South Dakota is a truly underrated state. The entire western half of the state is filled with parks, monuments and endless wildlife. Rapid City specifically has tons of history and culture that is worth exploring. The town also acts as a perfect home base for exploring a variety of different parks all within day trip distance. Here are some of the best day trips you can take from Rapid City, South Dakota!
1. Badlands National Park
This one goes without saying. Badlands National Park is a can’t miss destination in South Dakota. Located about an hour from Rapid City, it’s a perfect day trip. Badlands is home to a variety of wildlife species, lunar landscapes, interesting hikes through valleys and informative areas about fossils and more. Nearby you’ll also get to learn about the missile launch sites leftover from the Cold War and explore Wall Drug road side attraction.
For a complete 24 hour guide to Badlands National Park, check out my blog post here.
2. Black Hills National Forest
Located just outside of Rapid City, Black Hills National Forest is a diverse and beautiful scenic area with tons to explore. The Black Hills is 1.2 million acres and has some of the highest mountains outside of the Rocky Mountains. Whether you are into hiking, fishing, mountain biking, off-roading or just leisurely exploring nature, there are endless things to do in the Black Hills. If you are a history enthusiast, you can find stories from the gold rush and the old west in the surrounding towns.
3. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
These two monuments are also a quick drive from Rapid City but the activities you can do up in this area are endless. Mount Rushmore has a whole park area that you can walk around and learn about the sculpture and the carving via audio tour or multimedia tour. Or venture up the Presidential Trail loop for amazing views of the faces. If you travel up to the monuments in the evening, you can catch the Lighting Ceremony and witness the sculptures aglow.
Crazy Horse Memorial is still in progress so drive up to see and learn about the process of carving this massive sculptures. Crazy Horse is a memorial dedicated to a hero in the Native American culture. Depending on when you travel to the area, check online for events at the complex, or just explore the welcome center and educational center.
4. Wind Cave National Park
We hadn’t even heard of Wind Cave National Park prior to drive through South Dakota! This National Park is home to a cave system that spans 149 miles underground alone (that they know of!) The park itself is much larger and has opportunities for prairie landscapes, streams, and ample hiking to views of the surrounding hills. Make sure to take a Cave Tour while you are there to experience the endless system of tunnels.
5. Custer State Park
Known for their “Buffalo Jams”, Custer State Park is one of the best parks for wildlife viewing. You can see anything from bighorn sheep, deer, elk, buffalo, antelope and maybe even coyote. The park has endless views along the scenic byways through or get out and hike one of the many trails throughout. Make sure not to miss the spires!
South Dakota may be one of the most underrated states in the country. There are endless things to do in the western half of the state and Rapid City is a perfect jumping off point. Exploring the city is great but the true magic lies just a short drive away!
Do you want to plan a South Dakota trip of your own? Check out InMotion Adventures to see how I can help make that trip a reality. Until next time…