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What Winter is Really Like in Rapid City, South Dakota And Travel Tips

Dani has lived in Rapid City for the majority of her life with a passion for sharing the sweet secrets of South Dakota with visitors. She has done her fair share of traveling to bucket list sites around the world, but the wide open spaces, rolling pines, and genuine hospitality of the Black Hills have always felt like home.

 

 

October 27, 2022

What if I told you that one of the best kept vacation secrets is visiting western South Dakota in the winter? Would you believe me? Some of you may have already stopped reading, made yourself a Mai Tai and booked your winter getaway to the beach. But for those who are curious, I’m here to shake up your South Dakota winter assumptions and maybe even convince you that it’s one of the most unique seasons.

First, let’s talk about where Rapid City, South Dakota is on the map. South Dakota is located in the Midwest, surrounded by Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota. Rapid City resides in the southwest corner of the state at the base of the Black Hills National Forest. We’re less than two hours east of Devils Tower National Monument and about an hour west of Badlands National Park. Mount Rushmore made our region famous, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

See other parks and monuments that make us famous here.

Rapid City’s Winter Is Mild – For One Reason: The “Banana Belt”

Winter sunset in downtown Rapid City
Downtown Rapid City


Banana belt: a portion of a larger geographic region that enjoys warmer weather conditions than the rest of the region as a whole, especially in the colder months.

While much of South Dakota is flat, grassy plains, the western side of the state differs in it’s vast range of low, ponderosa pine covered mountains that make up the Black Hills (remember, Rapid is at the base). These mountains create (1) A natural barrier to shelter the Rapid City region from the harshest of winter weather, (2) and a downward slope that captures warm Chinook winds known for quick and temperature changes that can warm up cold winter days. This means that when most of South Dakota experiences frigid temperatures, the Rapid City region is likely benefiting from 50-60° F days ideal for hiking, biking and maybe even a little disc golf.

Explore the best winter activities here.

Winter Months In Rapid City

A Rapid City winter starts in November and lasts through March, with an average high of 46°F during this five month stretch. Our days of sunshine during each month are seen above 50% and average snowfall is small compared to the amount received in the surrounding Black Hills (which can see up to 15 inches month to month). Mark your calendars, because Rapid City experiences the most snowfall in March.

Below, you’ll find a break down of what to expect each winter month, but keep in mind that these are typical weather conditions based on long-term climatic records. Actual conditions, thanks to those Chinook winds, can vary considerably.

November

Average high: 47°F | Average low: 28°F
Days of sunshine: 55%
Average snowfall: 1.5 in.

Main Street Square skating rink in downtown Rapid City
Main Street Square


I had a hard time categorizing this month as “winter”. Over the years, this month has surprised me the most with its ability to capture the lingering fall season. It can be perfect for casting the last couple of fishing lines in Rapid Creek before the colder temperatures set in. Towards the end of November, Main Street Square’s outdoor ice rink opens downtown. You could very well see a couple of 60 degree skating days. Pack a t-shirt just in case.

 

December

Average high: 37°F | Average low: 19°F
Days of sunshine: 56%
Average snowfall: 1.4 in.

Warm hat on Bill Clinton in the City of Presidents
City of Presidents


Here’s where things start to feel cozy. While we aren’t known for experiencing much snow in December, I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll have a white Christmas. As a community, Rapid City radiates with a warm welcome. You can see this reflected in the City of Presidents downtown as bronze statues of our nation’s past leaders are adorned with scarves, hats, and warm winter accessories for those in need.

January

Average high: 37°F | Average low: 26°F
Days of sunshine: 54%
Average snowfall: 1 in.

Bronc riding at Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo®
Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo®


Pretty similar climate-wise to December, except one thing separates this month from the rest – the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo®. This event is the largest agricultural event of the year, digging into our western roots. By now, the Black Hills should have a good snow base for winter outdoor recreation like snowshoeing and snowmobiling, so you can experience the best of both worlds.

February

Average high: 40°F | 28°F
Days of sunshine: 52%
Average snowfall: 2 in.

Skyline Wilderness Trails in Rapid City
Skyline Wilderness Area


The Rapid City climate starts to warm slightly during this month as we stretch into the latter half of winter. If there is snowfall, it presents a nice opportunity to take in some major winter eye candy at in-city trail systems on M Hill or Skyline Wilderness Area. Both summits are equally incredible, boasting views to the Black Hills and overlooking downtown. It’s one of my favorite tips to give visitors that are short on time, but still want that Black Hills recreation experience.

March

Average high: 49°F | Average low: 27°F
Days of sunshine: 49%
Average snowfall: 3 in.

Blind Lion musical entertianment
Blind Lion Speakeasy


Another month I had a hard time categorizing as “winter”. But not because of the climate, because it’s the time of the year that travelers embark on a spring break. But honestly, you don’t need hot, tropical temperatures to relax and recharge. Relaxation in our destination comes in the form of local art galleries and museums, a Diamond Crown Cigar Lounge and exploring the music scene at a unique, moody location like our prohibition era underground speakeasy.

Winter Packing Tips

As a visitor, packing for this climate can be a mystery in the winter as it can heat up and cool down in a snap. There’s always the chance that you could run into snow or toasty Chinook winds no matter the forecast. The one packing tip I have is to bring layers. Coat, sweaters, long and short sleeve options – the works. And a pair (or two!) of sunglasses for the common sunny winter days.

This article focused on Rapid City specifically. If you are interested in learning more about winter adventure in the Black Hills, I encourage you to explore related content below.