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South Dakota

We are flying into Rapid City SD. Not going anywhere else in SD
1. What would be the highlights to see in the area
2. How many days would be reasonable to spend in the area
3. My husband walk w/a cane so no hiking will be done
4. Suggestions for a nice hotel and restaurants
Thank you

Posted by
1793 posts

In Rapid City itself - presidential statues, Air and Space Museum, Reptile Gardens
to the east - Badlands National Park
to the west - wildlife loop in Custer State Park, Mt. Rushmore

Minimum of 3 full days

www.travelsouthdakota.com

Posted by
8995 posts

I spent a week in the Rapid City region last October and it was one the best vacations I've ever taken!
There is little to do in the city itself but it's the gateway to Mount Rushmore (30 miles away) , and Badlands National Park (60 miles away).
At the very minimum you can do both in two full days.:
Day 1: Drive to Custer State Park (which has free roaming Bison), take the Wildlife Loop Road through the middle of it. From there scenic Route 164 takes you straight to Rushmore.
Day 2: Take I-90 to the Wall Drug Store attraction in Wall SD. It's a really neat rest area off the interstate with lots of great shopping and restaurants . Have breakfast here, possibly stock up on some lunch items for a picnic later, and it's a short drive to the entrance of Badlands. It's one of the most spectacular landscapes it have even been to! The locals will tell you it's more spectacular than the Grand Canyon, and I see where coming from! At Badland there is a loop road that take you through the middle of it with lots of observation areas to take in the scenery right off the roadway. No hiking necessary. Past the exit of the Park there is the new Minuteman Missile Visitors Center which is operated by the NPS. The museum gives you a good background the area's role in hosting nuclear missile silos. They can give you a map with directions to visit an actual decommissioned Launch Control Building and Silo; right off I-90.

If you want to take in more days, consider the town of Deadwood, Crazy Horse Monument, Hull City which also has a amazing a scenic steam railway which will take you into the mountains.

Posted by
172 posts

I grew up in SD and my family took a yearly summer trip to the Black Hills. I will post more later, but wanted to say right away to reserve your rental car now!

Last summer (2021) my husband and I visited my brother, who lives in Sturgis, and drove around to some of the tourist sites. We saw a couple who was driving around in one of those pickup trucks you can rent from a home improvement store. They said there were no car rentals available so they rented the truck! Others said the car rental prices were more than the cost to fly there AND pay for lodging.

Have you checked into a car rental yet?

Posted by
172 posts

Also, when are you going? Please avoid the 2-3 weeks around the Sturgis motorcycle rally!

Posted by
1204 posts

Lots of great suggestions above. If you head to the Badlands make sure to also visit a famous western tourist trap - Wall Drug!

Posted by
76 posts

We visited South Dakota as part of a long road trip last summer (2021). I agree with the locations already suggested by the other posters.

I think you could see many of the attractions by using a Rapids City base, but it would cut down on drive time to stay in different locations along the way. Depends on your preference/tolerance for driving. We chose multiple accommodations since we were driving east towards home.

I would add that the Crazy Horse Memorial should not be missed. I was impressed with their museum, and how much there was to see. There is an optional shuttle that takes you closer to the site, for an extra couple of dollars, and our driver gave a lot of interesting commentary. At Mt Rushmore, we walked the Presidential Trail, which goes around the base. It is paved, and depending on your husband’s stamina, would be accessible with a walking cane. There is a NPS audio guide to rent, and we felt it added to the experience. We visited Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse on the same day, and stayed in Keystone that night. Wouldn’t specifically recommend the hotel we used, but there are many to choose from in town. Pretty touristy, but to be expected.

While in this general area, you’re also not far from Devil’s Tower, which is actually in Wyoming. We thought it was worth the stop (although it was on the way from Roosevelt NP in North Dakota for us).

In Badlands, we stayed at Cedar Pass Lodge, right in the park, and it was wonderful. Great to be in the park for sunset and sunrise without crowds. We were able to attend a night sky ranger program, and had a great time. I would definitely choose it over lodging in Wall. It is actually cabins, updated and comfortable. Saw wildlife just sitting on our back porch! If you’re not hiking, one full day in Badlands would suffice, in my opinion. The downside is limited restaurants in the area (we ate at Cedar Pass Restaurant both nights (basic food but fine for us), and had a cooler with breakfast and lunch supplies with us).

Wall Drug had awesome donuts, and is a good souvenir stop, but very crowded. Fine lunch stop for sure.

For the Minuteman Missile Site, look into booking the NPS small group tour that actually goes into the facility. We would have liked to do that, but it was already sold out (although check for guidelines about mobility for your husband-I remember reading that it’s tight quarters). Even without the special tour, the museum at the visitor center was excellent, and we stopped at the silo sites where you can dial into an audio guide on your phone. I found the whole thing fascinating.

Now for something off the beaten path:
I’ve been a life-long fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books (not the TV shows), and so we incorporated two stops in that vein. “The Prairie Homestead” is located right near the entrance to Badlands NP. It has an authentic sod house from the late 1800s (NOT the Ingalls family) and it gave a picture of pioneer life for a family on the prairie. I was a bit dubious looking at it from the road, but I was glad we stopped and took a look (about 30-45 minutes tops). The other stop was further away, in DeSmet, SD, which had several Ingalls-Wilder sites to visit, and offered a nice tour, and we had a nice day there. Probably too far away from your Rapid City base, but I was excited to see it as a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan:)

Good luck and enjoy your trip!

P.S. I just edited to correct that Devils Tower is in Wyoming, not Montana!!

Posted by
8995 posts

Wall Drug had awesome donuts, and is a good souvenir stop, but very
crowded. Fine lunch stop for sure.

I'm still dreaming about those donuts! Wall Drugs is a good place for souvenirs, but the other stores inside the building are also first-rate. There is a leather boot store which is considered one of the best in the country; some people fly into RC just to visit it. Also a first rate camping/trekking store. The bookstore one of the best in the state. It's selection is perfectly curated to cover the region's history, natural beauty, and local authors. I spent a lot of money at Wall Drugs!

Posted by
1793 posts

Correcting BarbarG - Devil’s Tower is in WYOMING. It’s worth the trip

Posted by
11432 posts

Another place that can be fun and is only a 45 minute drive away is Deadwood, SD. Lots of "old west" history as well as a few real gambling joints.

http://www.deadwood.com

Many years ago, I stayed at the Hotel Alex Johnson. I see, since then, it has become part of Hilton and has added lots of fees including parking. But it is a historical hotel.

Posted by
334 posts

Our son and his family live in Rapid City, so we have made about three dozen trips to the area over the years. We find something new to do on every visit!

I think the Alex Johnson would be a nice option for you. We've stayed there for our son's wedding (Presidential Suite, that was awesome) and another weekend with family celebrating an investiture. There's an assortment of room floor plans, and all the rooms have been redone recently. We stop often at Paddy O'Neil's on the ground floor and the Vertex Sky Bar is on the rooftop. Across the street is Tally's Silver Spoon and Delmonico Grill is around the corner. Que Pasa is a couple blocks away, and there are many other good options like pizza at the Independent Ale House and the Sunday buffet at the Holiday Inn next to the convention center. During the summer months you can catch a trolley at Main Street Square that will take you to many popular sites in the town. We like checking out all the presidential statues downtown.

We recently stayed at the Residence Inn so our grandchildren could come to the waterpark. It was a really nice stay. We have also had good stays at Howard Johnson and the Holiday Inn. Most of the time we stay with family or camp, though.

The Badlands is beautiful to drive through, and there are several spots to stop and get out on paved areas or boardwalks. The drives through Custer State Park and down to Wind Cave are nice. If you are interested in a cave, I think Jewel Cave has a short tour that has an elevator and only goes to one room.

If you go to Deadwood, check out the Deadwood Alive schedule.

In the Black Hills, a favorite restaurant is Alpine Inn in Hill City. In Custer, Black Hills Burger and Bun and Skogen Kitchen are both great options. Google the hours and days as they are not open all the time. Be aware that the Alpine Inn doesn't take plastic.

This is a good planning tool for the area. Under the PLAN tab you will find some good maps. https://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/

Posted by
2272 posts

If you're interested in American history you might consider extending your drive thru the Badlands and visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit the Wounded Knee massacre site and the Lakota cemetery there - a very evocative place.

Posted by
172 posts

As mentioned previously, I grew up in SD and visited frequently as a child. I have been back to visit a few times as an adult, including just last summer.

You will want to split your days and itinerary up by geographical areas: northern hills area, central/southern hills area, and eastern area. I would recommend staying in each area and not trying to use one "home base." You will do a lot of unnecessary driving if you only stay in one city.

In the northern hills, be sure to visit Devil's Tower. It is very interesting. I've been there probably 5 or 6 times and I still love it! Visit Deadwood for the western history. Drive down Spearfish Canyon for a beautiful morning drive. There are some waterfalls you can stop and see. The trails may be too much for your husband, but it is easy to turn around and walk back if you see they are not doable. Definitely visit a cave. There are a couple of options, although be sure to check to see if they are open. Last summer Jewel Cave was only open a couple days a week.

In the central/southern hills, of course visit Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments. A drive through Custer State Park is always fun! Hill City is a cute little tourist city with lots of shops. I also enjoy the Mammoth Site because I like history/archaeology. Be sure to drive Needles highway! You also may enjoy a visit to one of the gold mines.

Then be sure to see the Badlands east of Rapid City. It is a short drive there, and then you drive through the park. My husband and I drove through last summer on our way back home, and enjoyed it even though we had both been there a few times before. Beware that the entrance fee is steep (we thought so anyway).

I find it very interesting to hear others' comments about Wall Drug. Being from SD, we always thought it was WAY too touristy. If you do stop for the free ice water, remember that it is a tourist stop. Don't expect something serious as far as a site to see.

Some other fun things to do are Reptile Gardens, the Cosmos Mystery Area (again, touristy but fun). Cosmos may be closed since covid. I'm not sure if it is just closed now for the winter, or if it shut down due to covid. The Museum of Geology in Rapid City is interesting.

I second the recommendation for the Alpine Inn. My brother's company always takes clients there. Unfortunately it was closed at the time we were there, so be sure to check their opening hours.

If you travel slowly, you could easily spend 5-7 days in the area. It just depends on how much you want to see and do. Have fun and enjoy SD!

Posted by
8995 posts

Another place that can be fun and is only a 45 minute drive away is
Deadwood, SD. Lots of "old west" history as well as a few real
gambling joints.

For me Deadwood was one of the highlights. During my week long trip I spent more days here than anywhere else. If you haven't already be sure to see a few episode of the HBO Deadwood series most of the characters in are based on real people who founded and are part of the history of the region. It's a small town but loaded with historic sites that can keep you occupied for a few days. The historic society just opened a new Brothel Museum, which takes a serious look at how prominent prostitution was until the late 70s (1970s). There is also a Jewish component to the founding of Deadwood, and the TI office can give you a walking map of Jewish sites, including the Jewish cemetery. The neighboring town of Lead is also interesting with a massive open-pit gold mine in the center of it, and the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center which is a very modern museum with exhibits about mining techniques and some very high-tech research ongoing deep beneath the town.

Posted by
14 posts

Thank you to everyone who replied. I have made our plans based on all your information. We are going May 23rd for 6 nights. I booked a rental car and was shocked @ the price. But, it a state we have always wanted to visit.

Posted by
2317 posts

Restaurants: In Custer State Park, there is the State Game Lodge and several other lodges. Some have very casual dining. The State Game Lodge has a pretty nice restaurant. We had our daughter's wedding there in Jan 2018. Very nice. There is wheelchair access.