Two days of discovery in Rapid City go...well...rapidly.
By Marge Peterson
Contributing editor of AAA Home & Away
Travelers to the Black Hills often use Rapid City as a base for visiting the area’s many sites but fail to check out the many attractions in the city. On your next visit, spend a couple of days exploring the history, art, shopping and entertainment in Rapid City.
Day One: The Heart of the City
Start your exploration of downtown Rapid City by strolling from corner to corner of a six-block area along Main to Joseph streets viewing life-size bronze sculptures of our 44 presidents. Each one gives insight into the personality and presidency of the subject. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt is shown in his Rough Rider uniform, and President John F. Kennedy is handing his son a toy plane.
At Prairie Edge Trading Co. and Galleries, visitors learn about the Dakota culture and see one of the country’s best collections of authentic Plains Indian art, crafts and culture. The world’s largest known collection of Italian glass beads (more than 2,600 different styles and colors) from the same Venetian guild that supplied fur traders in the 19th century are on display. Visitors can purchase everything from expensive works of nationally acclaimed artists to inexpensive children’s toys.
Just across the street from Prairie Edge is one of Rapid City’s newest attractions, Main Street Square, a beautiful public space featuring water features, flowering gardens, granite spires and a venue that will host more than 200 events this year including the Black Hills Art & Wine Festival, Music in the Square, Taste of South Dakota and Movies under the Stars. During the winter, the square is transformed into an ice rink.
Visitors to the Journey Museum & Learning Center can travel through history from the violent upheaval that formed the Black Hills 2.5 billion years ago to the development of the Western frontier. Exhibits include geology, dinosaurs, Lakota culture and pioneer history artifacts.
For more history, check out the Dahl Arts Center, which houses a 180-foot oil-on-canvas panorama spanning 200 years of U.S. history. The mural, narrated with special lighting effects and music to create a total audio-visual experience, is only one of four such cycloramas in the country. The center also features paintings, sculpture, crafts and original prints from regional artists.
Day Two: Moving On
After experiencing what downtown offers, visit the Museum of Geology, located at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, which focuses on local fossil specimens, including skeletons of giant reptiles and fish from the ancient Cretaceous seas of South Dakota.
More prehistoric creatures can be found at Dinosaur Park, where seven life-size concrete replicas of monstrous reptiles are perched atop the hill that divides the city. The road along Skyline Drive to the park offers a picturesque overview of the city and surrounding areas.
Those more interested in live animals can visit Bear Country USA where visitors can drive through and see black bears, elk, mountain lions, reindeer, timber and arctic wolves, big horn sheep and bison roaming freely in the 200-acre park. Visitors also can walk through Babyland to see younger and smaller animals and a grizzly. Watching the playful antics of the bear cubs is great fun.
Animals of a different kind can be found at Reptile Gardens, which was recently named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest reptile zoo. The Sky Dome features an indoor walk-through jungle with lizards, harmless snakes and tropical birds as well as orchids and tropical plants. Entertainment includes alligator, bird and snake shows. One of their most popular reptiles is a 1,200-pound crocodile from Australia named Maniac who eats 40 pounds of chicken every Friday.
A free Black Hills factory tour is available at Landstrom’s Original Black Hills Gold. This tour offers visitors the chance to go behind the scenes with the artisans learning step-by-step how the jewelry is made.