The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

Beyond the Badlands: How to Fully Experience Rapid City, South Dakota

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Here’s the thing with traveling: There are no guarantees. Flight delays or cancellations may cause you to miss part of your trip, and weather is always a factor—and one that you can’t control, too. So the nice thing about visiting Rapid City, the largest city in western South Dakota that draws tourists looking to hit up Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, is that when weather happens, there are plenty of other things to do than the monuments and parks.

What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Such was the case when I descended upon western South Dakota a couple weeks ago. Now, let’s be frank here: This was my third time in South Dakota and my third trip plagued by rain. It’s a true testament to a destination that has me wanting to keep coming back despite the weather, and South Dakota is such that great place.

Art Alley: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

I’m told this isn’t standard May weather in Rapid City, that it had been beautiful and springy—until we arrived. (So perhaps I’m the jinx here.) But Jade and I were traveling with five other intrepid adventurers, and we didn’t let the weather slow us down one bit. We still made the most of Rapid City.

What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

How to enjoy Rapid City even in the rain? Here’s the thumbnail sketch:

Explore the Skyline Drive Wilderness Area.

On our first afternoon upon arrival, Jade, Hardy and I went up to Skyline Drive, to both the free Dinosaur Park, and then to the 150-acre wilderness area where we hiked a mile or so in before the rain hit.

Skyline Drive Wilderness Area in Rapid City, South Dakota

Even getting a little bit wet, it felt pretty amazing to be in the outdoors surrounded by so much greenery after way too many months cooped up indoors. I’d love to come back to the Skyline Wilderness Area on a sunny day and truly dive into all the walking, biking and hiking trails that crisscross the ridge line.

Skyline Drive Wilderness Area in Rapid City, South Dakota

Taste your way through the breweries.

One of our very first stops of the weekend was a tour and tasting at Hay Camp Brewing Company, which was absolutely packed on a Friday afternoon despite the weekly Bike4Pint ride being canceled due to rain. There were nearly a dozen house brews on tap, my favorites of which were the Dino-sour Pale Ale and the Lacto-Hand-Rye Coordination stout (obviously).

Hay Camp Brewing Company: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Hay Camp Brewing Company: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota
Hay Camp Brewing Company: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Hay Camp Brewing Company: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

On our final day before heading to the airport, Jade and I also snuck in a quick flight at Lost Cabin Beer Co., which was a much smaller operation but well worth the trek. I also enjoyed sampling other South Dakota brews at Independent Ale House, boasting a rotating roster of more than 40 beers on tap, as well as plenty more available by bottle.

Check out the art scene.

Rapid City is outfitted with an alley right in the heart of its downtown that artists can obtain a permit to paint in. The result is a mishmash of a canvas that spans a block between 6th and 7th and Main and Saint Joseph streets with colorful installations such as these.

Art Alley: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Art Alley: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota
Art Alley: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

What better way to combat a dreary day than with a little color, right? Downtown Rapid City is also peppered with indie shops and artist collectives such as Prairie Edge, perfect for procuring your next piece of art or a token from your time in South Dakota, as well as a place to duck in out of the rain.

Art in Rapid City, South Dakota

Test your luck at Mount Rushmore. Then, test it again.

Let me preface this saying: I’ve seen Mount Rushmore; it’s awesome. So I perhaps wasn’t as bummed as my travel companions that I didn’t get to see it in person this time. Or rather, I saw a vague outline of Washington’s mug, but that was about it.

Mount Rushmore in the Fog

Here’s my pro tip, though: Drive Highway 244 from Rushmore toward Crazy Horse, and around the first bend, you’ll be rewarded with fun views of the presidents’ profiles as well as some lake vistas.

Mount Rushmore in the Fog

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

We tried Rushmore again the next day as we were all determined to glimpse it via helicopter, only the weather was even worse: The fog was as thick as soup.

Mount Rushmore in the Fog

Note: The presidents are indeed directly behind Hardy.

But look at it this way, photographers: Here’s your chance to exercise your creativity instead!

Mount Rushmore in the Fog

 

Drive to the Badlands anyway.

Here’s the thing: I probably wouldn’t have driven the hour each way to Badlands National Park in inclement weather had I not been with Jade who is always overly optimistic. (This is why you always travel with a pal who has complementary traits to yours.) And in this case, I’m so glad she suggested it because even though we were socked in with fog the entire drive there, it miraculously lifted as soon as we crossed into the park’s domain.

Badlands National Park: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

The first time I was in Rapid City, the Badlands were closed for flooding, and I’d always wanted to see this otherworldly landscape that looks straight out of a scene from Star Wars. It’s also home to some of the world’s richest fossil beds.

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

We drove in and out of foggy pockets, stopping often to snap photos and fawn at the pronghorns and other wildlife we saw.

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

Even though we stayed in the park just two hours, this wound up being my favorite part of the trip. The Badlands also was my 23rd national park to visit—I’m almost halfway there!

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City
The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City
The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

And if all else fails, you do drive out the Badlands and the weather doesn’t let up for you, well, then at least you have the iconic Wall Drug to look forward to before you head back to Rapid City!

What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Cruise through Bear Country U.S.A.

With Rushmore and Crazy Horse both too foggy for views, we changed our plans on the fly and headed back toward Rapid City for a pit stop at Bear Country U.S.A., a drive-through wildlife park in the heart of the Black Hills.

Bear Country USA: What to do when it rains in Rapid City, South Dakota

This was my first time going to such a park, and I had no idea what to expect, but I’ll tell you what I did not expect: An arctic wolf breezing past our car, so close we could have reached out the window and tousled his fur, and a pair of grizzlies lumbering past the car right in front of us.

Bear Country USA in Rapid City, South Dakota

ear Country USA in Rapid City, South Dakota
ear Country USA in Rapid City, South Dakota
ear Country USA in Rapid City, South Dakota

Bear Country USA: What to do when it rains in Rapid City, South Dakota

The park spans 250 acres and houses 20 different species of mammals native to North America. We were told that during the park’s CubFest you can actually mingle with bear cubs(!), but alas, we missed this by a few weeks. Regardless, Bear Country U.S.A. was definitely a fun way to kill an hour, rain or shine, with kids or without.

Bear Country USA: What to do when it rains in Rapid City, South Dakota

Go on a wildlife safari in Custer State Park.

It might require a 4am wake-up time, but an early morning safari through Custer State Park will be very worth your loss of sleep. It’s one of South Dakota’s most iconic spots, mostly for the bison herds and other diverse wildlife.

Custer State Park in Rapid City, South Dakota

On my first visit to Rapid City with SVV seven years ago, we fell in love with this park and its inhabitants, so much so that we went back twice. And while you could technically drive around on your own as we did, let me say as someone who has tackled it both ways, being some of the first park visitors of the day guided by a trusty park employee from the comfort of an open-air Jeep definitely trumps solo exploration.

Custer State Park: What to Do in Rapid City

After all, he knows all the best spots to find bison, prairie dogs, elk and more.

Custer State Park: What to Do in Rapid City

And as if you needed another reason to rise before the sun, I’ll give you one: DONKEYS.

Custer State Park: What to Do in Rapid City

Custer State Park: What to Do in Rapid City

Or burros, rather. I had completely forgotten I’d met the Begging Burros back in 2011 and immediately fell for their charm once more. These guys are anything but shy and ambled right on up to our Jeep looking for a handout.

Custer State Park: What to Do in Rapid City

Unfortunately for them, all they got was a selfie instead.

**********

Sure, sun would have been preferable, but despite the rain, we had not just a good, but a GREAT time in South Dakota. I’m telling you all: If you want a place that has wildlife, national park, art, and a brewery and culinary scene all rolled into one, Rapid City is your place.

The Badlands: What to Do in Rapid City

And I’ll be right there beside you on my fourth visit to the state as I still need to swoop past the presidential quartet in a chopper. Mark my words, it’s going to happen.

Badlands National Park: What to do in Rapid City, South Dakota

Have you ever visited Rapid City? What’s your favorite way to turn a rainy day right around?

I traveled to South Dakota for #InstaMeetRapidCity with Travel Mindset.

 

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What to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota
What to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota
What to Do in Rapid City, South Dakota
COMMENTS
  • May 28, 2018

    Really cool Kristin. I love a good triceratops too. Best of dino and dramatic views in terms of worlds. Rocking post.

    • June 20, 2018

      Who doesn’t love a good triceratops, though? 😉

  • May 29, 2018

    What an amazing experience! Love the photos!

    • May 31, 2018

      Thank you, Katerina! That’s so sweet of you to say!

  • May 29, 2018

    It rained just before our first visit to Mt. Rushmore, and it looked like George Washington had a runny nose.
    It is a bit further, but the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs is worth a visit. You can see the mammoth bones still in situ.

    • May 31, 2018

      Ha, that’s hysterical! I wish we’d gotten a chance to go to Hot Springs this time, but we had just 48 hours and didn’t squeeze it in. On visit #4, though, for sure!

  • May 29, 2018

    Your pictures are awesome and it looks like a fun trip. I hope we have better weather this August!

    • May 31, 2018

      I hope you do, too! Can’t wait to see your photos!

  • May 29, 2018

    What a pity that you had such foggy weather! Luckily the donkeys came close enough so you could photograph them 🙂

    • May 31, 2018

      The donkeys were DEFINITELY my favorite part.

  • May 29, 2018

    I’m a big fan of the area, never even attempted to see the Presidents – I love the badlands and the wildlife. I was there in the spring with great weather – it definitely must be you 😉

    • May 31, 2018

      The Presidents are cool, but I think the parks and the wildlife are for sure the biggest selling points of that area!

  • May 30, 2018

    Bummer about the fog… but still looks like you had a great time. I sometimes think that it makes for better picture when you are forced to think out of the box. And yours are amazing.

    • May 31, 2018

      Awww, thanks, Jenn! The fog bummed us out a bit at first, but we had such a great group dynamic that it became more of a joke than anything else 😉

  • May 30, 2018

    What cool landscapes! That’s one thing that strikes me whenever I go home. We do live in a beautiful country 🙂

    I love that shot of the pronghorns dueling on the ridge. Stunning!

    • May 31, 2018

      We really do! I can travel all over the world and still be more in awe of some of the places in my figurative backyard than I can be in, say, Asia or even Africa. Such a diverse country!

  • June 1, 2018

    Honestly, I’m sort of impressed by the density of that fog! That’s serious. I went to the Petrified Forest on a foggy, rainy day and it was pretty great. I didn’t get any shots with a brilliant blue sky, but it was still lovely. And the mud expands the same way it looks like it does at the Badlands – into a big, clumpy mess!

    • June 20, 2018

      It was SO SO foggy. I saw someone’s Badlands photos taken two weeks later and would not have even recognized the place!

  • June 18, 2018

    Love it! I lived in Rapid City during my teen years, and we are moving back this week. Your post has me excited all over again!

    • June 20, 2018

      Lucky you! What a fun city to live in.

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