Rapid City is encompassed by national and state parks, memorials, monuments and a national forest that will hit everything on your vacation wish list. Within a sixty-minute drive you could be exploring these seven unique places, and we've got the quick tips you need to know about each.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

People walking through the memorial with Mount Rushmore in the background

What you need to know: Early in the morning and later in the day are great times to visit due to fewer visitors. There are a lot of things to do within the memorial that are worth your time, a few that are highly recommended are attending the Evening Lighting Ceremony, tackling the stairs of the Presidential Trail, and of course a scoop (or two) of ice cream created using Thomas Jefferson's original recipe. Check out this top ten list for more!

Why people go there: These four 60-foot faces carved into a mountain is known as one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. People come here not only to stand in awe at this amazing mountain carving, but to also learn about our nation’s history and culture.

Fun Fact: Borglum planned to create a large room within the mountain to hold documents and artifacts important to American history. Although construction on the room was halted by Congress in 1939, and it isn’t accessible to the public, there is a tunnel in the mountain behind Abe Lincoln that holds a repository of records in the floor of the entry.

Travel Time: It’s about a 30 minute drive from Rapid City!

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Crazy Horse Memorial®

View of Crazy Horse Memorial from viewing Terrace
©Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation

What you need to know: Crazy Horse offers a lot more than just this impressive carving in progress. The large campus is home to The Indian Museum of North America®, the Laughing Waters Restaurant, The Native American Educational and Cultural Center®, Korczak's Home and Studio, a gift shop, and a full line-up of special events and performances that take place daily. Nightly from the end of May to the end of September, visitors can also catch the Legends in Light Laser Show. 

Why people go there: When it is finished, Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest mountain carving in the world. The entire carving is 641 feet long and is privately funded through admissions and contributions, they don’t accept federal or state funding. The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is to protect and preserve the culture, traditions and living heritage of the North American Indians. While visiting you can witness live Native American dances, learn about Crazy Horse, or if you come in the spring or fall you can participate in the biannual Volksmarch allowing you to walk out onto the arm of the carving!

Fun Fact: All four faces on Mount Rushmore can fit in the side profile of Crazy Horse’s head.

Travel Time: About a 50 minute drive from Rapid City and only a half hour from Mount Rushmore!

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Badlands National Park

Couple hiking Notch Trail with grassland of the badlands behind them
Badlands National Park

What you need to know: If you love outdoor adventure and taking in breathtaking scenery, you’ll love the Badlands. From cruising the scenic Badlands Loop Road, to hiking one of the stunning trails, this national park provides room to roam on remarkably bizarre terrain! Don't pass up the scenic overlooks as you explore - each offers a different perspective of the park.

Why people go there: Badlands National Park spans 244,000 acres and is considered one of the most unique places in America. From towering eroded buttes to the largest, protected mixed-grass prairie in the United States this park offers up stunning and unexpected views to its visitor. 

Fun Fact: The terrain at Badlands National Park also consists of rich fossil beds. The skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses and more have been found here! Wildlife that can be found here today consist of bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets.

Travel Time: About a 60 minute drive from Rapid City!

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Custer State Park

Driving Needles Highway in Custer State Park

What you need to know: Give yourself plenty of time to explore this park. The beauty rivals many national parks and you won't want to miss any part of it. The main must-do adventures waiting for you include: Wildlife Loop Road, Needles Highway, hiking Cathedral Spires or Black Elk Peak, and relaxing on the waters of one of the sparkling mountain lakes. 

Why people go there: Custer State Park encompasses 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. The terrain is a mixture of prairies, pine trees, mountains, and geological formations known as the “Needles” and 182 acres of water. It’s another perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts! Rocking climbing, hiking, scenic cruising, water activities, I could keep going but I think you get the point. Custer State Park is also full of amazing wildlife and was named one of the World’s Top 10 Wildlife Destinations by USA Today!

Fun Fact: Custer State Park is one of largest state parks in America.

Travel Time: About a 30 minute drive from Rapid City!

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Wind Cave National Park

Family doing the Wind Cave National Park cave tour

What you need to know: Wind Cave is the seventh longest cave in the world, however, the beauty of this park isn’t just below ground. This 28,295-acre park is home to a variety of wildlife like bison, elk, prairie dogs, and more! 

Why people go there: Wind Cave was actually the first cave to become a protected national park, and is one of America’s oldest national parks. With less stalactites and stalagmites than most caves, due to the dry conditions, this cave has many unusual mineral formations like boxwork. The most distinctive feature of this cave is the strong winds, for which it was named after.

Fun Fact: The first known discovery of Wind Cave was in 1881 by the Bingham brothers. These two heard a loud whistling noise coming from the cave’s only natural entrance. Wind Cave is also a sacred site for the Lakota people as it is the location of their Emergence Story

Travel Time: About a 60 minute drive from Rapid City!

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Jewel Cave National Monument

Person enjoying the Jewel Cave National Monument cave tour

What you need to know: Jewel Cave was named after it’s dazzling calcite crystals that illuminate the walkways of the cave. It is also the place where hydromagnesite balloons were first discovered! The most popular tour is the Scenic Tour, which takes you to various cave chambers and passages full of calcite crystals and more!

Why people go there: Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world. They’ve explored over 200 miles, and it continues to grow as they discover around three miles of new passageways each year!

Fun Fact: Airflow studies indicate that there is a lot of the cave yet to be discovered. 

Travel Time: About a 60 minute drive from Rapid City!

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Bear Butte State Park

Distant view of Bear Butte State Park

What you need to know: Bear Butte or Mato Paha “Bear Mountain” (the Lakota name of this site), is a sacred place to many American Indian tribes and is a place of worship for them. While hiking you will notice colorful pieces of cloth or pouches in the trees, these are prayer cloths placed by individuals during worship, please leave them undisturbed. 

Why people go there: From the peak you can view parts of four different states, plus the stunning views of the Black Hills and sweeping plains. As the third most prominent summit in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and without anything obstructing the views, it goes without saying the view from the summit is pretty outstanding.

Fun Fact: Bear Butte is the remains of a volcano that did not erupt.

Travel Time: About a 40 minute drive from Rapid City!

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All of these amazing parks and monuments are worth a visit during your trip, and all of them are a short drive from the centrally located Rapid City! See what else surrounds us by checking out our parks and monuments page