28 Jun A Weekend in Rapid City, South Dakota
Our recent trip to Rapid City, South Dakota, was filled with delicious food, fantastic coffee and beer, beautiful natural landscapes, great people, and adorable wildlife, but it was also filled with something else. An entire weekend of misty, foggy weather. The fog was so bad that it completely enveloped the president’s faces at Mount Rushmore, it blocked the views in Custer State Park, and it put up a fight at Badlands National Park, as well. But, you know what? It actually made us fall in love with this little corner of South Dakota even more. Even with the less than stellar weather that we encountered, we still had a blast exploring Rapid City and the surrounding area. I guess that’s how you know you’ve found a winner of a destination—no matter the weather, Rapid City is beautiful, charming, and all around a fantastic place to visit.
Micah and I have been to Rapid City several times in the past, and our previous trips have focused more on the beautiful landscapes in the area than the city. Every time we’ve visited we have made our way to Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park and it was always wonderful. This time, however, we were able to spend more time in Rapid City as part of the #InstaMeetRapidCity with Travel Mindset and Rapid City, and I can’t believe how much we were missing! We loved the adorable city so much that we are actually now planning it into our itinerary on a family road trip later this summer.
This time around, we stayed right in the heart of downtown Rapid City at The Rushmore Hotel. Walking into the hotel, we were greeted with a giant inlay of Mount Rushmore on the main floor of the lobby. Our room was filled with cute artistic touches such as a wall sized map of iconic sights in the area and a giant photo of the dock at Sylvan Lake on another wall. We cozied in immediately and were excited to have The Rushmore Hotel as our base for the weekend.
First up on our itinerary was a tasting and brewery tour at Hay Camp Brewing Company. We were served a giant tray of brews to sample all the varieties of beer that Hay Camp has to offer. After our tasting, we ventured into the back of the brewery for a peek behind the scenes. We learned about Hay Camp’s brewing process, where they get their ingredients, and the history of the brewery. It was a great way to kick off our weekend in Rapid City!
Dinner on Friday evening was at Murphy’s Pub. We ordered a range of tasty appetizers to share like fried pickles and wings, and then after our meal, we went downstairs for a little speakeasy fun and dessert. The Blind Lion speakeasy is located in the basement of Murphy’s Pub. You take an elevator and enter through an unmarked door. After our delicious dessert, it was time to call it a night and head back to The Rushmore Hotel for a little bit of R&R.
Breakfast Saturday morning was at Harriet and Oak, and I have to say this was one of my favorite café/coffee shops that I have been at in a long time. They serve fresh, made-from-scratch items—I ordered a breakfast bowl with quinoa, sweet potato, baked egg, spinach, roasted red pepper and goat cheese. Micah picked one of the waffle specials, the Elvis waffle, with peanut butter, bananas, syrup, chocolate chips, and whipped cream. I may or may not have convinced him to go the unhealthy route…I wanted to have a couple bites! Both of our orders were fantastic and the atmosphere inside the shop was adorable too–there’s even a cute VW Bus inside!
Next, our itinerary called for a helicopter ride at Mount Rushmore. We were so excited to get an aerial view of the presidents, but when we arrived at the monument, we were greeted with a wall of thick, soupy clouds. Unfortunately, this type of weather was not suitable for a helicopter ride, so instead, we had to squint to catch a glimpse of George Washington and his friends.
We made our way back again the following morning, hoping for better weather, but this time around we found an even heavier dose of clouds. Our second attempt was even worse than the first, so we decided to create our own version of the monument instead. We may not be presidents, but I think our version turned out pretty well, no?!
Since the weather wasn’t on our side for the helicopter ride, we had a bit of free time, so we made our way to Bear Country USA to check out some wildlife. Bear Country USA is a drive-thru wildlife park that features North American animals. You drive your own car through the park and view the animals roaming around their natural environment. We spotted black bears, elk, buffalo, arctic wolf, bighorn sheep, and more. It was exciting when the bears, bison and other wildlife got close to our car!
After spotting a bunch of adorable wildlife, Micah and I split up for the afternoon. Micah made his was out to the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to check out some waterfalls. The byway twists and turns through a 19-mile gorge and Spearfish Creek runs along the canyon floor. There are several trails that you can hike in this area, but there are also a few waterfalls that are a short walk from the road. Due to time, Micah stopped at a couple of the easily accessible waterfalls, one of which was Bridal Veil Falls. After seeing his photos, I want to make sure to check out the falls myself next time we are in the area!
When Micah was scouting waterfalls, I spent the afternoon with the girls in our group and we made our way to Independent Ale House for a lunch of pizza and beer.
Then we explored downtown Rapid City, stopping in boutique shops, galleries and touring the art in the city. We stopped at Prairie Edge: Native American Arts & Crafts where an artist event was taking place. There were painters, jewelry makers, authors, and more, set up in the store, in addition to the regular selection of Native American goods.
The Suzie Cappa Art Center is a community art center that showcases art produced by people with disabilities. I loved browsing through the creative art and reading the bios of the locals that created the pieces.
One of my favorite art spots in town, however, was Art Alley. It’s located a block off of Main Street, and the alley was filled with one colorful mural after another.
After wandering around town, we decided to try our luck at Badlands National Park. The Badlands are located around an hour drive from Rapid City, so we were hoping the weather would be better over in that neck of the woods. When we arrived, once again, the clouds were intense. The spectacular rocky views I remembered from our last trip were shrouded in fog. We stopped at the Pinnacles Overlook and we could see some faint views of the landscape. Nearby, we watched big horn sheep climb over the rocks. A couple of them locked horns, tussled a bit, and then turned back to look at us, almost as if they were putting on an orchestrated show.
Photo by Kristin Luna
At this point, we contemplated heading back to Rapid City but decided to continue on just a little bit farther. That’s when something miraculous happened. Our persistence paid off, and the clouds actually lifted. While the skies were still gloomy, we lucked out and actually saw some of the views that make this national park one of my favorites. It felt like such a huge win to finally have the weather on our side, if only for a few moments.
Photo by Kristin Luna
Around a half hour went by, and the clouds started to slowly trickle back to the skies. That meant it was time to head back to Rapid City for dinner. We dined at Talley’s Silver Spoon and then called it an early night because we were heading out before the crack of dawn the next morning.
Our call time on Sunday morning was 4:45 a.m. Why so early? Because we were heading out on a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour in Custer State Park! When we arrived at the park for our 5:45 a.m. tour, we were glad we bundled up in layers. It was a chilly morning, but we were ready for a bit of off-roading fun and wildlife viewing. We piled into the open-air jeep and set off in search of buffalo. During our two-hour drive we learned about the history and ecology of Custer State Park and we spotted a wide range of wildlife, as well. My favorite animals of the tour were the buffalo (of course!) and the burros who came right up to our jeep and practically nuzzled their faces into our cameras.
We were all starving after the bison safari, so we made our way into the town of Custer for brunch. Skogen Kitchen looked adorable, so we decided to top there, but we didn’t anticipate it would be booked solid with reservations due to Mother’s Day! Luckily, they had an outside table big enough for our group. Even though it was chilly, the blankets and heat lamps kept us warm and toasty. The creative menu was filled with fresh options—I really enjoyed my Quiche Lorraine and the pancakes we ordered for the table were a hit for sure.
With full tummies, we made our way back to Custer State Park. We drove the Needles Highway which twists and turns through beautiful forests and rock formations, and then we stopped at Sylvan Lake. We couldn’t believe how beautiful the scenery was at Sylvan Lake—the calm lake was lined by large, boulder-like rock formations that created striking reflections in the water. And, to top it off…we finally got a dose of blue skies! If we had time, I would have definitely jumped in a kayak for a spin around the lake, but we settled for a short hike instead. The trail around the lake started off flat, and eventually, we were climbing up and over the rock formations. It was a short 1.1-mile trail, and it was a wonderful way to cap off our visit to Rapid City, South Dakota.
Reflecting back on this trip makes me excited for our next adventure there later this summer. Even though the weather clearly did not cooperate, we still left with smiles on our faces and a bank full of wonderful memories. There is so much to see in this corner of the world, and I’m so glad we were able to see a different side to the city this time around!