Visiting Rapid City and Black Hills area during the hottest part of the summer season? Some activities are better suited for those 90 to 100-degree days than others. Here are a few ways you can stay cool and beat the summer heat.

Summer Weather in Rapid

July and August are the hottest months in the Rapid City area. There are fewer rainy days than in June with more direct sunlight. During these months, it's important to be strategic about where you go and when. For example, a midday visit to the Badlands in August can sometimes feel like walking into a toaster oven. If you plan to visit areas like the Badlands, Bear Butte State Park, and even Mount Rushmore, be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Consider planning for an early day or evening visit to these locations when temperatures are a little cooler.

Find A Body of Water

The best way to beat the summer heat is by visiting one of the stunning lakes in the Rapid City area. These cool mountain waters provide sweet relief from high temperatures. The two closest lakes to Rapid City are Sheridan Lake and Pactola Lake, both about a 30-minute drive from downtown. Another great, although smaller, option for a place to cool off and explore is Horsethief Lake. Here are some fun activities you can enjoy at each of these options:

kayaker on the waters of the mountain lake Pactola in the black hills of south dakota
Pactola Lake @w_lane4

Pactola Lake

30-minute drive from Rapid City
Pactola is the largest and deepest reservoir in the Black Hills, offering 14 miles of shoreline, depths of up to 150 feet, a swim beach, picnic areas, and an accessible trail. A fascinating fact about Pactola is that there's a town at the bottom. Before the 1950s, this location was known as Camp Crook. Read more about this location's fascinating history here.

Activities you can enjoy at Pactola include swimming, relaxing on the public beach, boating, paddleboarding or kayaking (rentals available at the Pactola Marina), fishing (especially in the spillway), and scuba diving. You can also explore hiking trails such as the Centennial Trail, Deerfield Trails, and Osprey Trail.

hikers exploring the shoreline of sheridan lake in the black hills of south dakota
Sheridan Lake

Sheridan Lake

34-minute drive from Rapid City
Sheridan Lake is a 375-acre lake with the largest swim beach in the Black Hills. In addition to the north and south shore swim beaches, you can enjoy three different picnic locations and serene fishing spots. The Marina at Sheridan Lake offers boat rentals as well as non-motorized rentals like paddleboards and kayaks. Surrounding the lake are forested mountains and iconic trails, including the historic Flume Trail and access to one of the longest trails in South Dakota, the Centennial Trail.

horsethief lake reflection with cloudy sky near mount rushmore in the black hills of south dakota
Horsethief Lake ©Jackie Johnson

Horsethief Lake

38-minute drive from Rapid City
Horsethief Lake is the closest lake to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It's a quieter lake compared to the other two listed here since only non-motorized boats are allowed, making it a great place to relax for those seeking a slower pace. The calming presence of this lake also makes it a great place to cast a line from an ADA accessible fishing pier for anglers hoping to catch a few trout in the hills. 

Within Rapid City 

family having fun in the water at watiki waterpark in rapid city sd
Watiki Waterpark

Find refreshing spots to relax right in Rapid City at places like Main Street Square. Their interactive fountains are free to enjoy for all and operate from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 8 pm. Rapid City is also home to the largest indoor waterpark in the Dakotas, Watiki® Indoor Waterpark Resort. With waterslides, a lazy river, and more, it's the perfect solution for finding fun in the water regardless of the weather.

Grab A Frozen Treat

kids cheers-ing their ice cream cones from armadillos in rapid city sd
Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe

Frozen treats in Rapid City are a must, even if the temperatures aren't soaring. For my fellow ice cream connoisseurs, grab a cone or a cup from one of the local shops: Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe and Silver Linings Creamery. Both are delicious, but they offer vastly different ice cream, so it's only fair to try both. 
Another option is to sandwich delicious ice cream between two cookies of your choice at Mary's Mountain Cookies. It makes for a yummy treat as you wander the downtown area and helps keep you cool. 

Alternatively, you can enjoy a flavorful smoothie from Alternative Fuel or The Bestro, or seek out a shaved ice treat from Rapid City's food trucks, Gilligans Shaved Ice Paradise or Kona Ice. Both food trucks frequent events in Rapid, such as Downtown Summer Nights and Family Food Truck Night, making them easy to find throughout the summer season.

Cheers With A Cold One

Cocktails, mocktails, brews, or a crisp white wine just taste best on a hot summer day. The local breweries in Rapid City each offer a unique spin on their refreshments. String a few together for a hoppy tour of Rapid City and get some sweet deals when you sign up for our Grapes & Grains Trail
Que Pasa in Downtown Rapid City creates margarita magic, either blended or on the rocks, making it the perfect adventure pit stop or addition to a meal. Also downtown is Firehouse Wine Cellars, where you can sip and sample with a wine flight or indulge in their incredible wine slushies.

Get some COol Air

Duck into one of these attractions when you need to feel the refreshing flow of air conditioning for a fun experience. One of the newest attractions in town is the Nerdy Nuts Peanut Butter Experience. Found in the historic Landstorm building, this small-batch, handmade peanut butter company expanded to allow guests to create their own delicious peanut butter flavors. Pick from a variety of add-ins and add a pop of color to the label to make it truly something of your own. 

black light mini golf course with retro art in the background in rapid city sd
Putz N Glo

Step into air conditioning and back in time with a visit to Putz N Glo, a retro black-light mini-golf course that provides a fun stop for some friendly competition and a few hours of sun protection. 

going down the cave stairs during a guided tour at black hills caverns in rapid city sd
Black Hills Caverns

For the best "air conditioning" around, consider cave exploration. Black Hills Caverns is the closest cave to Rapid City, where you can experience one of their two cave tour options and see a collection of stalagmites, stalactites, and flowstone, while also learning the difference between them all if you don't know already. 

group walking the sidewalks and shopping in downtown rapid city
Downtown Rapid City

If shopping is more your style, browse a selection of shops indoors at the Rushmore Mall or explore different stores at Rushmore Crossing. Downtown Rapid City also offers a large collection of locally owned shops.

If you’re planning a visit to Rapid City during the hot summer months, you can beat the heat and make the most of your vacation. Enjoy the cool waters of the Black Hills and explore scenic hiking trails. If you prefer staying in the city, visit Main Street Square or Watiki® Indoor Waterpark for refreshing fun. Treat yourself to delicious frozen treats and cold beverages from local shops and breweries. Don't forget to explore attractions with air conditioning when you need to cool off from all the outdoor exploration in the area. For more trip planning assistance, download our free visitors guide