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Things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota: A Fun Guide for Families

If you’re looking for a great family destination with plenty of nature, adventures, and family-fun, then Rapid City, South Dakota needs to be at the top of your list. Rapid City offers a variety of fun things to do that cater to families with children of all ages. Here’s your ultimate guide to making the most of your visit and ensuring your family experiences the best things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota!

a view of rapid city and the surrounding hills from above

Things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Downtown Rapid City

Downtown Rapid City is the perfect place for families, with tons of restaurants, shops, coffee shops, activities, and a cute park with a splash pad. Press Start Arcade has classic and modern arcade games. Be sure to go downstairs into Bowser’s Dungeon for retro games and grab a pizza or stop for a bite of food. 

Take a stroll on the President’s Walking Audio Tour to learn about the country’s history through life-sized bronze statues of U.S. Presidents. Each statue has its own unique story, making this an educational and engaging activity for all ages and a must-do for any history buff. 

Don’t miss a visit to the Prairie Edge Trading Company and Dakota Drum Company for unique local Native American arts and crafts. These stores offer a glimpse into Native American culture with beautiful, handcrafted items that make perfect gifts or home decor. They partner with Northern Plains Indians Artists to ensure they get paid fairly for their art. They also work to educate the public about the Northern Plains Indians and help preserve their culture. 

a boy running at the splash pad in downtown rapid city

Let the kids cool off at the Main Street Square Park and Splash Pad, a perfect spot for some summer fun. The splash pad is especially popular during hot days, and the park often hosts live music and events that add to the fun atmosphere of downtown Rapid City. My son loved splashing in the water. It was a nice chance for me to relax while I watched him. 

The downtown is lined with cute shops and delicious restaurants too! See my “Where to Eat” section for my favorite bites and coffee shops. The Rapid City Visitor’s Center is on the main street too and is worth checking out. There is a little kid’s play area and knowledgeable staff with recommendations and maps for Rapid City and the whole region.

a view of the whole water park at WaTiki Water Park one of the best things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

WaTiki Water Park

If you’re looking for things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota you need to go to WaTiki Water Park! WaTiki Water Park is the largest indoor water park in the Dakotas. This fun water park features thrilling slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool, making it an ideal spot for year-round water adventures. My son loved the three big water slides, the lazy river, and the playground area (complete with more slides). I loved the hot tub!

We upgraded to VIPs so we could have a reserved table. There is a restaurant with food like pizza and nachos. I ate a gluten free pizza and cake. It was good! There is also an indoor bar where you can get fruity cocktails or a beer. If you’re looking to get into vacation mode, this is a great place to start! 

On the upper floor, there is an arcade, complete with prizes. My son and I had fun taking a break from the water to play games. Between the water park, restaurant, and arcade, it would be easy to spend an entire day at WaTiki Water Park.

a boy standing by a dinosaur

Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park is a must-visit for any family with kids who love dinosaurs. This historic park offers an exciting opportunity for kids to climb on life-sized dinosaur sculptures and enjoy panoramic views of the city. The park, established in the 1930s. It was one of the first attractions that enticed people to come to Rapid City as a tourist destination. The dinosaurs were designed by Emmet Smith, one of the many sculptors who worked on Mount Rushmore.

a boy walking through a tunnel at Storybook Island

Storybook Island

No list of things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota would be complete without Storybook Island. This was one my son’s favorite spots. Storybook Island brings fairy tales to life with themed play areas and characters from popular children’s stories like the Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Winnie the Pooh. This magical park is designed for toddlers through elementary-aged kids, offering numerous playsets and interactive exhibits. It’s an adorable and exciting experience that allows kids to immerse themselves in their favorite stories.

two bears at Bear City USA

Bear Country USA

If you’re up for an adventure, take a drive through Bear Country USA. This wildlife park has bears, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, and other animals up close. The park’s unique drive-through format allows you to observe these animals from your car. My son loved seeing the bears up close. A grizzly walked right up next to our car! 

Don’t miss the walk-through area featuring smaller animals and adorable baby bears. There were wolves, javelinas, groundhogs, and more. There is also a little shop.

a boy touching a tortoise at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota

Reptile Gardens

No list of things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota would be complete without mentioning Reptile Gardens. Reptile Gardens is home to a vast collection of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and crocodiles. This attraction also features beautiful botanical gardens and bird, crocodile, and snake shows–making it a diverse and interactive experience for the whole family.

My son loved seeing the tortoises, which you can touch, and petting the baby crocodile after the Crocodile Show. The prairie dogs have an area where you can walk under their enclosure and peek your head out of a glass dome to see them on the ground. 

There are some incredible habitats at Reptile Gardens. In the center of the park there is a huge glass dome called the Sky Dome, which houses the world’s largest collection of reptiles. The bottom floor has a huge immersive rainforest exhibit with exotic birds, snakes, turtles, and more. The upper floor houses a collection of the world’s deadliest snakes.

a boy stepping on a trolley in Rapid City, South Dakota

Trolley Tour

If you’re looking for a fast, comfortable and fun way to see a lot of the things Rapid City has to offer, the Trolley Tour is a great option. The narrated tour tells you about the sites you see as you drive past them. You’ll learn about the city’s history, landmarks, and hidden gems, all while enjoying a comfortable ride.

You make a 30-minute pit stop at the Chapel of the Hills on the tour. The chapel is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke chapel in Laerdal, Norway. The gift shop is a “stabbur” or Norwegian storehouse that was carved in Norway and constructed in Rapid City. There is also a meditation trail and an authentic cabin which showcases Norwegian goods as a museum.

Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, South Dakota

Old MacDonald’s Farm

For a hands-on animal experience, visit Old MacDonald’s Farm. Kids can feed and pet farm animals, ride ponies, and learn about life on a farm. This charming attraction offers a variety of interactive activities that are both fun and educational.

a triceratops skull at the Journey Museum

Journey Museum & Learning Center

If you’re looking for things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota, the Journey Museum & Learning Center offers interactive exhibits on the history and culture of the Black Hills region. It’s a great educational stop for curious minds. The museum features artifacts, multimedia displays, and hands-on activities that engage visitors of all ages. My son loved the large dinosaur fossils. 

Museum of Geology

Some of the most impressive fossils found in the United States were discovered in South Dakota. Explore the Museum of Geology to see fascinating dinosaur fossils and mineral exhibits. This free museum is both educational and exciting for kids who love science. The extensive collection includes impressive specimens that highlight the geological history of the region. 

Pawnseum

The Pawnseum is a unique museum showcasing unusual and historic pawned items. It’s a quirky stop that offers a glimpse into local culture and history. From antique jewelry to odd curiosities, the Pawnseum’s collection will intrigue and entertain you.

Mount Rushmore view from below

Day Trips from Rapid City

There are so many things to do in Rapid City, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a day trip or two out of the city too! Rapid City is the perfect hub for a lot of the natural beauty in South Dakota.

Mount Rushmore

No visit to Rapid City is complete without a trip to Mount Rushmore! The iconic monument is a 25-minute drive from Rapid City. It costs money to park, but the monument is free. This is a popular spot, so expect some traffic and crowds. Explore the visitor center, take a hike on the Presidential Trail, learn about the monument’s creation and significance– and most importantly, snap that picture with Mount Rushmore.

a little boy looking out of the window on the 1880's train in South Dakota

1880’s Train Ride

On the way to Mount Rushmore you will pass Keystone, South Dakota and the 1880’s Train. The vintage steam train offers a scenic journey through the Black Hills. The narrated ride provides insights into the area’s history. My son and I enjoyed the beautiful views and munching on popcorn which they sell on the train. 

You can book tickets departing from Keystone or Hill City, South Dakota, either one-way or round-trip. The train ride from Keystone takes about 1.5 hours due to elevation gain and from Hill City takes about 1 hour. 

Most of the round-trip tours immediately depart from the station after arrival, but if you take the lunch train from Keystone you have a half hour wait time in Hill City. There is a small restaurant at the train station with nachos, hot dogs, chips, popcorn, smoothies, and tacos.

a view of badlands national park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is only a 50-minute drive from Rapid City. This breathtaking park has prairie dogs, bison, and hiking, but is most well-known for the stunning views of rocks that look like they might be better suited for the moon and not South Dakota. 

It takes about an hour to drive through the park, but there are a ton of overlooks and some trails, so you could easily spend a few hours to a full day exploring. There is an admission fee for the park. You can pay at the park entrance.

Wall, South Dakota

If you head out to the Badlands, you will go right by Wall, South Dakota which is a must-see because of the famous Wall Drug Store. This classic store is advertised with fun and quirky billboards for miles before you reach Wall, South Dakota. The store has souvenirs, a cafe, and an outdoor area with photo opportunities like a giant jackalope you can ride on! Don’t forget to bring a nickel for the 5-cent coffee they still serve!

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is about one hour from Rapid City. This park will take your breath away! Be sure to stop and hike at Sylvan Lake. We drove the Needles Highway which was lined with unique pointed rocks and had multiple one-lane tunnels carved from the rocks. 

Make sure you drive out to the Wildlife Loop to see hundreds of buffalo walking right next to your car. We also saw a lot of deer. Be sure to bring carrots too because there are donkeys you can feed on the Wildlife Loop as well.

Where to Eat

Anyone looking for things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota needs to find the best places to eat!

Bashful Bison

For a taste of local flavor, try Bashful Bison, where you can enjoy dishes made with regional ingredients. The menu features a variety of mouthwatering options, and the rustic decor adds to the dining experience.

Firehouse Brewing Company

Firehouse Brewing Company offers a family-friendly atmosphere with delicious food and craft beers. This is the oldest brewery in South Dakota. The restaurant is in an actual old firehouse, complete with the fire pole. The historic firehouse setting adds to the charm, and the menu features a variety of options to please everyone. The kids get a fire hat to wear and bring home, which my son loved.

Millstone Family Restaurant

Enjoy classic American comfort food at Millstone Family Restaurant, a local favorite for its friendly service and home-cooked meals. The extensive menu includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

Que Pasa

For Mexican cuisine, head to Que Pasa. The vibrant atmosphere and tasty dishes are sure to please the whole family. From tacos to enchiladas, the menu is full of flavorful options, and the outdoor seating area is perfect for enjoying a meal. There was a fire pit outside and a rooftop eating area. The salad I got was delicious!

Ugly Graffiti

Ugly Graffiti serves up creative pizzas and Italian dishes in a casual setting. It’s a hit with kids and adults alike, offering a relaxed dining experience with unique and tasty menu items.

Black Hills Bagels

Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Black Hills Bagels, where you can choose from a variety of bagels and spreads. The homemade bagels are a local favorite, and the welcoming atmosphere makes it a great spot to fuel up before a day of exploring. I got the gluten free bagels, and they did not disappoint! You could tell they were freshly made. The coffee was great too.

Colonial House Restaurant and Bar

Colonial House Restaurant and Bar offers a diverse menu with something for everyone, from hearty breakfasts to savory dinners. The welcoming atmosphere and attentive service make it a great choice for families. It’s famous for its desserts and pies which looked delicious!

Sweet Treats

No trip is complete without a sweet treat from Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe, known for its delectable ice cream flavors. This cute shop had a retro feel and bright colors. They only served three flavors of ice cream a day, but they were delicious!  

Silver Lining Creamery and Sweetheart Specialties are two other amazing ice cream spots in Rapid City. The perfect way to end a day of sightseeing is with a refreshing dessert.

Coffee Spots

For your caffeine fix, check out Essence of Coffee, Pure Bean, Harriet and Oak, or Alternative Fuel Coffee. Each spot offers a unique vibe and delicious brews–the perfect places to relax and recharge. They are all in downtown Rapid City, making them a fast and close stop for whatever activity you choose for the day.

Where to Stay

You will want to find a place to stay while you’re enjoying all the things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota. We stayed at Country Inn and Suites. It provides comfortable accommodations with family-friendly amenities, making it a convenient base for exploring Rapid City. The hotel offers spacious rooms, a complimentary breakfast, and an indoor pool, ensuring a pleasant stay for the whole family.

For a more posh, downtown stay, book Hotel Alex Johnson Rapid City, Curio Collection by Hilton. This hotel is centrally located, near a lot of delicious restaurants and cute shops. For a spot that won’t break the bank and has good reviews, head to Fairfield Inn, which is connected to WaTiki Water Park. Or, for the best reviews and an affordable price, try the Holiday Inn.

Book a Trip

With its mix of educational attractions, outdoor adventures, and family-friendly activities, there are so many things to do in Rapid City, South Dakota! Whether you’re exploring downtown, embarking on day trips, or enjoying local eateries, Rapid City is the perfect spot for families. 

If you’re looking for more fun things to do in Rapid City, be sure to check out www.visitRapidCity.com for more ideas! If you’d like some more Midwest road trip ideas, check out my blog post 11 Most Beautiful State and National Parks.

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