Looking for things to do in Rapid City South Dakota? The tourism capital of the Mount Rushmore State is a great place to base yourself while you are exploring the nearby natural and historical wonders.
While Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Badlands are the main draw of the area, there’s still plenty to do and see around Rapid City instead of staying shut up in your hotel room after a long day of exploring.
The view from Dinosaur Park.
Here Are Three Fun Things To Do in Rapid City South Dakota
Rapid City Dinosaur Park has been open to the public since 1936! Although the draw these days are the life-size sculptures of Little Foot and his friends, the park was actually built where real fossils were found from the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous periods!
Just riding a Stegosaurus nbd.
Real life dinosaur footprints have also been found in the area. Thinking about how these majestic beasts could have actually been walking where you are walking so long ago makes climbing on the models a lot more fun.
Berlin Wall Exhibit in Memorial Park
On the way to see the Berlin Wall Memorial.
444 Mt. Rushmore Rd. N
Rapid City, SD
My sister and I actually stumbled on the Berlin Wall Exhibit on accident. We were on a walk in Memorial Park, saw it in the distance, and ventured over. It’s very easy to find as Memorial Park runs along Rapid Creek through the heart of Downtown Rapid City. The exhibit is actually one of the largest on Berlin in North America!
A piece of the wall in South Dakota.
South Dakota Tourism prides itself on preserving freedom, hence Mount Rushmore and the Minutemen Missiles. With this in mind, information about the reunification of Germany doesn’t seem so out of place.
It’s a quick stop, as it should only take about 15 minutes to take it all in, but it’s worth it.
City of Presidents — Downtown Rapid City
Guess who? (FDR, DUH!)
Downtown Rapid City on St. Joseph Street and Main Street between 4th Street and 9th Street.
This was one of my favorite things to do in Rapid City South Dakota! There are life-size bronze statues for presidents 1-43 scattered throughout downtown Rapid City.
Since trivia is my strong suit, my sister and I made a game out of it. She’d cover the name and I’d have to guess the president based on his face and what was with him, like a tophat, legbraces, or microphone.
Bill Clinton, the president when I was born.
She was able to guess the likes of Bill Clinton and George Washington, while I even got the tougher ones, like Taft. Jeopardy here I come!
Obama and Trump haven’t been added yet, but since each sculpture is individually commissioned and crafted, I’m sure their renditions will be worth the wait.
We made sure to get a photo with each Texan president!
After spending the morning admiring the boys set in stone, you might be wondering about other things to do near Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills and surrounding areas are filled with fun things to see and do. Sure, you can get your fill of kitschy tourist traps, but there’s a reason all those places are there — the natural and historical wonders. You don’t want to miss out!
Cost: $12 per person OR $30 for cars with 3+ people
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 16 miles / 28 minutes
Crazy Horse: the privately held answer to Mount Rushmore’s public offering. The folks who run Crazy Horse are proud to have never accepted any federal tax dollars for their work. It’s probably why the sculpture, began in 1948, is far from finished.
Admission also includes attractions like the Indian Museum of North America, the Mountain Carving Room, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, so visitors have the opportunity to learn more about the Lakota tribe, the culture of Native Americans as whole, and the history behind the monument. It one of the coolest things to do near Mount Rushmore, as many guests do both in one day.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 84 miles / 1 hour 30 minutes
Aside from the many bad pun opportunities (see what I did there y’all), Badlands National Park boats cute little gophers, mind blowing rock formations, and one of the world’s richest fossil beds! While visiting, you can go for a hike up into the heart of the Badlands Formations or across flatter stretches of land to peer into the canyons below.
Cost: Guided tour $6 for adults / $4 for children — reserve in advance.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 97 miles / 1 hour 36 minutes
“Hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer panic,” is how our tour guide described the lives of the soldiers working on the missile silos.
During the Cold War, America’s missile stockpile was not locked in a vault in Washington, but rather sprinkled throughout the Great Plains, hiding in plain sight (I’m really on a role with the puns today, y’all). The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore because of the special look you get into the every day “fighting” of the Cold War.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 130 miles / 2 hours 13 minutes
Devils Tower likes to stand out. Not only does it rise in dramatic opposition to its surrounding topography, but it was also the very first United States Monument, ever. Teddy Roosevelt did the honors in 1906.
While many visitors (myself included), choose to simply wander around the base of Devil’s Tower and admire its ridged edges (given to it by a giant bear as he scampered up the side, legend has it), about 1% of the 400,000 annual tourists decide to make the arduous climb to the very top, just like the bear.
Cost: Varies based on season and age from $7 – $10 for kids and $10 – $18 for adults.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 16 miles / 24 minutes
My sister and I actually only went to the Reptile Gardens because our flight out of Rapid City was delayed and we had two hours to kill, but they turned out to be two of the most fun hours of our trip! The Gardens has it all — snakes, turtles, crocodiles, birds, and more! We went to the snake show and actually has a blast learning about all the different kinds of snakes and their abilities.
I personally hate snakes, but will say I felt rather impressed by the employee who gave the snake show, as she handled and spoke to the reptiles in much the same way you might act towards a puppy you adore. Her job was obviously a great fit for her.
Cost: Free to explore — various prices for food and souvenirs
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 76 miles / 1 hour 20 minutes
Famous for its free ice water (not as appealing when my sister and I visited during a chilly March), Wall Drug is the quintessential South Dakota Road Trip stop and one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore simply because of its donuts.
Yes, it might try to lure travelers off of I-90 with promises of ice cold refreshment, the real kicker is the cake-y deliciousness of the donuts made fresh every day in house. I’ve never had anything like them!
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 32 miles / 46 minutes
Jewel Cave National Park is awesome because there are rocks inside side it that look like massive strands of bacon. Not even joking around, y’all. I left the tour starving.
The Park Ranger who gave us our tour looked suspiciously like Chief Hopper (from Stranger Things for those of you who live under a rock…omg another great pun…cause we were in a cave….get it, y’all) and although the tour is underground, it’s not an actual spelunking expedition. There’s plenty of room inside the cave and you walk on railed pathways, so there’s no need to worry about feeling trapped.
I took a film class focusing primarily on Hitchcock my senior year of college and North by Northwest was by far my favorite movie we studied. I loved the pace. I loved the hijinks. I loved the soundtrack (the iconic theme definitly made an appearance on my Instagram story the day of my visit).
I loved the film so much that I was disappointed that while visiting Mount Rushmore, I learned that the average visitor isn’t allowed up onto the cliff face. Apparently, only the people who work on cleaning the monument are allowed to do that…so my dream of reenacting this heroic Cary Grant stunt was crushed.
You can, however, have lunch in the Carver Cafè, home of the infamous North by Northwest surprise shooting scene. Although the cafè has been remodeled since it’s appearance in the movie, it still has the marvelous floor-to-ceiling windows which offer views of the Mount Rushmore that can’t be beat.
The Carver Cafè dining room.
The same great view! Hasn’t changed since 1959.
National Treasure Mount Rushmore Movie Scene
I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence. Oh whoops, wrong movie! The much acclaimed (lols) sequel National Treasure 2 was also partially filmed around Mount Rushmore. There’s just something about big stone presidents carved into a mountain that screams “PUT ME IN YOUR MOVIE” I guess.
I was actually pretty excited about walking where Nicolas Cage walked. I mean, he’s the guy everyone loves to hate. The Nickelback of actors.
But once again, the film features people who definitly didn’t pay the $10 entrance fee just casually walking along the TOP of the monument, instead of the lovely walking paths down below. So I definitly didn’t get to walk where Nicholas Cage walked.
Such a disappointment.
My main goal in life is now to create something so culturally and politically important that I am one of the people who is allowed to climb up the faces of Mount Rushmore. Who knows, maybe this post will be that thing.
Spring break! While spending the 4th of July (or any other part of your summer vacation) visiting Mount Rushmore might seem like the perfect, quintessential American vacation idea, the Black Hills tend to be hot and crowded all summer. Save yourself. Go in the spring.
Is a Mount Rushmore spring break excursion a good idea?
Short answer: Yes! Mount Rushmore is awesome during the off season. Book your tickets right now. Immediately.
Long answer: Yes, but there are some things to consider. Like the following…
A completely empty viewing platform
Do you prefer having National Parks basically all to yourself?
The reason spring break is the best time to visit Mount Rushmore is because basically no one else is there. When my sister and I visited in March, we essentially had a private tour of the park and surrounding areas. This is a major plus because it meant
We didn’t wait in line for food.
Plenty of seats to choose from.
The food at Mount Rushmore is actually delicious! It’s called Carver’s Cafè and for reasonable prices (à la Chilis, etc.) you can get homestyle meals like chicken, meat loaf, green beans, roasted potatoes, etc.
The view of the monument from the cafe’s floor-to-ceiling window’s can’t be beat AND when visiting Mount Rushmore in the springtime, you don’t have to fight anyone for a table.
The Bathrooms were clean AF.
Hello, Mr. Presidents.
I would assume that Mount Rushmore is clean all year round, BUT there is something to be said to visiting when thousands of people aren’t using the bathrooms every single day. And, if I remember correctly, the restrooms were heated. Ideal.
We got the best parking spot.
Where should we park?
While the Mount Rushmore Hours during the winter and spring are from 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM, when my sister and arrived at a little past 9:00 AM, it was still nearly completely empty. We paid the $10 for the annual parking pass and had our pick of the parking spots.
If you visit in the summer, especially near the 4th of July holiday, I imagine that parking would be way more competitive.
We got tourist-free photos.
Sunny day in March 🙂
This was probably the best part of our Mount Rushmore trip. While I wasn’t too big into nabbing the perfect Instagram at the time, it was still so nice to not have to fight our way to the front to take a photo of the monument, or deal with 27 other tourists plus their dog crashing our photos.
It was just me, my sister, and the Mount Rushmore presidents.
We got to take our time.
Sister and Presidents.
I’m not sure how many people view South Dakota and the Mount Rushmore area as a top tourist destination, but it’s probably one of my favorite places that I’ve ever been, simply because of how relaxed it was. My sister and I got to wander around the grounds at our own pace.
The lack of crowds made it quiet and peaceful, so whether we wanted to sit down in the middle of the path and just stare at the mountain or skip down walkways at top speed gigging for our Instagram Stories, we had the freedom to do so.
We did both, just in case you were wondering.
Are you willing to be a little chilly?
It was actually really hard to get up on that ledge!
The only “downside” I can think of for visiting Mount Rushmore for spring break is the weather. If you already live in the Northern USA, or are coming from another part of the world that actually has winter, then the temperatures in the 20s and 30s Fahrenheit will make you feel right at home.
2016 was rough in terms of the global political climate (hello Brexit, Trump presidency, ISIS, and Aleppo) and celebrity deaths (RIP Harambe and literally every single one of my childhood heroes), but on a personal level, it was actually pretty okay.
Well not just okay; it was actually pretty amazing.
I turned 23 this year and was able to achieve the INSANE goal of paying off my student debt. It’s so crazy for me to be #DebtFreeAt23 when I FOR SURE thought I was going to be #DirtPoorAt24 and #BarelyAliveAt25. Paying off this debt opened up a whole new world for me, one which will allow me to travel more freely. I didn’t make it out of Murica this year, but I still had some crazy adventures.
States visited: Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, DC, Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee
Countries visited: USA
Here’s my 2016 in review:
Visited Mount Rushmore in the DEAD of winter.
With my sister at Mount Rushmore.
My older sister and eternal travel buddy got married in May, so for her bachelorette party, I took her to see Mount Rushmore and the surrounding sites. Since my sister doesn’t drink, typical bachelorette destinations like NOLA or Vegas were out of the question, and a heavy “day activity” place was the perfect fit.
Quick tip: Mount Rushmore is the perfect place for a dry bachelorette party.
No one else wanted to brave the cold.
We spent a long weekend giggling, freezing, and having a blast. Did I mention we basically had the place to ourselves? Yeah, that’s because normal people don’t go to South Dakota in the winter.
Crashed DC and chilled on the Speaker’s Balcony.
View from the Speaker’s Balcony on the Capitol.
It seems like all of my friends moved to DC after college, including my amazing roommate, so while my sister was on her honeymoon, I took a #TreatYoSelf trip so I wouldn’t feel left out. I was hosted by my amazing college roommate and her girlfriend, along with their charming puppy Roheryn.
As a museum junkie, DC quickly became one of my favorite cities, especially since I didn’t have to pay for most of them. I also stopped by the White House to have Brunch with Barack (not really).
Up close and personal at the White House.
I also got a private tour of the Capitol from my best friend from high school, who works for a senator. She even took me on the Speaker’s Balcony which belonged to Paul Ryan at the time, so you know I had to keep my eyes open for him. I may not agree with some of his politics, but those baby blues though.
Went on a 12 hour road trip with my dad.
My sister and I have a running joke that whenever we try to talk to our father (affectionately referred to as #PappaKamm) he always manages to sneak “Well, you know it’s actually a physics problem” into the conversation and spend the next 10 minutes talking about concepts from the class I nearly failed in high school. So spending 12 hours (each way!) alone in the car with my dad as we drove from Houston to southern Missouri for our family reunion made me a little nervous.
What would we talk about?
Highlights of the daddy / daughter road trip.
I was nervous for nothing because as it turns out, traveling with my dad is great! His road trip style matches mine perfectly. We both only stop to eat/get gas/stretch when absolutely necessary and combine all three whenever we can.
We did visit University of Arkansas on the way up so I could call them Hogs, and then spent the rest of the weekend goofing off with our cousins, watching the Olympics, and seeing just how fast jet skis can actually go.
I would say the only downside of the trip was dad listening to Rush Limbaugh at full blast because he’s kind of deaf and me having to resist the urge to fling myself onto the interstate.
Found my inner Hufflepuff at Harry Potter World.
Castles and cold drinks.
Pottermore sorted me into Slytherin, but I’m choosing not to live that truth and instead am settling into being a delightfully average Hufflepuff. I had been to Universal Studios once before in 2009, but Harry Potter World was just being built. The anguish of being able to SEE Hogwarts, without being allowed to go inside was too real.
So obviously I had to go back.
A Florida landmark.
My great friend from college invited me to visit her hometown of Sarasota, Florida. Her dad flies for Southwest and graciously sent me a Buddy Pass, which was my first time flying standby. It wasn’t too bad and further cemented that Southwest is my favorite airline (this post isn’t sponsored, I just really love them).
My dog of 12 1/2 years actually died while I was away, so I am really grateful that the weekend was filled with so much laughter, “tanning,” and roller coasters.
Went on my first solo trip to Memphis.
There was a mix up with the Buddy Passes, so at the last minute, I booked a solo trip to Memphis in early November. I had flown and spent all day exploring alone, but I always had someone to come chat to at night.
“Playing” at Sun Studios.
But what kind of travel blogger would I be if I hadn’t traveled solo? So I went for it. And it was amazing!
Memphis has lots to do during the day (like Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum) and a vibrant nightlife as well (hello, Beale Street). It was easy to get around with Uber and Lyft and I felt SO proud of myself for finally taking a solo trip.
The Mighty Mississippi
I did have kind of an awkward solo dinner at Gus’ Fried Chicken because I think my waiter felt bad for me, when he was really just making me even more uncomfortable. Like sir, can you please just leave me alone and let me read this ketchup bottle in peace kthanks.
I also may have booked way too many trips for 2017.
Now that I’m out of debt, my money goes straight to the bank ( well, okay, some of it goes to Uncle Sam and some goes to Fidelity because I’m out here trying to retire early, but you get what I mean.) Because of this, I’ve made the brave (stupid?) choice to travel travel traaaavel next year.