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    Rapid City in South Dakota: a small pearl in the shadow of the Black Hills

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    Martí Micolau

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    Rapid City is a city waiting to be discovered which, thanks also to its strategic position close to the main attractions of South Dakota, is an ideal base for those who want to embark on an on the road itinerary along the so-called Real America. So let's find out what are the main things to see in the city and how to best organize yourself to visit it.


    • Where it is or how to get there
    • What to see in Rapid City
      • Downtown Rapid City
      • The parks of the city
      • Museums
    • Attractions nearby
    • Tour departing from Rapid City
    • Where to Eat
    • Where to sleep in Rapid City

    Where it is or how to get there

    As mentioned Rapid City is located in South Dakota. Major major cities nearby are Denver in Colorado, which is about 6 hours and 15 minutes away by car, and Minneapolis in Minnesota, which is nearly 9 hours away.

    The main road that connects the city is the US-90 traveling from east to west (and vice versa), those coming from the south can use the US-385 instead, which will then merge into the SD-79, while those approaching from the north consider the US-85 which will connect to the US-90 in the near the town of Spearfish.

    Rapid City however has a airport (like almost all medium-sized American cities) which is well connected through internal flights with the rest of the nation. In the high season there are also direct flights from the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Newark. Rapid City Regional Airport is also a convenient starting point to rent a car from the many agencies present, and continue your itinerary on the road.

    What to see in Rapid City

    Downtown Rapid City

    The most interesting thing about the Downtown of the city is definitely the named attraction City of Presidents, which we could define as a sort of Walk of Fame of US politics. These are life-size bronze statues of all the presidents of the United States, each of which characterized by a particular pose to recall a salient aspect of their political action or private life.

    The statues are placed both on Main Street than on the parallel St. Joseph Street, more precisely at the corners that are formed when the two main streets intersect with the six connecting streets that go from 4th Street to 9th Street. This happy location makes the exploration even more comfortable since, if you are interested, it will allow you to do a "loop" (starting and returning to the same point) visiting other interesting attractions of the Downtown.

    A particular square built recently is the very central one Main Street Square that we could define the beating heart of the Downtown of the city. During the summer, in addition to hosting numerous concerts and events, its main attraction is a large "interactive" fountain that will allow you to cool off from the heat, while in winter there is an ice skating rink.

    You like i graffiti? You can consider visiting the so-called Art Alley which develops into an alley that connects 6th Street and 7th Street between Main Street and St. Joseph Street. Here you will find both sides of the alley completely covered in colorful and imaginative murals.

    The parks of the city

    If you are traveling with children, a visit to the Dinosaur Park (940 Skyline Dr), a theme park dedicated to the great reptiles once the undisputed masters of the planet Earth. It may seem a little old-fashioned today (since it dates back to 1936 during the time of the Great Depression), but if you aren't too pretentious it can be a fun stop. Another positive aspect is given by its position on a hill that will allow you to observe beautiful views of the city and the surrounding area.

    What can effectively be called a typical US quirk is the Chapel In The Hills (3788 Chapel Ln), a Lutheran church dating from 1969 and built entirely of wood. The appearance is reminiscent of the Scandinavian religious constructions that impressed Reverend Conrad Thompson so much that he wanted to recreate one also in his homeland from which to broadcast his radio program.

    If the weather permits and you feel like having an outdoor picnic on Canyon Lake Park (4181 Jackson Blvd) may be the right choice thanks to its picnic areas surrounded by greenery. The large city park called Memorial park (600-684 Omaha St), within which a certainly unexpected attraction deserves a mention, namely the Berlin Wall Exhibit a real memorial dedicated to the Berlin Wall and its history.


    Even if the city is not huge, there are many museums that can be useful for those who want to deepen some particular aspect of the history of the area. To rule it, given the characteristic of Rapid City, are two museums dedicated to the history of the United States.

    The first is the National Presidential Wax Museum (609 Hwy 16A, Keystone) in other words a real wax museum in which some of the most important situations in the history of the USA are reproduced, such as the Yalta Conference or the speech that George W. Bush gave among the ruins of the World Trade Center. It is not located right in the city limits but about a 20 minute drive, near the town of Keystone.

    The second museum is dedicated to perhaps the most important moment in the history of the United States: the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Inside the America’s Founding Fathers Exhibit (9815 S Hwy 16) the famous painting by John Trumbull's has been recreated, which immortalizes the moment when the 56 men signed the famous document. The more adventurous can also try their hand at a shooting test using the rifle used by the Continental Army.

    Aviation enthusiasts should not miss a visit to the South Dakota Air & Space Museum (2890 Davis Dr, Ellsworth AFB) where they will be able to admire numerous examples of aircraft that have made the history of American aviation, including the B-52 bomber and, even, a Minuteman II ICBM dating back to the time of the Cold War.

    An exhibition space halfway between a craft shop and a museum entirely dedicated to the art and traditions of the natives is the Prairie Edge Trading Company And Galleries (606 Main Street). A visit is therefore also recommended for those who want to take home a slightly more sought-after souvenir.

    Do you want to retrace the history of the Black Hills and all of the surrounding Rapid City area? In this case there are two museums that can satisfy your curiosity: the The Journey Museum (222 New York St), which ranges from prehistoric times to the exploits of the pioneers, and the Museum of Geology (501 E St Joseph St) where the huge skeletons of dinosaurs that have inhabited this area dominate.

    After all these museums in which to retrace past history, those who love contemporary art can find bread for their teeth by visiting the Dahl Arts Center (713 7th St) which has its strong point in thematic exhibitions. You can check the program on the official website.

    Attractions nearby

    Here are some of the most notable attractions near Rapid City.

    • Mount Rushmore National Monument (about 30 minutes by car): One of the most famous landmarks in the United States, and perhaps the main reason why millions of tourists each come to this area.
    • Crazy horse memorial (about 50 minutes): Native Americans' answer to Mount Rushmore sculptures. Even if it is still a work in progress, it is still fascinating to visit, especially if you have always cheered on the former among the Indians and cowboys.
    • Badlands national park (about an hour by car): within the boundaries of this national park you can admire some very particular rock formations which, thanks to erosion, over the years have taken on certainly original and fascinating shapes and colors.
    • Jewel cave national monument (about an hour by car): if you are an expert speleologist, know that this is the third longest cave in the world, a visit therefore becomes almost mandatory.
    • Devils Tower National Park (about an hour and forty minutes by car): do you remember the mysterious monolith that haunts the protagonists of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind? This is the Devils Tower and you can visit it by following the advice in our dedicated article.
    • Custer State Park (about 50 minutes by car): it is very convenient to visit this park also by car along the many scenic roads present including the Needles Highway, the Iron Mountain Road and the Wildlife Loop Scenic Byway known above all because it can allow you to observe many specimens of buffaloes in the wild.
    • 1880 Train – Black Hills Central Railroad: it is a historic train dating back to 1880 that connects the towns of Hill City and Keystone (about 40 minutes by car from Rapid City). If you want to try this attraction, know that the journey takes about an hour each way.
    • Historic Deadwood (about 50 minutes by car): a town in pure western style dating back to the period of the gold rush, today more alive than ever thanks to the particular atmosphere that reigns and the numerous commemorative events that are organized.

    Tour departing from Rapid City

    Those who have decided to stay overnight in Rapid City (by the way, read our advice at the end of the article) and want to leave their car parked for a day, here are some organized tours that can be taken into consideration so as not to miss the best of what area has to offer. All of these tours offer pickup and drop-off from hotels in the city.

    • Mount Rushmore and Surrounding Tour: Full day excursion where you can visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and Iron Mountain Roads. All this takes about 9 hours.
    • Badlands National Park Day Trip: Small-group excursion to the northern part of the famous national park, which also includes a stop at the curious Minuteman Missile Visitors Center. Those wishing to visit both sections of the Badlands can rely on the Premium Tour instead.

    Where to Eat

    One of the best places to enjoy a great burger is here Sickie's garage (3313 E Mall Dr.) which has on its side the fact that it is located in a location that will delight all American motorcycle enthusiasts. Do you feel like eating some grilled meat? then head to the Murphy’s Pub & Grill (510 9th St.), one of the most popular in the city.

    If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy a beer or a snack in a very special location, you can opt for the Firehouse Brewing Co. (610 Main St.). It is located in the Downtown and it is a real historic fire station, dating back to the early 900s, which has been completely used as a brewery, so much so that it is one of the oldest in the entire state.

    Where to sleep in Rapid City

    THEHotel Alex Johnson (523 6th Street) is not just a simple hotel but a historic city building that can also be considered a real Rapid City attraction. It is located in the center and, during its long history (it is one of the oldest hotels in the United States), it has hosted American presidents and Hollywood stars of the caliber of Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant (when they were in the area to shoot some scenes of the International Intrigue film).

    In the charming hall of the hotel there are numerous examples of Indian art and, like all respected historical places, it is said that restless spirits still roam the rooms and corridors of the structure. The bravest can in fact book a special tour called "Ghost Adventures" which will allow you to sleep in a "haunted" room with a special paranormal presence detector.

    Il Summer Creek Inn (23204 Summer Creek Drive) is a splendid bed and breakfast surrounded by nature dedicated to those who want a bit of tranquility, without giving up the convenience of being practically halfway between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore and being able to take advantage of a structure very accurate in all details.

    Il GrandStay Residential Suites (660 Disk Drive) is recommended for those who prefer to rely on a large hotel chain. It is located in the city center and offers its guests large rooms and an indoor swimming pool ideal for relaxing after a day exploring the area.

    GrandStay Residential Suites
    Summer Creek Inn

    Look for accommodation in Rapid City

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