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 2-3 days exploring the central area of the Black Hills and what it has to offer.
The Journey Museum & Learning Center
Who knew time travel would be possible in Rapid City? The Journey Museum & Learning Center 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 has been giving visitors an up close and personal look at giants from the past since 1939. With seven prehistoric beasts overlooking the city, this is one enormous meet-and-greet you won’t want to skip. Don’t forget to bring your phone to snap a selfie or two and tag @VisitRapidCity - these dinos are camera-ready.
You’ll Love the view.
What’s better than visiting prehistoric giants from the past? 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.
Highway 16 Before Mount Rushmore
Named the world’s largest reptile collection in 2018 Guinness Book of World Records, Reptile Gardens can be found just a short drive outside Rapid City on the way to Mount Rushmore. Named the “Top Family Attraction” in South Dakota, Reptile Gardens features a vast indoor jungle with tropical floura and fauna from around the world, gentle giant tortoises and imposing birds of prey, along with Komodo Dragons and many more reptiles making this an attraction you can’t miss.
You’ll Love Marilyn the snake and Orville the giant tortoise.
Not only are these two of the nicest reptiles you’ll ever encounter, you’ll also get the chance to hold Marilyn and to pet Orville!
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, 2-mile drive through an expansive wildlife park, and coming up close and personal with 20 species of North American, free-roaming animals in their natural habitat. Be on the lookout for wolves, bighorn sheep, bobcats, buffalo, elk, otters 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.
Cosmos Mystery Area
Known as the strangest location in the Black Hills, Cosmos Mystery Area is a natural and scientific phenomenon experience for all ages. Explore this enjoyable and 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.
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 new visual perspective of Mount Rushmore on 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!
Highway 385 After Mount Rushmore
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 and Wine Express!
Take a refreshing dip in the 785-acre Pactola Reservoir, the largest and deepest of its kind in the Black Hills. Here, you can fish, swim, paddle board, take a boat out for the day and even scuba dive. Why scuba dive? There is a once-prosperous town 150 feet below the surface.
You’ll Love the views from Osprey Trail.
Surrounded by luscious greenery and tall trees, Osprey Trail skirts around the shorline of Pactola Reservoir providing you with the perfect views and an excellent picnic location.
Black Hills Caverns
Lakota Indians had discovered these caverns long before gold seekers in 1882. Exploring this natural wonder combines history with exciting tales during two distinct tours: The Adventure Tour and The Crystal Tour.
You’ll Love the kid-friendly treasure hunt.
Experiencing Black Hills Caverns is a treat in itself and the kids will enjoy it even more as they get the chance to pan for minerals, Black Hills rocks, gems and fossils.
Chapel In The Hills
Built in 1969, Chapel in the Hills is an exact reproduction of the Borgun Stavkirke of Laedral, Norway from 1150 AD. Complete with a museum and Meditation Trail, this chapel still holds church services and makes for an inspirational and free stop..
You’ll Love the wood architecture.
Chapel in the Hills isn’t your normal old chapel. As you take in the architecture and woodcarvings, you’ll be keen to notice the only metal used can be found on the door furnishings and locks. As you look throughout the chapel, the intricate details seen in every shingle and every panel will surprise you and transport you to the time of Vikings.
Canyon Lake Park
One of the oldest parks in Rapid City offers the ideal way to unwind from a day of adventuring. Watch the sunset over the waters, enjoy the walking path around the lake, or coast the waters in a rented pedal boat.
You'll Love the Tuesday night fun.
Every Tuesday evening in the summer, Canyon Lake Park is the location of Family Food Truck Night. An event where you can sample the best mobile flavors in the city, enjoy live music, and a summery evening picnic on the grass.
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.