RAPID CITY, South Dakota — I think if we look at destinations honestly for a moment, Rapid City and the Black Hills aren’t going to rise to the top of the list.
New York, Chicago, Honolulu and … Rapid City?
I’m with you. I felt the same way until I went to Rapid City. Now, every time the conversation turns to the topic of a trip, Rapid City is on the list.
I’m not sure what it is. I loved everything we did, whether it was a museum, a national park, a random drive or grabbing coffee in one of its unique coffee shops.
First off, the Black Hills and the area around Rapid City are stunningly beautiful. Secondly, the national parks are among the best in the country.
I will readily admit, every trip should include a steam train excursion. But the trip along the 1880 Train is a true delight. We joined the scenic railroad for its wine tasting excursion to imbibe in some of the local vines.
The train operates over the 10-mile-long former Burlington Northern Railroad Keystone Branch between Hill City and Keystone. In between sips of wine, the trip offers stunning views of the landscape.
At Keystone, railfans have the opportunity to watch the train crew in action as they move the steam locomotive from one end of the train to the other for the return trip.
While Tombstone, Arizona, is a personal favorite, no visit to the Black Hills would be complete without a day trip to Deadwood.
The town, designated as a National Historic Landmark District, is famous for the many Wild West figures — from Wyatt Earp to Calamity Jane to Wild Bill Hickok — who spend time here. Of course, the acclaimed HBO series of the same name likely helped contribute to its popularity.
The city’s Mount Moriah Cemetery is the final resting place of Hickok, shot and killed by Jack McCall.
There’s plenty of lore to explore, such as the Old Style Saloon #10, home to the chair Hickok allegedly was sitting in when killed. There’s also the Original Site of the Killing of Wild Bill Hickok, a bar sitting on the alleged location of Hickok’s killing with a recreation of the scene in the basement.
While Mount Rushmore might be the best-known attraction in the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Memorial is perhaps more stunning for its sheer magnitude.
The monument, located about 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, has been in the works since 1948. It will depict Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land when finished.
If completed as designed, it could be the world’s second tallest statue, measuring 641 feet wide and 563 feet high.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is a bit of a drive from Rapid City, but it is well worth the trek. The park is home to a range of wildlife, from bison to prairie dogs to bighorn sheep.
At 242,756 acres, Badlands isn’t the kind of national park visitors can explore in either a full day or part of one. If possible, try to explore on at least two different days, even if it’s a pair of day trips.
If nothing else, the photos you capture will look different from one day to the next.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Located about 30 minutes southwest of Rapid City, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is perhaps the quintessential South Dakota attraction and the definitive American attraction.
The stunning 60-foot-tall portraits of four presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt — carved into the granite are an engineering marvel.