How To Prepare For The Best Family Vacation In Rapid City
Family vacation has new meaning now that I’m older, kid free, and residing with my partner several states away from my parents and siblings. It can be difficult to find time to connect across time zones and I miss just being together.
Luckily, it’s easy to convince my family to visit – bringing my brother and his partner to the Black Hills for the first time, welcoming my dad for a return visit, and planning a future baby friendly vacation for my sweet niece. Read on for a few trip ideas to explore – from my family to yours.
How to Entertain YOUNG ADULTS ready for adventure
My younger brother and his partner traveled to South Dakota for the first time from their home on the east coast. Coming from a bustling metropolis, they were ready to slow down and appreciate the breathtaking views in the Black Hills.
We started an early winter morning at Mount Rushmore – a must on their bucket list. With fewer visitors at the memorial, it felt as though we had an exclusive reservation. Together, we took our time exploring the grounds and discussed the exhibits at The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, watched the 14-minute film describing the methods used in carving the mountain, and even stopped into the gift shop.
Eager to see more of the natural landscape, we strolled along Stratobowl Rim Trail just 15 minutes from Rapid City. This 1.7-mile out and back hike gave us a chance to catch up and take in the beauty of a scenic valley from the rim overlook. The historic significance of this site made it even more special for my brother who paused to read the commemoration sign marking the birthplace of the space age at this spot.
After a delicious lunch at Black Hills Bagels, we explored unique exhibits and galleries at the Dahl Arts Center and attended the annual Black Hills Indian Artist Market. Inspired by their conversations with local artists at the event, my brother and his partner bought a large, framed print at the market… and then needed to figure out how to get it home. (Luckily, the experts in framing and shipping artworks at Perfect Hanging Gallery came to the rescue!).
We made the most of every minute downtown by snapping selfies with life-sized statues of their favorite presidents and challenging each other to a competitive game of 4-player Pac Man in the basement of a vintage arcade.
We ended the day with dinner at Juniper. I arranged reservations in advance and selected this local favorite, because it’s known for a creative, ever-changing menu and delicious vegetarian options. Everyone left satisfied and deeply grateful for quality family time (and Mushroom Ragu).
How to Impress Dad when vacationing in the black hills
My first returning visitor to Rapid City was my fun-loving and dependable dad. Last trip we hit the big-ticket items like Crazy Horse Memorial® and he loved touring the museums on-site. For his second visit he wanted to do something new, and I updated our father-daughter itinerary accordingly.
We started with a morning walk along Rapid Creek, which winds through many beautiful city parks and green spaces including Canyon Lake Park. My neighborhood bakery just so happens to be on this route, so we ordered fresh cinnamon rolls from Pistachio Pie Bakery and carried on. My dad likes to learn about local history, so we stopped to read the informational plaques detailing the disastrous 1972 flash flood that reshaped Rapid City.
After breakfast, we loaded into the car and took a 1-hour road trip to Badlands National Park to experience the wide open spaces and incredible wildlife of western South Dakota. When we arrived, we counted prairie dogs, climbed the Yellow Mounds at a majestic overlook, and got stuck in a buffalo traffic jam. I will always remember being with my dad and my partner in our small car watching the bison herd surround us and move at their own pace through the grassland – it was an incredible moment to share.
My dad’s favorite pastime is pickleball and I knew he’d want to play a few games when on vacation (he even packed an extra bag for his paddle). We found a welcoming community of pickleball players at Canyon Lake Activity Center and for a small fee, we spent hours playing together and making new friends on the outdoor courts.
We worked up big appetites and shared a meal at Sabatino’s Italian Ristorante. In our family, my dad is famous for his mediocre food reviews often saying “It was okay” or “I didn’t care for it,” so I had to text the siblings’ group chat when he took the last bite of his Chicken Parmesan and said, “that was fantastic.” The smallest moments (and menu items) can create big memories on a family vacation.
How to Prepare for the Best Baby Friendly Vacation
Today, I’m focused on a future visit. My sister is planning for my baby niece’s first big trip, and I’m working on the best baby friendly itinerary for a Rapid City spring break.
I imagine starting our days early – according to baby’s schedule – and needing coffee right away, so I shared one of the area’s best kept secrets: Dixon Coffee Co.’s drive through and tasty, locally made breakfast options.
Next up, we’ll visit one of the top 10 zoos in the country and the world’s largest reptile zoo – Reptile Gardens and take a zillion adorable photos of my niece petting a gentle, giant tortoise or looking eye-to-eye with the furry residents of Prairie Dog Town.
When she needs a mid-afternoon nap, we’ll be prepared to walk around Jackson Park with a stroller, packed lunch, and our disc golf bags to enjoy a leisurely walk on the 18-hole course. And when she wakes up, we’ll be close by Storybook Island, so she can see sculptures of her favorite characters from children’s books and ride the train through this unique park.
We’ll explore local history with educational activities to learn and play at The Journey Museum & Learning Center including a sand pit to dig for dinosaur bones and discovering the toys and tools in the STEAM lab.
And finally, while my brother-in-law serves baby food for dinner at home, I’ll get some alone time at bb’s Natural with my sister to reminisce, reconnect, and enjoy a glass of natural wine during happy hour.
It's Time for a Getaway Together
Whether you’re planning a family vacation for multiple generations or it’s all about the kids, staying in Rapid City offers easy access to all the beloved Black Hills experiences. I encourage you to use these travel ideas to mix, match, and make your own plans for traveling with family, or see sample itineraries for more inspiration.
What about your furry, four-legged family members? Check out these excellent suggestions for traveling with pets.
It’s easy to see why families love Rapid City, but it’s even better when you bring your own.