If you are looking for ideas for a quick weekend getaway, consider heading to Rapid City to check out the up-and-coming city, hike around Mount Rushmore, and take in the scenery at Badlands National Park. You might be surprised at this suggestion, but there’s more to see and do in the Mount Rushmore area than you’d think. Plan to fly into Rapid City on Friday evening so you don’t have to take time off of work.
First things first — head to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial early in the morning. If you’re staying in Rapid City, it is about a 30 minute drive to reach the memorial.
For most people, the visit will only be a couple hours. After viewing the monument from the Grand View Terrace, head to the Visitors Center which houses a museum, bookstore, and theater to learn about how Gutzon Borglum and 400 other workers spent 14 years creating the monument. To get a closer look at the monument, hike the easy half-mile long Presidential Trail to get a view from the base of the mountain.
After visiting Mount Rushmore, head to Custer State Park. If you want, on your way there you can take a quick detour to Crazy Horse Memorial — this will probably add 30-45 minutes to your journey. Spend a few hours in the Sylvan Lake area which has some nice hiking trails including the Sunday Gulch Trail and the Black Elk Peak Trail. You can even take a dip in the lake or rent a kayak here. Drive through the Needles Eye Tunnel and along the Needles Highway (Hwy 87) towards Wildlife Loop Road where will likely to encounter herds of bison. You may also see prairie dogs, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and antelope while in the park. You can have dinner at the historic State Game Lodge which was built in 1920 and served as Preside Coolidge’s “Summer White House.” Another fun option, especially if you are traveling with kids, is attending the Hayride & Chuck Wagon Cookout at the Blue Bell Lodge. You will have to make a reservation by 2pm, although they may allow late reservations and walk-ons if there is availability.
Spend the day at Badlands National Park. For most people, half a day is adequate, but if you would like to do some hiking, you might need the full day. If you can, try to go early to catch the sunrise — one of the best times to visit the park as the sunlight gives the rock formations a beautiful golden glow.
Start at the Pinnacles Entrance and drive southeast on Rim Road towards the Ben Reifel Visitors Center, stopping along the several vista points. These include Sage Creek Basin Overlook, Hay Butte Overlook, Yellow Mounds Overlook, Conata Basin Overlook, Panorama Point, Bigfoot Pass Overlook, and Fossil Exhibit Trail. Some of these overlooks have easy trails or boardwalks.
If you plan to do some hikes to check out the impressive formations, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, Door Trail, and Castle Trail are some great option — the trailheads to these are located near the Ben Reifel Visitors Center. I don’t think any of these were that long or difficult, but they can be slippery.
Once you are ready to head out, drive to Rapid City where you can spend a couple hours before catching a flight back home. Grab lunch at the Gyro Hub — which had pretty good Mediterranean food. Other options with good reviews include Tally’s Silver Spoon and (kol) — both restaurants serve New American cuisine. After your meal, check out the Main Street Square and West Boulevard Historic District. If you’re in the mood for some local craft beer, stop by Hay Camp Brewing.
If you would like your getaway to be longer, consider spending an extra day in Black Hills National Forest where you can hike in one of over 350 miles of trails, have a scenic picnic, and check out the canyons and grasslands.
The best way to get around the region is by car. If you are flying into Rapid City, rent a car at the airport.
There is no entrance fee to visit the memorial; however, there is a $10 parking fee for cars, motorcycles, and RVs. Parking is $5 for Seniors 62+ years of age and free for active duty military. The fee can be paid by cash or most credit cards.
Because we planned our trip very last minute, we did not do that much research into accommodations and stayed in a hotel in Rapid City. Staying in town is a great option as it is pretty centrally located with regards to all the attractions in the itinerary. Upon reaching Mount Rushmore, we learned that there are some cool, outdoorsy options located closer to Mount Rushmore that we think are worth considering. These include the Rushmore Shadows Resort and Under Canvas Mount Rushmore.