Three Days in Rapid City, South Dakota

Heading to Rapid City, South Dakota allowed us to check off another state from our list of states we still need to visit.  None of us had been to South Dakota and we were curious as to what we could expect.  When planning our trip, we found that Rapid City was centrally located to all of the different things that we had planned to see so it made a great base for us.

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Rapid City is about a six hour drive from Denver so we got an early start and hit the road.  We didn’t realize that we would be making several stops along the way.  We packed our three day itinerary full.

This trip included a lot of drive time so you will want to make sure that you have plenty to entertain the kids in the car.  We listened to audio books and completed junior ranger books while we drove around.  Keep in mind that I am sharing what we did on our visit day by day so it may or may not work for you.  Hopefully, this will be a good starting point for you to help you plan your own trip to Rapid City, South Dakota.  Posts on each activity or attraction will be forthcoming!

Day One – Drive from Denver to Rapid City (with stops along the way) and explore downtown Rapid City

Our drive from Denver to Rapid City was pretty uneventful.  We saw little traffic and it was smooth sailing.  We followed Google Map directions and stopped at a nice, clean rest stop in Wyoming for lunch.  While we were at the rest stop, we saw a map and realized we weren’t too far from some Oregon Trail ruts.  We made a quick stop to view the Oregon Trail ruts and then continued into South Dakota.  We took some beautiful back roads with some gorgeous views.

As we got closer to our destination, we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota and saw signs for the Mammoth Site.  A quick glance at our guide book showed us that it might be something we wanted to check out.  Ticket prices start at $7 for children ages 4-12 and 13-59 are $9.  I kind of balked at the price but we decided to take the tour.  It was definitely worth it for us.  The Mammoth Site is not just a museum but it is a working archaeological site.  The building sits over a dig site where they have found Columbian and woolly mammoth bones…lots of them.  We took the tour, which lasts about 30m, and then wandered around for a bit on our own.

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When we arrived in Rapid City, we checked in to our hotel.  We were hosted at the MainStay Suites, one of the newest hotels in Rapid City.  Once we were settled, we got back in the car to have dinner downtown.

Downtown Rapid City was so much fun to explore.  We had dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company, a restaurant built inside an old firehouse.  We wandered around and looked at the different statues that are part of the City of Presidents art installation.  We listened to live music in the square and then we grabbed a treat at Zoom Candy and Soda.

Day Two – Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial

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We started our first full day with a drive to Mount Rushmore.  After parking, we walked the grounds with our heads turned to the sky in awe.  Mount Rushmore looked exactly as it does in pictures but had a majestic air to it as we saw it in person.  After taking some pictures and wandering around, we got back in the car and drove to Custer State Park.

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We made a quick stop at the restrooms and began to drive the Wildlife Loop.  The Wildlife Loop takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive and the reward for making the trip is a beautiful view, changing landscapes and lots of animal spotting.

When we finished with the Wildlife Loop, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Now, I didn’t do my research on this and I didn’t realize that the memorial is not finished.  Don’t be disappointed by this though because the story shared through video is wonderful.  Wander the shops, grab an ice cream cone and, if you are there late enough, view a light show on the wall.  From here, we headed into Hill City to have dinner at the Alpine Inn, famous for their one item menu.  Bacon wrapped filet mignon!  It did not disappoint!

Day Three – Prairie Homestead, Badlands, Wall Drug, Geology Museum

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On the morning of day three, we prepared for another hour trip from Rapid City and headed to Badlands National Park.  Right outside of one of the entrances, we saw a sign for the Prairie Homestead.  We decided to stop and found that it is a little piece of homestead history.  The grounds can be toured where you can see a real sod dugout.  If you have a child who adores Little House on the Prairie, they would probably enjoy a visit here.

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From there, we drove through the entrance of Badlands National Park.  We hadn’t planned any major hiking during this trip and had intended to just drive through.  The guidebook had several recommendations for short hikes so we chose the Door trail, which then allowed for some extra exploring.  We stopped at the visitor’s center and picked up junior ranger books and then headed to Wall Drug.

We weren’t really impressed with Wall Drug but it was mostly because it was incredibly crowded.  We were overwhelmed by its size.  We weren’t expecting it to be so large!  We grabbed a treat from the candy shop and then hit the road again.

We headed back to Rapid City and, on a whim, stopped at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology Museum.  We had dinner in Rapid City and called it a night.  We still had to drive 7 hours home on Day 4 of our trip.

Have you been to Rapid City?  What was your favorite stop along the way?

*Thank you to Rapid City and MainStay Suites for hosting our hotel visit.  All travel and attractions were covered by my family.  All opinions are my own.



  1. 1

    Did your kids get their Junior Ranger badges at Mount Rushmore and Badlands? That is one of our favorite parts of visiting National Parks. 🙂

    We just returned from another South Dakota trip, spent mostly near Hot Springs. Visited the Mammoth Site, Wind Cave National Park and the Badlands. Biked on the Mickelson Trail. Ate at a Chuckwagon Review. And visited Spanish Mustangs at Windcross Conservancy.

  2. 2

    We also visited the Black Hills this summer for a wonderful week! And did the Jr. Ranger programs at Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State Park and a little of the Badlands. Man, that was a gorgeous place!

    Our trip sounds so similar – my daughter is a big rock hound so we stopped at the Museum of Geology, did the dig at Mammoth Site too. We also had a fun time at Reptile Gardens, Storybook park and some wonderful hiking days. And of course, the animals were everywhere (I must have 100 photos of bison).

  3. 3

    I haven’t been to Rapid City. I feel like it’s silly that I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore.

  4. 4

    Rapid City is my favorite weekend getaway from Denver! What did your kids think about the mammoth site? Mine were pretty into it, surprisingly!