11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Rapid City, South Dakota

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Dec 25, 2023
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Rapid City is a tourist-friendly town near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in Western South Dakota. With a friendly community and a variety of comfortable hotel options, it's a good center from which to explore the nearby Black Hills National Forest and its many monuments, natural spaces, and tourist attractions.

Rapid City
Rapid City

Rapid City is also a great home base to explore the more remote Badlands National Park, about an hour's drive to the east. This inspiring place to visit lives up to its name with stark yet beautiful scenery. The park also offers several hiking trails and scenic roadside sightseeing.

Other top places to visit within the city limits are the Museum of Geology and the Reptile Gardens. These family-friendly attractions are just a sample of the fun to be found in Rapid City. Plan your sightseeing with our list of top attractions in Rapid City, South Dakota.

See also: Where to Stay in Rapid City

1. Reptile Gardens

Giant tortoise at the Reptile Gardens
Giant tortoise at the Reptile Gardens

The Reptile Gardens is home to lizards, snakes, crocodiles, parrots, Komodo dragons, insects, and amphibians. Many of the animals are featured in entertainment such as the Gator Show, Snake Show, and Birds Show. These animal presentations take place regularly throughout the day in the summer.

The floral gardens have thousands of flowering plants, including several rare and exotic species. The eye-catching Sky Dome at the property hosts several of these tropical plants interspersed with live animals like lizards and frogs.

The giant tortoises on the property are great for a kid-friendly, hands-on interaction and photo opportunity. The Prairie Dog Town at the facility allows visitors to pop their heads into a burrow and see the furry inhabitants at play.

Reptile Gardens is open seven days a week throughout the year. Admission into the gardens varies depending on the season, with the summer, May through September, the most expensive time to visit. Peak summer rates are still below $25 per person, with some discounts available.

Address: 8955 South Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota

2. Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Rapid City makes an excellent base camp for Badlands National Park. It's just over an hour's drive to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center at the east end of the park, passing by several access points along the way. The hospitable city is an excellent refuge after a day exploring the national park's barren sandstone formations and eye-catching landmarks.

There are several ways to enjoy Badlands National Park. Driving Badlands Loop Road between the Visitor Center and the Pinnacles Entrance is one of the most popular things to do. Several short hiking trails lead from this popular road.

Summer is always a busy time along this route, although it can be blazing hot. The shoulder seasons are the best time to visit the Badlands.

Camping is available at Badlands National Park. This is a great way to see an incredible cosmos spread across the sky at night. The Badlands display a crisp black sky with plenty of stars. The campground hosts night stargazing events throughout the extended summer season (May through September).

3. Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA
Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA is located south of Rapid City. It is a drive-through wildlife park. The landscape of meadows and pines allows visitors to see North American black bears, wolves, mountain lions, elk, buffalo, deer, bighorn and Dall sheep, and Rocky Mountain goats. They are particularly well known for their large collection of black bears.

The facility offers special events and other seasonal things to do, including Critter Camps and the annual CubFest. Motorcyclists are also encouraged to visit, as the park provides complimentary courtesy cars or open-air buses to tour the grounds.

Bear Country USA operates between spring and late October. The facility closes during inclement weather in the shoulder seasons, and motorists should call ahead if roads are icy. Admission is determined by the number of passengers in each vehicle, with free admission for children under four years old.

Feeding animals in the wildlife park is strictly prohibited, and windows must remain rolled up throughout the tour.

Address: 13820 US-16, Rapid City, South Dakota

4. Chapel in the Hills

Chapel in the Hills
Chapel in the Hills

Chapel in the Hills is a replica of a famous 12th-century Borgund Stave Church in Norway. This unique-looking building features intricate wood carving, Norse dragonheads, Christian symbols, and pegged construction.

Today, a non-profit corporation currently operates the chapel, and it's free for the public to check out. Visitors enjoy the aesthetic architecture and beautiful surroundings. Guided tours are available, and evening worships are held every night at 7:30 pm.

Admission is free to visit Chapel in the Hills, although donations are encouraged to help sustain this self-supporting attraction. A visitor center and museum in a grass-roofed "Stabbur" is also on-site. Spend some time here learning about the interesting history that brought this Stave Church to Rapid City.

Address: 3788 Chapel Lane, Rapid City, South Dakota

5. Storybook Island

Storybook Island
Storybook Island | Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock.com

Storybook Island is a children's park that features more than eight acres of classic fairy-tale settings. This enchanted family attraction is accessible with free admission by way of the "London Bridge," a native stone bridge complete with castle turrets.

Within the park, children have access to more than 100 different playsets depicting themes and characters from Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and other storybook collections. Ticketed attractions at this amusement park include a Bippity Boppity Bounce House and Storybook Island Train.

Storybook Island only operates between May and September. It operates seven days a week during this season and hosts a "Once Upon a Festival" carnival-style event to celebrate the end of summer.

Address: 1301 Sheridan Lake Road, Rapid City, South Dakota

6. Museum of Geology

Museum of Geology
Museum of Geology | James St. John / photo modified

The Museum of Geology in Rapid City is part of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. It's a teaching and research facility with a large collection of vertebrate fossils and minerals. The collections include mammalian fossils, marine and non-marine Jurassic and Cretaceous reptiles and mammals, and Black Hills pegmatite minerals.

This facility is open to the public with free admission. And the museum caters to all ages, with compelling exhibits, guided tours, and a Kids' Zone complete with hands-on experiences. Expect to spend at least an hour among all the eye-catching exhibits.

The Museum of Geology also hosts spring and fall annual events aimed at connecting with kids. The museum also hosts field camps in the summer for high school students.

Address: 501 East St. Joseph Street, Rapid City, South Dakota

7. Journey Museum & Learning Center

Journey Museum's Pap Madison Cabin
Journey Museum's Pap Madison Cabin | Jeffrey Beall / photo modified

The exhibits at the Journey Museum begin with the formation of the Black Hills more than 2.5 billion years ago. They continue to showcase prehistoric finds in the area, with displays of dinosaur bones and marine reptiles, tracing the cultural history of the Great Plains.

The museum is divided into individual sections: The Archeological Research Center has ancient artifacts, including ancient pottery. The culture of the Sioux Indians is featured in the Sioux Indian Museum. The Minnilusa Pioneer Museum Collection presents people and events, from the fur trade to the present day.

The Journey Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, with more limited hours on Sundays. Admission is discounted for teens and seniors. All the exhibits at the museum could facilitate an entire day, but most visits last between 1 and 2 hours.

Address: 222 New York Street, Rapid City, South Dakota

8. Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park
Dinosaur Park | EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Rapid City is home to many public parks and play spaces, maybe none as unique as Dinosaur Park. Alongside a great view of the city on Skyline Drive, this 1930s-established park also has various dinosaurs to pose and take pictures with.

These massive dinosaur statues are iconic landmarks of the city overlooking the horizon and provide a fun reason to get outside and enjoy the view. Nearby, the Skyline Wilderness Area Park provides even more outlets to explore, with an abundance of hiking and biking trails.

Address: 940 Skyline Drive, Rapid City, South Dakota

9. Black Hills Caverns

The Black Hills Caverns offers a look at the Black Hills beneath visitors' feet. Historically, the caves were used by the Lakota Indians and also by gold prospectors. Today, Visitors can take a one-hour, .75-mile-long tour, or a more moderate half-hour "Crystal Tour." They can also spend time mining for gemstones.

Unique cave formations at Black Hills Caverns include logomites, stalagmites, helictites, purple amethyst, boxwork, and popcorn crystal. The knowledgeable guide leading the cavern expedition describes the significance of these formations and where to see them along the tour.

Cave tours are available between May through September. Moderate walking is required for all tours of the cavern. A visit to the property's extensive gift shop allows patrons to take home rare rocks, special crystals, and other souvenirs.

Address: 2600 Cavern Road, Rapid City, South Dakota

10. South Dakota Air and Space Museum

South Dakota Air and Space Museum
South Dakota Air and Space Museum | Paul R. Jones / Shutterstock.com

The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located outside the Main Gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base. Aviation exhibits and galleries are within the museum and on the grounds outside. Highlights include a Honda stealth bomber; Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's Mitchell B-25 bomber; and other fighter, cargo, and utility aircraft.

The Aviation Hall of Fame at the museum memorializes some of the most influential aviators and engineers to come from South Dakota. Over 30 outdoor exhibits at the museum allow visitors to enjoy the nice weather of summer and fall while visiting. The museum is open to the public with free admission.

Address: 2890 Davis Drive, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota

11. Art Alley

Art Alley
Art Alley

Art Alley is one of the more unique art installations in South Dakota. Interested observers will find this graffiti showcase between 6th and 7th streets in downtown Rapid City. It's a working alley with dumpsters, deliveries, and utilities, and a community gallery that is frequently painted and re-painted with murals, messages, and colorful spray paint.

Anyone is welcome to add their mark to the alley, though they need to obtain a permit from the city to do so. Many visitors are content with finding this treasured alley and snapping a couple of photos. It's a truly ever-evolving place to visit, offering something new every time you visit.

Where to Stay in Rapid City for Sightseeing

We recommend these conveniently located hotels in Rapid City with easy access to the top sights:

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14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in South Dakota