As the Rapid City Howard Johnson hotel manager, my family and friends often ask me which attractions they must see when visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota. Since I’m used to giving directions on how to get to Mount Rushmore pretty much all day long, this isn’t a difficult question.
The truth is, most people automatically think of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial when they think of the Black Hills and I tend to agree. These are indeed two Black Hills monuments everyone should see. They are majestic, and they capture the historical and spiritual auras of the Black Hills. However, there are a few more hidden gems nestled within the Ponderosa pines which deserve a visit.
In Rapid City, the most populated city in the Black Hills, I often tell visitors to explore these attractions:
- Chapel in the Hills: This gorgeous stave church stands in a picaresque neighborhood on Rapid City’s west side. Be sure to have your camera ready as you tour the church, take a meditative prayer walk, and browse Norwegian trinkets in the gift shop. The church is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Art Alley: Located in downtown Rapid City, Art Alley offers the most original art in the Black Hills. The spray-painted murals are richly diverse. Take a stroll through the alley and marvel at the creativity which surrounds you.
- Main Street Square: The Square hosts ice skating in the winter, outdoor concerts in the summer, farmer’s markets, art festivals, wine and beer festivals, community events, and movies under the stars. Located in the heart of downtown Rapid City, the Square also offers unique shopping opportunities including specialty book stores, gift stores and fashion boutiques.
- Dinosaur Park: This park, which features seven prominent dinosaur sculptures, sits atop a hill on Skyline Drive which overlooks Rapid City. The park was dedicated in May of 1936 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration. Children and adults alike climb the steep stairs to the top of the hill to see the Apatosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Anatotitan, Protoceratops and Dimetrodon. With the exception of the Protoceratops, the dinosaurs here are based on fossils found in South Dakota and the western United States.
- Falling Rock: Located a few miles outside of Rapid City, Falling Rock provides some of the most stunning views in the entire Black Hills. Rock climbers and hikers love this area, as do photography enthusiasts. Just be aware: they don’t call it Falling Rock for nothing. Be careful not to stand too close to cliff edges.
Of course, I’m biased, but if you’re looking for a place to stay while you discover the gems that Rapid City has to offer—consider us at the Rapid City Howard Johnson.
I often tell my friends and family, as well as hotel guests, that exploring the Black Hills is a vacation that every family should have at least once in their life. It’s easy to spend a day in itself in Rapid City, where you’ll be in awe of the hidden treasures around each corner. Enjoy your stay in the Hills, and let me know if you have any questions about the area I’m proud to call home.