make the climb on homecoming to clean and whitewash the letters. Downtown’s Memorial Park is a convenient and interesting place to stretch your legs. The 27-acre park grew from the ruined landscape of a disastrous 1972 flood which killed 238 people. Now, walking trails pass by rose gardens, sculptures and an actual concrete chunk of the Berlin Wall. An area around Dinosaur Park has more primitive paths (see below).

Dinosaur Park Not Just for Reptiles and Kids

Dinosaur Park isn’t just for children. The unusual attraction, built by WPA workers and artist Eugene Sullivan in 1936, is one of Rapid City’s original attractions. Steep stairs leading to the six concrete dinosaurs limits accessibility for some, but city parks officials hope to remedy that soon. The park is bigger than the T Rex and his friends – don’t skip the unusual gift shop at the base of the hill. Also, take time to explore the adjacent Skyline Wilderness Area, 150 acres of forest that parallels Skyline Drive on Dinosaur Park. Though smack in the center of the city, it has been set aside for nature-lovers, bikers and hikers. You’ll see the infamous Hangin’ Tree and Stonewall Overlook, which offers a 100-mile mountain panorama. There are several access points to the wilderness area, including a parking lot by the gift shop.

Downtown Art: Even Echoing in the Alleys

We’d be crazy not to recommend, first and foremost, the Dahl Arts Center, a sun-filled gallery featuring some of the best art to be found in the West. There’s no admission fee, but you’ll want to leave a donation or patronize the gift shop because the exhibits are that good. Now that you’re in a creative mood, explore downtown for all sorts of fun art. Rapid City Public Library has a whimsical “book worm” caterpillar at Seventh & Quincy, and step indoors to see a Dale Lamphere sculpture, “Blue Stem Woman” in the History Room (Lamphere created the “Dignity” sculpture at Chamberlain and several other notable sculptures around town).  Rapid City has gained the nickname, City of Presidents, because of a major effort to place a bronze statue of each president on street corners. See how many you can identify. Busts of 20th century Native American notables stand in Halley Park at Main & St Joseph. And be sure to visit Art Alley, a hodgepodge of ever-changing murals in a stretch between St. Joseph and Main downtown. To contribute to Art Alley, all you need is paint, and a free permit from the Dahl.

Shopping Mecca for a Vast Territory

Climb Black Elk Peak, South Dakota’s tallest mountain, and look in all four directions. You’ll see that there are not any big cities on the surrounding prairies. Consequently, Rapid City has become a shopping mecca for rural families from hundreds of miles around, not to mention four million tourists per year. Rushmore Mall (off I-90) has the usual corporate brands, but it also has interesting local stores such as Doc & Alice, a boutique known for its fun staff and cool western clothing. Rushmore Crossing, the city’s newest and biggest shopping center, has 800,000 square feet of retail shops and “big box” stores on the east side of town. For local art and culture you’ll want to also browse downtown.  The anchor store, Prairie Edge, was founded 40 years ago to create a market for Northern Plains Indian artists; today it is the leading gallery in the West, and the beautiful brick structure is an attraction all its own. Surrounding Prairie Edge are bookstores, antique shops, galleries, eateries, nightspots, clothing stores and a variety of other establishments unique to not just the surrounding prairies but the world.

Head for the Square!

Once upon a time, in an age before urban sprawl and six-lane highways, visionary cities were organized around a town square. Rapid Citians embraced that age-old concept in recent years by cooperating to create Main Street Square, a plaza with an amphitheater, fountains of water splashing on children and stone carvings to represent the timeless elements of wind and water that have shaped the Badlands and Black Hills. Concerts, movies and children’s activities are held throughout the summer, but the square is a daily attraction. Old buildings around the square were either refurbished or — when restoration was not feasible — replaced with appropriate architecture. A book shop, coffee house, bakery, pub and toy store have sprung up. It’s not difficult to find; just listen for the laughter of the children and follow that to Sixth & Main.

Sea Turtles & Sharks in South Dakota?

You won’t need hooks or spear guns to snag a shark in South Dakota. All our sharks have been dead for about 65 million years. But the Museum of Geology on the SDSMT campus (501 St. Joseph) has the petrified remains of mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, giant lizards and other creatures. Exhibits include ancient, fossilized sea turtle nests, a pregnant oreodont and the complete skeleton of a titanothere. Rockhounds will love the mineralogy collections, including beautiful crystals from the Black Hills.  Admission is free and the museum is staffed by friendly and smart university students who answer crazy questions with good humor. A funky gift shop has everything from t-shirts to thunder eggs. Kid’s Zone gives youth some hands-on opportunities at paleontology. As with all universities, parking can be a challenge when classes are in session, but this unusual museum is worth the effort.

The Journey Museum

Ok, be honest: we’ve all been to museums that seem like dusty collections of forgettable old stuff. The Journey Museum is altogether different. It skillfully illustrates the Black Hills region’s 2.5 billion years of geographic history in an interesting indoor journey (the place is well-named) that shows how yesterday affects us today. There’s a special emphasis on the last few hundred years and the changes made by human hands. That sounds heavy, but it’s accomplished in lively ways. A dark-as-night Star Room begins the story, chronicling the beginnings 2.5 billion years ago from both a scientific perspective and Native American creation stories. There’s a hologram of an actual Lakota elder framed in a real tipi. Activities for youth are scattered throughout, including an opportunity to jump into an archaeological dig pit. If the Journey Museum were anywhere else, it would be the most talked-about attraction in town. In Rapid City — surrounded by renowned monuments, breath-taking forest scenery, history and outdoor activities — it admittedly gets lost and that’s a shame because it puts all the above into proper perspective.

More stories on Rapid City

The Story Behind the Square

Mitzi Lally loved children, so you might imagine her dismay when she discovered that Rapid City citizens were spending $6.5 million on a new plaza to be known as Main Street Square even though there was a porn shop just down the street. The square was envisioned as a gathering place for families, yet it would be neighbors to Video Blue, a dark-windowed fixture on Main Street for more than 30 years.

Chapel in the Hills

This traditional stave church nestled on the western edge of Rapid City is an exact reproduction of the 12th century Borgund stavkirke (stave church) of Laerdal, Norway. It was built in 1969 to house a Lutheran radio show, Lutheran Vespers. When the show moved to Minneapolis in 1975, a non-profit took over operation of the chapel. 

Minnilusa Links Old and New

Museum objects can sometimes speak more powerfully than words. Stroke Doc Middleton’s saddle at the Minnilusa Pioneer Museum in Rapid City. Feel the tooling, sniff the horn and let the leather scent transplant you to the open range.

That’s the very saddle the outlaw Middlelton used an 1893 cowboy race across the prairie, from Chadron to Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition.

A Park of Peace

Such a rich and daunting history of parks didn’t deter Ken Steinken and his friends from undertaking a new project that embraces modern-day values of environmental sustainability and a livable downtown. The park, affiliated with Trinity Lutheran Church, isn’t city property but it welcomes the public — and city parks staff have been helpful in its development.

“There’s a sense of community here, and an interest in park-building within that community,” says Rapid City Parks and Recreation landscape designer Alex DeSmidt.

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