Destinations Magazine

Ramblin’ Guide to Rapid City, SD – From the Badlands to Rushmore!

By Kenin Bassart @Constantramble

When it’s your stated mission to go out and seek new and interesting adventures, it can be hard to return to certain places. It’s not because you didn’t enjoy it on your first visit, but rather because you enjoyed it so much that you’re afraid a second visit might reveal it as one-dimensional or heck, kind of bland. Well I’m happy to report that after a second visit to Rapid City, South Dakota we can officially say that it’s definitely not bland! As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much we’ve put together a Ramblin’ Guide to Rapid City, South Dakota so you too can explore everything from regal Mount Rushmore to the breathtaking Badlands and all the great stuff in between.

Guide to Rapid City SD

The last time we were in the area we were on very limited time so we put together a pretty intense Rapid City, SD Road Trip Planner that took us through Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands all in one long but incredible day. On this visit, we had a lot more time on our hands so we broke up our road trip route into different segments and really got down to exploring. Hope you enjoy these great mini day trips as well as some other fun things to do and places to eat (and drink great beer of course).

Rapid City Day Trips

Badlands Scenic Road Trip

Badlands Rapid City South Dakota

With its “out of this world” landscapes and big bright skies, the Badlands National Park is near the top of our list of favorite national parks. Along the way to and from the Badlands you can also stop in and check out the fun Wall Drug, and the Cold War Legacy Minuteman Missile sites.

From Rapid City, you make your way East on I-90. You’ll immediately see a ton of billboards advertising the fun and cheeky Wall Drug located in Wall, SD. Personally I recommend leaving this for last, but if you just can’t resist get off on Exit 110 and have a ball. Continue on I-90 East and you’ll see a couple of different exits for the Minuteman Missile sites (Exit 116 & 127 & 131). The official visitors center is on Exit 131 and they provide tickets and tour info for the other sites. Conveniently Exit 131 is also where you’ll find the entrance to the Badlands. If you’re interested, you can add in another stop before heading into the Badlands and visit 1880 Town.  It’s a bit far out on Exit 170 and that’s going to add about 8o miles round trip so plan accordingly.

Once you’ve entered the Badlands from Exit 131, just follow the scenic loop (Highway 240) and soak it all in. The end of the road will take you right into Wall, SD where you can make a first (or second) stop at Wall Drug and have some fun. When you plan this trip make sure to eat a big breakfast before you head out or pack a lunch, because there aren’t too many dining options along the way.

Total Time on this trip is about 3 Hours (does not include 1880 Town)

Devil’s Tower Scenic Road Trip

Devils Tower

Even though the Devil’s Tower is technically in WY, it’s an easy and fun trip from Rapid City SD, and it gives you a great excuse see some pretty cool towns like Deadwood and Sturgis along the way back.

To start this road trip, head West on I-90 out of Rapid City, SD. Continue on I-90 for about an hour (all depends on how fast you think too fast is :-) ) into Wyoming and look for exit 199. You can’t miss the big Wyoming Welcome Center, and then just follow the signs toward Aladdin, WY and then around on Hwy 24 to Devil’s Tower. It’s slightly longer than taking the Interstate the whole way, but it’ll keep you from taking the same road twice and it’s a pretty cruise. Once you arrive at Devil’s Tower you can head in for a hike up to it’s base, or just drive by and gawk at how awkwardly it stands out on the landscape.

Once you’ve finished up, head down Hwy 24 to Hwy 14 (there’s lots of signs, and get back on I-90 East towards South Dakota. Once back in South Dakota, keep an eye out for Spearfish, SD. You’ll see an exit for Alt-HWY 14 and that’ll loop you down to 85 East where you can ride into Deadwood, SD and then continue on to Sturgis, SD. While in Deadwood there are some really great historical buildings, some fun diners, and casinos. Lots of Casinos. If you enjoy gaming make sure to pick up some of those little guide books at your hotel or tourism offices and look for coupons. Most of the casinos had “Free Play” offers and between the two of us we made about $100. ( Can you say Cha-Ching!??)

Sturgis has lots of history for motorcycles and bikers and is home to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. While there make sure to soak in all the custom cruisers and choppers and stop in at one of the many bars for a drink. There’s also the must see Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, must eat steak tips at the Loud American Roadhouse, and brews at The Knuckle Brewing Company. From Sturgis, it’s about a 30 minute ride back on I-90 into Rapid City.

Total time on this loops about 5 hours without factoring in stops.

Rushmore, Crazy Horse & Custer Park Road Trip

Mountain Goats in Custer State Park

The attractions in and around Custer State Park are perhaps the biggest draw to the whole Rapid City area. In this one trip you can hit up Mount Rushmore, The Crazy Horse Monument, Custer Park (with all it’s wildlife goodness), and a few fun little towns (including one with a craft brewery) so it’s no wonder I left this one for last :-)

Begin your trip in Rapid City and head south on Highway 16 and follow all the signs (soo many signs) to Mount Rushmore. Once you’ve checked out all the presidents, you can then head West on Hwy 244 until you hit HWY 16 again. Once you do that, you have a decision to make. If you want to check out a cool brewery head North on 16 to Hill City and check out Miner Brewing Company (more on them below). When you’re done doing that you can loop back South on HWY 16/ 385  and head south until you see the Crazy Horse Memorial. Then continue South until you hit the Junction for 16 West & 16East. Head East towards Custer State Park.

From here you have another decision. If you want to drive the Needles Highway (SD 87) into Custer you can loop North on SD 89 about 7 miles, and then get on there, or you can continue East on 16 until you connect with SD 87. Personally I love the Northern part of SD 87 so the loop is worth it to me. Continue South on SD 87 until you see the entrance to Custer State Park and then follow the Wildlife loop the whole way around until you hit HWY 16 again. Connect to 36 E to 79N to return to Rapid City.

Total time on this loops about 3.5 hours without factoring in stops.

Playing in Rapid City, SD

After spending a bunch of time driving all around the area, you definitely need to spend at least a day relaxing in and around Rapid City proper. Or at least, work in some of these attractions in between all your scenic cruising.

Downtown Rapid City

Rapid City South Dakota Art Alley

Did you know downtown Rapid City had a graffiti scene? Neither did I. Check out Art Alley to see some fun and interesting pieces. While your there make sure to stroll along Main St checking our the local shops and all the cool statues they have on the street corners called The City of Presidents.

Dinosaur Park

If kitsch is your thing, spend a few minutes at Dinosaur Park and bask in the glory of 1930’s era dinosaur statues designed to “perpetuate the facts of history, and to acquaint the present generation and others to follow with a fair idea as to the appearance, size and characteristics of these, our earliest known inhabitants”. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Watiki Water Park

Ramblin’ Guide to Rapid City, SD – From the Badlands to Rushmore!

Why? Because it’s the largest Indoor Water Park in South Dakota and it has a lazy river. Do I need to say more? I didn’t think so! :-)

Where to Eat & Drink

Firehouse Brewing Company

Fire House Brewing SD

What do you get when you take a classic firehouse and start brewing beer in it? A fun place to relax and enjoy some really good food. We’ve been to the Firehouse Brewing Co a few times and have always found the food to be deliciously satisfying, the staff to be uber-friendly, and the beer to be brewed well and served cold. What more could you ask for.

Firehouse Brewing
610 Main St
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 348-1915

Miner Brewing Company

MIner Brewing South Dakota

Opened in 2013, Miner Brewing Company is the next project from the folks right next door at the Prairie Berry Winery. What does wine making have to do with beer you ask? A whole lot! The head brewmaster at Miner is a 5th Generation wine maker and she’s taken classic European styles and blended them with local South Dakota flavors. Thirsty yet? Head on over and have a beer and enjoy their brand new and pretty cozy tasting room.

Miner Brewing Company
23845 US-385
Hill City, SD 57745
(605) 574-2886

Sanfords Grub & Pub

Sanfords Grub and Pub Rapid City

It’s not often that we recommend a chain restaurant, but every once in a while a regional chain grows because they are doing something right. Well that’s the case at Sanford’s Grub & Pub. With over 70 beers on tap (from local craft brews to national brands) there’s a beer for everyone. Combine that with creative appetizers and belly busing entrees and you have a winner in my book.

Sanfords Grub & Pub
306 7th St
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 721-1463

Independent Ale House

Independant Ale House Rapid City

With over 40 Craft beers on tap, the Independent focuses on limited run and small batch brews so it’s a fun place to find and try something unique. Can’t find something their draft list? Don’t worry, they also rock another 100+ beers in bottles. If beer’s not your thing (get out!!) they’ve got a decent little wine list too. The Ale House is more pub than restaurant but they’ve got you covered for some munchies if the words Hand Crafted Pizza get your taste buds going.

Independent Ale House
625 St Joseph St
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 718-9492

Where to Stay

La Quinta Inn

La Quinta is always a great standby hotel in any city. Pet Friendly? Check! Free Breakfast? Check! Great Rewards? Check! Largest WaterPark in South Dakota included in your stay?!?!?! CHECK!  That’s right, the La Quinta in Rapid City is attached to the Waitiki Water Park as well as a nice little casual dining restaurant, so it’s a solid choice all around.

1416 North Elk Vale Road
Rapid City, SD 57701
Click here to Book LaQuinta

Best Western Ramkota

The Best Western is Pet-Friendly with a deposit, and offers some large and pretty comfortable rooms. They also have an onsite restaurant and a pretty nice pool area with a hot tub, slides, and a cool pirate ship for the kiddies.

2111 North LaCrosse Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
Click Here to Book Best Western

Grand Stay Suites

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