Educational Stops for All Ages
One of the greatest things about traveling: it opens the door for people to experience life in different ways.
Explore the history, culture and nature of a destination overflowing with opportunities and the whole family will learn something new.
Take in History
Rapid City’s founding dates back to 1876, so you can imagine how much history is at your fingertips. We’ve got attractions older than Mount Rushmore and endless scenic views aboard an authentic railroad. Fill your vacation with these historical stops in Rapid City and the Black Hills!
City of Presidents
Mount Rushmore isn’t your only avenue to learn about the leaders of our great nation. Greet bronze, life-size replicas of past American Presidents in Downtown Rapid City! The City of Presidents began in 2000 to honor the legacy of the American presidency. Statues are added to downtown streets after every presidents term. See if your family can name each leader, pose for some presidential pictures, and complete the scavenger hunt located on the back of the City of Presidents pamphlet you can get from the Visit Rapid City office.
City View Trolley
Catch a ride on the City View Trolley for an educational and narrated tour of the town. Running the end of May through early September, trolley passengers can see popular sites around Rapid City. Check out the route to plan your day.
South Dakota Air & Space Museum
Touring the South Dakota Air & Space Museum is like walking through aviation history. This museum houses over 30 vintage military aircrafts that range all the way back to World War II. Notice the improvements made from one aircraft to another. The innovation is quite impressive.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
At Mount Rushmore, you can do more besides gaze upon the Shrine of Democracy. Touring the museums will teach you about the history of the site and sculptor, why each president was selected, and the carving process that took place, even in the midst of the Great Depression. Ranger talks taking place around the memorial also cover a variety of topics from the pine beetle epidemic that took place in the Black Hills to the culture of the area.
The 1880 Train is more than just a joy ride through the Black Hills. This two-hour narrated tour takes a 20-mile round trip between the mountain towns of Hill City and Keystone along track that was laid down in the late 1880s. Originally used to service the mines and mills between these two towns, the train now offers these views and history to visitors aboard either their steam engine or diesel engine trains. Opt for the window seat and enjoy the sweet smell of ponderosa pine.
Experience the Culture
The two most profound cultures you’ll find in the Rapid City area include Native American Culture and the Wild West, but it doesn’t stop there. See below for a few of our favorite experiences that will captivate you.
The Journey Museum & Learning Center
For a well-rounded understanding and appreciation of the Black Hills area – The Journey Museum & Learning Center is the perfect stop. This museum includes intriguing displays and exhibits that showcase a 2.5 billion year history of our area. It begins at the start with geological formations and continues up to the pioneer days – covering both the Wild West and Native American culture. The exhibits in the Sioux Indian section of the museum are a great introduction to the Native American culture that is deeply rooted in our area. Visitors can view traditional and contemporary artistry, listen to a hologram of Nellie Two Bulls, and learn about their way of life. Sprinkled throughout the museum are hands on activities for the kids.
Crazy Horse Memorial®
The world’s largest mountain carving in progress is a lot more than just that. Featuring a great Ogalala Sioux Indian chief, Crazy Horse, the memorial celebrates the legacy of his courage, leadership and spirit. On the Crazy Horse Memorial® campus, you can explore museums, watch performances, and participate in hands-on activities and special events. Don’t miss The Indian Museum of North America® and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center®.
Chapel in the Hills
Many individuals of Norwegian descent call South Dakota home, making it a little less odd to learn that Rapid City is home to a stavkirke – an exact replica of the famous Borgund stavkirke of Laerdal Norway. Originally the location of the Lutheran Vespers radio hour, Chapel in the Hills is now a popular attraction for visitors and wedding ceremonies. Visit the grounds and admire the architecture, tour the museum, and take in the beautiful setting.
Bear Butte State Park
Formed from an ancient volcano and separated from other mountains, Bear Butte dominates its landscape. Hike to the top and you can take in unobstructed views of its stunning surrounding. Mato Paha, or “Bear Mountain” the Lakota name for this site, has spiritual significance for many American Indians. During your visit, you may spot colorful pieces of cloth and small bundles tied to the trees. These are prayer cloths left as a prayer offering during worship. Please do not disturb these offerings.
Explore Nature and Wildlife
Exploring nature is the best form of education, plus it’s inspirational! Much of the wildlife found here reside at national and state parks. However, there are a few wildlife attractions that are a must during your vacation.
Bear Country USA
Minutes from Downtown Rapid City your family can enjoy front row seats at the drive-through wildlife park, Bear Country USA. They are home to 20 species of North American mammals, most of which are free to roam around your car as you pass through. Stretch your legs after the experience at Wildlife Walk. A chance to meet the babies of the park and learn a few facts.
Spot the iconic dome on Highway 16 of the world’s largest reptile zoo, Reptile Gardens. Best known for it’s giant tortoise experience and a crocodile encounter, this stop is a treat for all ages. Here you can discover the cute and the deadly reptiles from around the world, relax in the walking botanical gardens, and attend an educational bird, gator, or snake show.
Badlands National Park
Take in stunning surroundings as you explore the fossil beds and eroding buttes of Badlands National Park. Visit at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where you can talk with Park Rangers, explore the museum exhibits, view the Fossil Preparation Lab and more. The Badlands are also home to a variety of wildlife like bison and big horn sheep that you’ll be able to spot on your drive through the park.
Custer State Park
Granite spires and breathtaking bodies of water are just a small portion of what makes Custer State Park so great. Book a ride on the Buffalo Jeep Safari for an off-road experience. Tour guides will take you out into the herd for close up views as they share fascinating facts about the park and its abundant wildlife. Wildlife spotting ranges from the 1,450 bison herd, to burros, elk, mountain goats, prairie dogs and more.
Wind Cave National Park
The preserving of two worlds takes place at Wind Cave National Park – the first national park to be established to protect a cave system. Wind Cave features unique formations like frostwork, cave popcorn, and boxwork a formation that is rarely found anywhere else in the world. Above ground the rolling hills of the mixed-grass prairies are home to a variety of wildlife and prairie plants.