Over the course of the last year we’ve had the opportunity to travel to Rapid City, SD on three separate occasions, thanks to some super fun and well-run soccer tournaments. On each occasion, in addition to spending time at the soccer field, we’ve tried to mix it up with different activities in the city. With Deadwood, Rushmore, the Black Hills and other fun attractions all within 45 minutes of Rapid City you’re never at a loss for fun things to do. The following ideas are simply a taste of what you can find when exploring Rapid City and the surrounding area.
Family-Friendly Things to do in Rapid City
1. Dinosaur Park
On a previous visit to Rapid City, our family happened on Dinosaur Park and were delighted by the 7 massive dinosaurs located there. It turns out, this is one of the first tourist attractions in Rapid City, created in 1936 before Mount Rushmore had been completed. A highlight for any family vacation is that the park is free; you can walk the trails and climb on the dinosaurs and then visit the gift shop if you want a snack or a souvenir to take with you (the shop is seasonal). Another highlight is the park location, right on a ridge overlooking Rapid City and affords views of up to 100 miles on a clear day, allowing a perfect viewing opportunity for the badlands and black hills surrounding the area.
2. WaTiki Indoor Waterpark
Any family on a sports trip knows that the hotel can be an integral part of the fun equation. We’ve found on our previous trips that the majority of hotels in and around Rapid City have awesome pools and numerous waterslide options. However, the WaTiki Waterpark, shared by four different hotels, has been the most popular with the kiddos (and me). Our kids had a blast in the lazy river and on the three indoor water slides, I enjoyed sitting in the giant hot tub and hanging out at the tiki bar, located just outside the doors of the water park (walls of glass allowed me to still see my kids and monitor them). The best part is one of the waterslides actually winds through the tiki bar, allowing the kids to zoom overhead and wave at parents below.
3. South Dakota Air and Space Museum
Another delightful surprise our family happened onto is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. During a break between games we were able to visit the museum, located outside the gates of Ellsworth Air Force Base (7 miles east of Rapid City). The museum offers free entry, always a favorite for me, and was absolutely awe-inspiring. The majority of the planes are located outside with sidewalks to connect them, each with an informational sign telling you about when the aircraft was made, how it was used, and the pros and cons to the aircraft. Inside the museum, we were able to learn about the history of flight in South Dakota and sit inside a mock cockpit. This is one of the locations I boast about to other parents that they should make a point to visit.
Downtown Rapid City has a number of fun options for visiting tourists (and locals alike). Each time we visit we find a fun new restaurant, brewery or winery to try out. The city also boasts statues of presidents on each street corner, giving an air of culture as you stroll through downtown. Main Street Square offers the ideal location for concerts and has interactive fountains for the warm months and an ice-skating rink when the weather gets cold.
5. Reptile Garden
Located 6 miles south of Rapid City, Reptile Garden was voted one of the 10 top roadside attractions by USA Today. RG boasts the largest reptile collection in the world (according to the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records), along with giant tortoises and other creatures. There’s also a large indoor garden that features orchids and over 40,000 other flowers. This locale is seasonal, so plan to visit from April to October.
6. National Parks and Outdoor Attractions
Rapid City is located within an hour of multiple national parks and monuments. It’s hard to imagine a place with more opportunities to get outdoors and explore the history and majesty of our country. Included in this list are the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore (see number 7), and Bad Lands, Devil’s Tower, and Wind Cave National Parks. When driving through the Black Hills you’re likely to encounter wildlife and beautiful sites alike; it seems no matter what direction you head you’re bound to find nature at its finest.
7. Mount Rushmore
How can I not mention one of the most recognized memorials in the country when discussing things to do? Located just 30 minutes from Rapid City, Mount Rushmore is one of the tourist destinations in South Dakota with almost 3 million visitors per year. The opportunity to see the four 60-foot high president portraits carved into granite is one you shouldn’t miss. With a robust visitor’s center, hiking trails and educational opportunities you can spend a day learning and exploring this impressive site.
We don’t currently have any plans to visit Rapid City in the next year, but with the way our soccer schedule works I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t find ourselves back there soon. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the terrain and finding more fun family-friendly activities to do while we’re there.