Trek-Worthy Attractions Along Central Hills Loop

With so many things to do on your way to and from Mount Rushmore National Monument, you’ll need a little extra time to plan your visit. We’ve got you covered with experiences that start and end in Rapid City, filling two to three days exploring the central area of the Black Hills and all it has to offer.

dinosaur skeleton on display at the journey museum in rapid city, sd

Rapid City

The Journey Museum

Who knew time travel would be possible in Rapid City? The Journey Museum takes you through 2.5-billion-years of Black Hills and Native American culture with unique and exciting hands-on experiences!

You’ll Love: the Stratobowl exhibit. With the actual Stratobowl site only a few miles outside of Rapid City, this exhibit takes you through the historical, record setting location where high-altitude balloon flights floated into the atmosphere. Make sure to check out the balloon flights Black Hills Balloons offers at this location every fall called the Stratobowl Historic Hot Air Balloon Launch.


Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park has been giving visitors an up close and personal look at giants from the past since 1936. With seven prehistoric beasts overlooking the city, this is one enormous meet-and-greet you won’t want to skip. The park recently underwent a large enhancement project to create pathways making the park accessible to all visitors. 

You’ll Love: the view. What’s better than gazing up at quirky prehistoric giants from the past? Looking out and enjoying a 100-mile panoramic view! As you look east your gaze will be met by the sprawling heights of the Badlands, and to the west the awe-inspiring Black Hills. You can even spot the highest point in South Dakota from this spot, called Black Elk Peak. 

Kids interacting with the Giant Tortoise at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, SD

Highway 16 Before Mount Rushmore


The Dinosaur Museum

Discover a museum where the displays are more than just skeletons and fossils. At the Dinosaur Museum, they showcase realistic models of full-size dinosaurs so you can see what these beasts actually looked like! 

You’ll Love: beyond the collection of dinosaurs, kids can uncover fossils, enter a mirror maze, and enjoy a friendly game of mini golf. 


Reptile Gardens

One of the largest collections of reptile species and subspecies of any zoo or wild animal park in the world can be found right outside of Rapid City. Reptile Gardens has been named a “Top Family Attraction” in South Dakota, featuring a vast indoor jungle with tropical plants, sprawling garden spaces, gentle giant tortoises, fascinating birds of prey, and other reptiles from around the world.  Making this an attraction you can’t miss.

You’ll Love: the giant tortoises. These gentle giants often steal the show for many visitors. Their slow lumbering movements make them fun to watch and interact with. Give them a few neck scratches and you’ll win their heart too. 


Bear Country USA

Bear Country USA has the largest collection of privately owned black bears in the entire world. There’s nothing better than taking a leisurely, two-mile drive through an expansive wildlife park, and coming up close and personal with over 20 species of North American, free-roaming animals in their natural habitat. Be on the lookout for wolves, bighorn sheep, bobcats, bison, elk, mountain goats and more!

You’ll Love: the un-bear-ably cute newborns. In the springtime, Bear Country USA welcomes the arrival of extra cute newborn cubs and other North American wildlife. You’ll see them, and other young ones, once you stroll through the Wildlife Walk portion of the park. 


Old MacDonald's Farm

Experience over 100 farm animals at Old MacDonald's Farm! This delightful petting zoo allows children and adults alike to get up close and personal with friendly farm animals. From cuddly bunnies to wooly sheep, there’s a barnyard friend for everyone.

You’ll Love: Feedings the animals and watching the joy on your kids faces as they go on a pony rides and hay rides.  

Cosmos Mystery Area

Perplexing moments take place at  Cosmos Mystery Area. Known as the strangest location in the Black Hills, Cosmos is a natural and scientific phenomenon experience for all ages. Witness balls roll uphill and stand at questionable angles as you enjoy this remarkably bizarre attraction right outside Rapid City.

You’ll Love: trying to figure it all out. A visit to Cosmos Mystery Area will leave your brain in a knot. How exactly does this whole thing work? It’s a strange, physics phenomenon – really.


1880 Train 

Take a seat and rest your feet as you enjoy a vintage trip through history on the Black Hills Central Railroad where the first regional official steam train operated from and continues to provide guests with memorable steam engine experiences.

You’ll Love: their special events. It’s one thing to enjoy a ride aboard a classic piece of history and even more thrilling when you take part in the special events like Old West Shootout, Rails & Ales, or the Holiday Express!


Rushmore Tramway Adventures

Rushmore Tramway Adventures gets the wiggles out and then some! The action park features an alpine slide, scenic chair lift, aerial adventure park and zip line all in one place and is perfect for serious adrenaline junkies and passive explorers alike.

You’ll Love: the exciting way of viewing Mount Rushmore from the Pinnacle Zipline. Spanning over 1-mile, take a 2-hour suspended journey on one of five side-by-side ziplines. The views alone will have you in awe as you reach up to 400 feet!

mountain coaster views of the black hills as two riders enjoy rush mountain adventure park

Highway 40 After Mount Rushmore


Sprockets Fun Foundry

Find yourself immersed in the fun of Sprockets. This multi-level entertainment is full of over 50 arcade games including Virtual Reality experiences, and duckpin bowling. Kids will be over the moon about the fun they find around every corner at this attraction. 

You’ll Love: for the adults who want to sit back and relax, Sprockets also features a taproom pouring some of the best beers in the region. 


Rush Mountain Adventure Park

Adventure awaits at Rush Mountain, home to Rushmore Cave and a host of exhilarating attractions. From zip-lining and gemstone mining to exploring the stunning underground caverns, Rush Mountain offers a day of excitement and discovery.

You’ll Love: The thrilling Rushmore Mountain Coaster and the awe-inspiring beauty of the cave tours, perfect for adrenaline seekers and nature enthusiasts alike.

two visitors listening to the audio tour of the city of presidents in downtown rapid city

Back to Rapid City


WaTiki® Waterpark

Who says you can’t have fun indoors all year round? WaTiki® Waterpark offers endless entertainment with its thrilling waterslides, lazy river, and more. Perfect for families looking to make a splash, this indoor water wonderland ensures the weather is always ideal for some aquatic fun!

You’ll Love: The onsite restaurant, bar, and arcade, Sliders Bar & Grill. With a waterslide weaving above the bar and delicious drinks and menu items, it’s a great spot to refresh for more waterpark fun. 


Museum of Geology

Craving a little science with your sightseeing? The Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines unearths fascinating mineral and fossil discoveries from around the globe. As you wander through the exhibits, you'll be fascinated by the wide range of exhibits this small, free, museum showcases.

You’ll Love: The locally found fossils. Imagine standing before a relic unearthed from the Badlands; each piece tells a story of our region’s ancient past that’s both captivating and educational.

Downtown Rapid City

Downtown offers a vibrant mix of shops, eateries, and art. Stroll through this bustling area and you'll discover a unique blend of modern amenities and old-town charm.

You’ll Love: the free attractions you can enjoy like Main Street Square, home to events, interactive foundations, and a place to soak up some sunshine on a nice day. Downtown Rapid City is also home to the City of Presidents, a free walking tour that features life-sized statues of past American Presidents. Scan the QR code on their plaques or dial the number so each president can share a piece of their story with you. 

views of sunset at pactola lake through the trees in the black hills of south dakota

Add in Highway 385


Portions of the scenic drive, Highway 385, will be under construction with partial closures until 2026. With this is mind you can still add stops along Highway 385 from Rapid City to your exploration of the Central Hills. 

Pactola Reservoir and Sheridan Lake

Both lakes offers picnic spots, hikes along the shoreline, and water rentals. From Rapid City take Sheridan Lake Road to Highway 385. To access Pactola you'll turn right on 385 and head to the South Access Area. 

You'll Love: the views of both these lakes. Surrounded by hills and towering ponderosa pines, Sheridan and Pactola Lake are picture-perfect from every angle. 


1880 Train Hill City Depot

South of Sheridan Lake is currently not impacted by construction - meaning this scenic route gives you access to Hill City attractions like the 1880 Train Hill City Depot (you can start your 1880 Train tour at either Hill City or Keystone as the train goes between the two). 


Museum at Black Hills Institute

Displaying over 1,300 fossils, the Museum at Black Hills Institute showcases fully articulated specimens. Their collection is one of the finest accumulations of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, plus minerals from the Black Hills region. With nearly 50 years of fossil preparation experience, its a must-see museum!

You'll Love: the crazy amount of dinosaur bones they mananged to fit into this one space. 

Ready to Explore?

We've mapped out the route for you! To experience more great attractions in Rapid City grabbed your tickets for our seasonal trolley tour. This 90-minute narrated tour shows off some of the fascinating places in Rapid City. Be sure to also sign up for our free Rapid City Attractions Pass so you can save as you explore!