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10 Reasons to visit the Black Hills and Rapid City, South Dakota

Updated on November 14, 2015
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Is about one-half an hour from Rapid City, located just north of Custer State Park in South Dakota's Black Hills National Forest.This is one of the places that is a must see on your trip to South Dakota. Built by Gutzon Borglum and where he used the new method involving dynamite and pneumatic hammers to blast through a large amount of rock quickly. It began in 1927 and was completed in 1941. 400 workers worked on this project under dangerous conditions, no lives were lost during the completion of the carved heads.

The presidents featured are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

It is awe inspiring and one that is worth the trip. You will drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota and be proud that this is part of our history. We record over 2 million visitors every year to this amazing tourist attraction.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower
General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Rapid City Presidents Tour

If you are driving through Rapid City, you can't help but see the statues. Stop in and get the guide-book at 7th and Main to pick up your map to where each statue is located.

As a visitor you are treated to the 'City of Presidents'. You can either walk or drive by the life-size president statues located on each of the corners in downtown Rapid City. The statues are life-size bronze statues of each of the presidents.

The project began in 2000 as a tribute to honor the legacy of the American presidency. Each of the statues are privately funded. They are informational, interesting and educational to see these statues are life-size. It's a favorite of our tourists to take this walk downtown, they are accessible and identifiable.

Aerial view of Hills Alive
Aerial view of Hills Alive | Source

Hills Alive

This is a 'free' Christian summer musical festival which happens every summer during July in Memorial Park, downtown Rapid City. This festival lasts for 3 days. You can check on line for specific dates. In 2015 they will celebrate their 30th anniversary.

They feature 3 stages, 20+ bands, free admission, children's activities including face painting and inflatable slide. There is shopping, food vendors and other merchandise to purchase. They feature top Christian artists and there is something for the entire family.

When you come be sure to bring a lawn chair or blanket, water, sunscreen, cameras, umbrellas or hats and be prepared to walk a few blocks and bring your friends to this spectacular event.

What you should not bring: your pet, video camera (due to copyright laws and artist's requests), no tarps or tents, be considerate to the people behind you.

There are food vendors available throughout the Hills Alive festival. Be prepared to support your favorite artist and purchase their CDs, t-shirts and other merchandise.

Hills Alive accepts donations. You can also volunteer, they need your help to keep making this large event successful. You can also be a sponsor of this event. It has been said that the concerts are fantastic! Come see for yourself.

They will have a separate stage for new talent, go on line and submit your application.

Be sure to book well ahead for your motel/hotel room unless you have friends here in Rapid City.

Map showing where Wind Cave is located
Map showing where Wind Cave is located

Wind and Jewell Cave

If you haven't been in caves these two caves should be at the top of your list.

It has been said that they hope to find where these two caves are linked together.They are run by the National Park Services. Be prepared to do some walking. Check ahead to see if you need reservations for the tours.

The rangers that guide you are very helpful and kind, especially good with children.

Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world. These caves have different experiences to offer, both are worth seeing.

 A look at the main street in Sturgis during Rally week.
A look at the main street in Sturgis during Rally week.

Sturgis Rally

If you haven’t been to a Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, you are missing the experience of a lifetime! There is nothing like it. The roar of the bikes that you hear is constant, the amount of bikes is mind boggling, the outfits they wear is surprising and some are unbelievable. The different bikes are amazing and you will never see anything like it anywhere else.

The first Rally was held August 12 – 14, 1938. It is always the first weekend in August held in Sturgis, SD, but all of the Black Hills feels it’s repercussions and everything is full and booked. This rally is biggest bike rally in the world of it's kind.

Sturgis is filled from one end to the other with vendors and bikes lined up and down the street.

Why you can even buy alligator on a stick and get your tattoo and you can attend world-class concerts live on stage.

You can watch live webcam at the Sturgis rally on the Internet, where you can see the bikes cruising up and down the streets.

In 2015 will be the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It is predicted to be the biggest gathering of motorcycles of all time. If you haven’t got your reservation, you are probably too late for this year, because most motels/hotels are booked a year in advance.

The people are friendly, the motorcyclists are on their good behavior and it’s just plain fun talking to our bike visitors from around the world. We look forward to each year for our bike visitors to come and visit the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Badlands, South Dakota
Badlands, South Dakota
Wall Drug, South Dakota
Wall Drug, South Dakota

Bad Lands and Wall Drug

This drive through the Bad Lands and Wall Drug is a must!

It one of the largest protected mixed-grass prairies in the United States. The badlands cover over 244,000 acres of which 64,000 are a National Park and are designated as a wilderness area. You can explore this rugged terrain on horseback, or by car. If driving it's better to see the colors at dusk or dawn.

Badlands contain the world’s richest deposits of fossils from the Oligocene epoch. Where you will find three-toed horses, tiny deer-like creatures, turtles and saber-toothed cat plus other prehistoric animals. There are two campgrounds in the park. This is where the Hole in the Wall gang hid out.

Exiting off of I-90 fifty miles east of Rapid City is the famous Wall Drug and the turn off for the Badlands. Wall Drug is a 76,000 square foot mall of things to do. On a good day you will be one of over 20,000 people who visit Wall Drug!

This is the place to purchase your black hills gold jewelry and see all kinds of free attractions. Be sure to visit the dinosaur that roars and be sure you get your free ice water and .05-cent coffee.

You can see signs all over the world of how many miles to Wall Drug! If you have seen those signs, this is the famous Wall Drug.

There is animated scenes, you can climb on the jackaloupe, and listen to the Singing Sam the Gorilla Man. Don’t drive by without stopping.


Mammoth Site

Not only is this interesting and exciting to see but you learn something. Kids say that this place is a ‘cool’ place to visit. This is where you can see history being revealed.

The Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, SD is not only a museum but also an active paleontological site. South Dakota is rich in excavations where unusual bones can be found of extinct species.

This is a non-profit organization and open to the pubic. Volunteers participate in excavations during July. The first Mammoth bones were found in 1974 and a building enclosing the site was established.

South Dakota is a rich source of ancient and extent bones. The famous 'Sue' the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex came from South Dakota.

Don’t miss this on your travels to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.

Air Force Museum Entrance sign
Air Force Museum Entrance sign

Ellsworth Air Force Base

Just 10 miles outside of Rapid City is Box Elder and the home for the 28th Bomb Wing and is assigned to the 12th Air Force under Air Combat Command and is one of only two B-1B Lancer strategic bomber wings in the United States Air Force.

Ellsworth’s hosts many military members, family and civilian employees. A lot of our military members have chosen Rapid City for their retirement home.

This base provides combat-ready B-1 aircraft and crews. Ellsworth AFB was established in 1941 and is named in honor of Brigadier General Richard E. Ellsworth (1911-1953). During WW!! Ellsworth flew 400 missions in the China Burma India Theater and at the time of his death he commanded the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

Watch the spectacular aerial display for two days in August, check the Internet for air show dates.

Ellsworth Air Force Base also hosts a museum. Rapid City is very proud to have this Air Base next to our city.

Courtesy of Rapid Journal Public Domain
Courtesy of Rapid Journal Public Domain
Barbershop Animatronics
Barbershop Animatronics | Source

Woodcarvers and other attractions

Do not miss this attraction - put this on your must see list!

While traveling around the Black Hills of South Dakota don’t forget to stop at The National Museum of Woodcarving just west of Custer.

You can spend a good hour enjoying the woodcarving magic and see what you can do with wood.

  • There is Angostura State Recreation Area
  • Bear Butte State Park
  • Scenic drives
  • Deadwood where the casinos are and Mount Moriah Cemetery,
  • Prairie Berry Winery
  • Custer State Park,
  • Sylvan Lake,
  • Needles Drive
  • Iron Mountain Road
  • School of Mines Museum,
  • Dinosaur Hill
  • and about 30 more things to do, see and participate in.

Check out all the Internet web sites for more details of all the things you can do in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.


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