Crowds of summer tourists and the rumble of Sturgis-bound motorcycles fade as crisp autumn days arrive in southwestern South Dakota. Rapid City, the region’s hub of 70,800 residents, welcomes visitors for a culturally rich getaway with presidential monuments, Native American history and museums that trace the formation of the region's rocky landscape.
This weekend marks a brief resurgence of visitors, with Custer State Park’s Buffalo Roundup, free admission to national parks and the chance to hike 6.2 miles up Crazy Horse Memorial for a close-up view of the warrior. Experience it all with an extended getaway that incorporates the following attractions.
1) City of Presidents The mugs of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt claim the most fame atop Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but visitors to downtown Rapid City can take selfies with bronze life-size sculptures of all 43 past U.S. presidents. Polio-ridden Franklin D. Roosevelt stands tall as he delivers his “day that will live in infamy” speech. John F. Kennedy happily strolls hand-in-hand with his son John. Ronald Reagan wears a cowboy hat and ranch attire; across the street, Jimmy Carter gives one of his big folksy waves. cityofpresidents.com
2) Prairie Edge Trading Company and Galleries Marvel at cast-paper sculptures of a bison hunt, colorfully beaded leather robes, and impromptu demonstrations of native flutes or drums at this gallery that often feels like a museum. The multilevel location includes a trading post, a loft with a bead museum, and one of the nation’s best selections of Native American books and music. prairieedge.com
3) Main Street Square Locals and visitors gather at this downtown venue dotted with granite art and interactive fountains where kids love to splash. On September 26, the square hosts bounce houses and live music during the Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival. mainstreetsquarerc.com
4) Journey Museum and Learning Center A 20-minute film introduces visitors to South Dakota history before a self-guided tour weaves through exhibits on the formation of Earth, the region's geology, the Wild West and Native American life. journeymuseum.org
5) Museum of Geology Go deep into South Dakota’s past with exhibits of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that roamed the grasslands, Badlands and an ancient sea. Encounter a wide variety of gems and minerals, gold and even fluorescent minerals that glow in the dark at this free museum in the O’Harra Building at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. sdsmt.edu
6) Art Alley Head down this vibrant alley off Seventh Street between Main and St. Joseph for a fresh appreciation of urban art. Graffiti and graphic artists continually repaint the walls—and utility posts and dumpsters—for an ever-changing brick canvas of artsy portraits and pop art that may feature the famous (think Homer Simpson and Barack Obama). visitrapidcity.com
7) Scenic Journeys Take a hike through the 150-acre Skyline Wilderness Area Park for sweeping views of the Black Hills to the west and the Badlands to the east. If you prefer a more heart-pumping experience, take a bike ride through the rugged Rapid City Urban Mountain Park.
8) National Parks Visit during National Public Lands Day on September 26 for free entry to Badlands National Park; Wind Cave National Park, with its delicate honeycomb-like formations; and Jewel Cave National Park, the third-longest cave system in the world. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which charges for parking rather than entrance fees, is not included.
Read more about Lisa’s favorite experiences and destinations at 10000Likes.com.