Rapid City was a place that only really popped onto our radar because of its proximity to a couple of big national parks that we were desperate to see when we were road tripping through South Dakota. However when we starting doing some research we found that Rapid City was in fact a destination in itself and one that looked great with kids. I was actually really excited to visit Rapid City and I have to say it was one of those destinations that lived up to all of my expectations and I don’t understand why it isn’t aa more of an up and coming destination for 2019! In this post I round up the best things to do in Rapid City with kids!
Best Free Things to Do in Rapid City with Kids
Rapid City is actually a place that has plenty of things that you can do with kids that don’t cost a fortunate. In fact some of its most child friendly things are absolutely free! Here are our favorites:
Dinosaur Park dates back to the 1930s and was created to capitalize on the tourists that were in the vicinity to visit Mount Rushmore (more on this later). The park contains seven dinosaur statues on a hill overlooking the city and is now on the National Historic Register of Places. Admission to see the dinosaur park is free however please note that if visiting with children you will want to leave the stroller behind as there are many steep steps to access the park from the car park!
While there it is worth completing the Skyline Drive as it offers unrivaled views of the city!
Run by the Rotary Club of Rapid City the Storybook Island is a free theme park in the city. Somewhat bizarre featuring lots of tableaus from your children’s favorite storybooks there are plenty of great photo opportunities as well as plenty of areas for playgrounds and a train that runs through the park (additional cost). This is sure to be a favorite activity for those visiting the city with children under 9!
Please note that the park is shut from Labour Day to Memorial Day for the Winter Season!
Fountains in Plaza Square
Let’s face it – what child doesn’t love a fountain! The fountains in Plaza Square, situated right on Main Street, are a great way to let your kids blow off some steam after a day exploring the city centre! Just don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothes
We also recommend getting an ice cream in the Silver Lining Creamery to end the day!
If you visit in Winter then you will find the plaza turns into an ice rink to ensure year round entertainment!
Quirky Things to Do In Rapid City
Rapid City – aka the City of Presidents is a sculptor walk in the centre of downtown Rapid City! Life sized bronze statues of each president at a defining moment are situated at the corners of the main thoroughfares in central downtown. I loved this quirky thing to do in Rapid City!
Once you finish the Walk of the City of Presidents head to Firehouse Restaurant on Main Street! A bit touristy yes but the firehouse serves good food and an amazing selection of beers! Kids will love it for the free firehats that are given out!
Indoor Things to Do In Rapid City
If the weather is bad why not head to the Watiki Water Park on the edge of town! If you are a visitor and planning on heading here it would be worth booking in at one of the hotels adjoining the water park (La Quinta & Fairfield Inn & Suites ) as you will get discounts on tickets.
Things to do near Rapid City SD with kids
The things near Rapid City are actually the things that probably drew you to the area in the first place as there is an abundance of natural wonders at your finger tips when you base yourself in Rapid City!
Badlands national park
The main reason we went to Rapid City was to the Badlands National Park! We love visiting National Parks with kids as we find they are great vacations for all the family and I think the Badlands might be one of our favorite national parks in the US. There are plenty of opportunities to wildlife spot – particularly seeing Bison and the Prairie Dogs at Roberts Town which children will love (just don’t let them get close)! On top of that there are some great family friendly walks!
Distance from Rapid City: 50 minutes drive from Rapid City
No visit to the Badlands is complete without a visit to Wall Drug! As you drive between Rapid City and Sioux Falls there aren’t many noteworthy markings except for the constant advertising billboards for Wall Drug in either direction! Wall Drug often features in lists of the world’s best Roadside Attractions and is a great spot to buy souvenirs, grab a coffee and soak up the atmosphere!
Distance from Rapid City: 50 minutes drive from Rapid City
Perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of South Dakota! We arrived at Mount Rushmore at 5am and pretty much had the whole site to ourselves! Kids will enjoy the spectacle and there are some family friendly walks on site! There is also some great ice cream on site if you kids are in need of any additional bribery!
Make sure you take your time wandering the Walk of Flags to make the most of the spectacular walk to the viewing platform. For those traveling with older kids it is worth visiting the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Centre to learn more about the construction of the carving through exhibits and film!
Distance from Rapid City: 30 minutes drive from Rapid City
Crazy horse memorial
Another quirky attraction near Rapid City! This is a privately funded venture in the making! Inspired by Mount Rushmore this statue is to commemorate the local Native American chief Crazy Horse! It is a nice comparison to visit this at the same time as Mount Rushmore!
For more information on visiting Crazy Horse check out this post!
Distance from Rapid City: 45 minutes drive from Rapid City
Custer state park
Anywhere else in the US, I think Custer State Park would be a National Park! It is spectacular to drive through! Particularly of note is the Needles Highway – one of the world’s most scenic drives. This is not a drive for bad drivers who may scrap the sides of the car as they go through the tight tunnels!
Top Tip: Go Early as much of the drive is wide enough for one car so it can get congested!
After we had driven the Needles Highway we did the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and Wildlife Loop! Two absolutely stunning drives that offer many opportunities to view wildlife in particular bison, deer but my daughters favorite was the curious and obviously often well fed donkeys!
Again it is better to view wildlife early in the day so why not consider booking in at the on-site lodge! Kids will enjoy staying on site taking part in safari jeep tours and cookouts!
Distance from Rapid City: 40 minutes drive from Rapid City
Non Cultural Things to Do outside of Rapid City
On the drive between the above and Rapid City, the Highway is littered with tourist attractions, many of which are aimed at the younger market! They include
My daughter loved this place! In the Guiness Book of Records for being the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo! My daughter loved the hands on experiences as well as the live animal “shows” (more educational than a show).
Bear Country USA
This one will please those who wanted to see bears on their trip and were disappointed. Be sure to go early to make sure the bears are active when you arrive!
We didn’t go as we had been in the car a lot that day but I am sure older children would love this!
Old Mac Donald’s petting zoo
One for the younger audience! A traditional petting zoo in a convenient location between Rapid City and big SD attractions!
The Best of the Rest of Rapid City SD with Kids
Hill County Wineries – Prairie Berry
A family friendly winery with decent wines all named after characters from Black Hills History! The wineries in SD are family friendly so you can go on a tasting without concern!
30 minutes from Rapid City
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
A great museum for kids that are fascinated by planes and rockets!
15 minutes from Rapid City
A great example of Boxwork cave system. Kids will love exploring in the caves!
75 minutes from Rapid City
Devils Tower Wyoming
An iconic landmark important to the local Lakota tribe! This is a bit further out of the city (1.5 hours). Definitely an Instagram worthy day trip!
Where to Stay in Rapid City With Kids
If you are looking for somewhere that has easy access to Rapid City and also the nearby National and State Parks all from one base we recommend:
Have you been to rapid city? What are your favourite things to do with kids?
Further Reading: South Dakota Road Trip Planner !