Greetings, Internet Stranger! I’m glad you’ve come to join me for this 24 hours in Rapid City walking tour. When most people think of South Dakota, they think of visiting Mount Rushmore or driving through the Badlands. And you should definitely do both of those things when checking South Dakota off your bucket list.
But don’t forget to spend some time exploring Rapid City, the most popular base for visiting Mount Rushmore. This 24 hours in Rapid City walking tour will make sure you get all of the highlights in South Dakota’s coolest city!
(No offense to Rapid City or Pierre. I’m sure you’re both quite lovely as well. But if you only hit up one South Dakota city, let it be Rapid City. This 24 hours in Rapid City Walking Tour will show you why!)
24 Hours in Rapid City Walking Tour
Where to Stay?
If you’re anything like me, you can’t resist staying in a hotel with a touch of historic charm. That’s why I recommend the Hotel Alex Johnson, located right in the center of Rapid City. It’s an easy walk to basically any location in Rapid City you could want to visit! But more importantly for classic movie lovers, it’s where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint stayed when they were filming North by Northwest. They even mention the hotel in the movie! How’s that for glamour?
If you care for more modern touches, enjoy the secret rooftop bar, Vertex, on top of the hotel. You either need to be a hotel guest or a member to come here, so it’s Very Exclusive! You can indulge in fancy cocktails and get great views of Rapid City.
24 Hours in Rapid City Walking Tour
What to Pack?
The weather in South Dakota can be…unpredictable. I don’t recommend visiting Rapid City in the winter, so I’m not going to suggest you need a winter coat. But you will need an umbrella. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of South Dakota. I hear they’re strong enough to carve the faces of some presidents on the side of a mountain.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which can happen in Rapid City, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day, even on a Rapid City Walking Tour. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Rapid City Walking Tour
Morning: Journey Museum
The Journey Museum is the best tourist attraction that I found in Rapid City. It’s a history museum, science museum, and Native American culture museum all rolled into one! There’s no better place to start our Rapid City Walking tour than here. There’s more fun facts to be found in the Journey Museum than I can fit into one blog post. But I’ll be happy to get you started with…
Three Fun Facts: Journey Museum
1) What was Prehistoric South Dakota Like?
Apparently it was an insane place full of crazed dinosaurs and raging oceans. In fact, a mere 65-110 million years ago, all of South Dakota was underwater. Raging beasties roamed the seas, looking for things to chomp on. I’m glad the biggest menace you’re likely to find in Rapid City now is a North Dakota driver. (Hey-O!)
At the Journey Museum, you’ll have the opportunity to see a dinosaur many people have never heard of: the mighty mosasaur. Scientists believe the mosasaur was the most dangerous predator in the ancient oceans of South Dakota. The Lewis and Clark expedition might even have found some mosasaur fossils on their expedition. According to the Journey Museum, the mosasaur could open its jaw and swallow its prey whole. That’s going to haunt my nightmares for a while!
2) Who Were the Original Inhabitants of South Dakota?
More than one Native American group calls South Dakota home, but the exhibit at the Journey Museum focuses on the Lakota. The most impressive part of the exhibit is this replica of a tipi. The gallery notes at the museum explain how the tipi had religious significance to the Lakota because its structure reminds us of our connection with the spirit world. The architecture of the tipi is similar to the architecture of a cathedral in that way.
My favorite Lakota artifacts were the amulets that an older woman in a family would make to protect a newborn baby. The little one’s umbilical cord would be put inside an amulet, which might have been shaped like a lizard or a turtle. It’s amazing that these precious objects have been preserved after all these years.
Looking at the amulets, you can feel the connection with the baby it was linked to, even though that baby is long gone. So basically these amulets help you talk to ghosts. Who says museums are boring?
3) Who’s the Coolest Person at the Journey Museum?
I’m going to use the term loosely and start with Bennie the American bison. This bison used to live in Custer State Park, but he was put down once he reached an advanced age. Apparently this happens with bison a lot to avoid overpopulation. I think that’s mean! We don’t kill grandpa just because he gets a little old and cranky. But maybe this is why I’m not a bison scientist.
Another person I need to mention is the legendary Hooky Jack. I use the term legendary here to mean “Very Cool” because Hooky Jack is Extremely Real. He lost both his hands and one eye in a mining accident, but that did not stop Hooky Jack. He went on to become Rapid City’s night watchman.
I imagine he was extremely effective because even if I were a Night Criminal, if I came across a dude with two hook hands and one eye when I was out working mischief, I would run very far away.
24 Hour Treat
Before you go to the Journey Museum, stop at Black Hills Bagels for a tasty breakfast. I’m from New York City, and I was impressed with the quality of these bagels. They were much better than I was expecting to find in South Dakota, a state not famous for its Eastern European Jewish population.
Black Hills Bagels prides itself on its many flavored cream cheeses, so please sample one when you are there. I recommend the brown sugar and cinnamon if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat. Just don’t pair it with lox!
24 Hours in Rapid City Walking Tour
Afternoon: Explore Rapid City
Now that we’ve seen the entire Journey Museum, it’s time to really kick off this Rapid City Walking tour! You’d probably need two full days to see all the attractions Rapid City has to offer. But we’re going to jam as many fun activities as we can into one non-stop thrill ride of a day! Tip your cap to President Martin Van Buren up there and off we go!
Approximately Top 5: Rapid City Walking Tour
1) Lunch at Kathmandu Bistro
Before visiting South Dakota, I had no idea that the area was home to a sizeable Nepalese and Tibetan population. So take advantage of this by feasting on some delicious food at the Kathmandu Bistro, which is right in the heart of Rapid City.
They offer a buffet for lunch, which is a great deal, but I opted for the a la carte menu instead. I recommend the yellow lentil daal, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. You can choose the spice level. I selected medium spicy which is still quite spicy for an American palate.
Then I had the Kathmandu Bistro naan which had raisins and coconut inside. I had never eaten a sweet naan before, but it was delicious! There was no need to order dessert after this tasty naan.
2) Rapid City Trolley
The attractions in downtown Rapid City are all near each other. But if you want to see some of the surrounding nature, hop on the Rapid City Trolley. This vehicle only operates in the summer months, when tourists descend of Rapid City to visit Mount Rushmore. The tour only costs two dollars, and it will take you to 15 different stops around the area.
You’ll get to see the Stave Church, which is a replica of a traditional Norwegian church. the beautiful Canyon Lake Park where you can go fishing, and the First Nations Sculpture Garden. Your driver will even take you up a hill where there will be time to take some sweet photos of Rapid City.
The only danger on the trolley tour is that a dinosaur might attack. But don’t worry! The trolley is faster than a dinosaur.
3) Firehouse Wine Cellars
After the stress of the dinosaur attack, you’ll probably want a drink! So stop at the Firehouse Wine Cellars. Five dollars will get you six goodly samples of their wines, and they have many fine beverages from which you can choose. If you have strong wine preferences, tell the sommelier, but if you’re in the mood for adventure, and I always am, let the sommelier choose for you.
I enjoyed all the wines I tried, from their most popular red, called Book Club, and a sweet wine called Mythical Beast, which was decorated with a bunny with reindeer horns. Before visiting Rapid City, I wouldn’t have believed this creature could exist, but after the dinosaur attack, I now believe anything is possible.
I ended up buying a rich red called The American because all the ingredients came from South Dakota. I told the sommelier I was working on a plan to visit all 50 states, and she asked me if I was going to a winery in every state. That was not on my itinerary, but it’s a great idea! If you try it, let me know how it goes.
4) Dahl Arts Center
Now that we’ve got a proper wine buzz, let’s check out some contemporary art. The Dahl Arts Center is the best place in Rapid City to see local and contemporary artists. I was interested in these tree people from Becky Grismer’s show Putting Down Roots. The tree people are a nod to Grismer’s immigrant roots. I do always enjoy a good art-themed pun.
Or if you want something more typically South Dakotan, enjoy this giant bear.
And if that’s not cutting edge enough for you, try Art Alley, where you can see South Dakotans painting works of street art before your very eyes. You need a permit to paint here. I guess that’s to prevent someone graffiting over a beautiful mural that took days to paint. It’s funny that street art used to be so outlaw, and now you need a city permit to do it. The Man really does run everything!
5) City of Presidents
Speaking of The Man, no Rapid City walking tour is complete without exploring the statues of all the presidents located around the city. (Rapid City is called The City of Presidents because it’s so close to Mount Rushmore.) You can find every president here from Washington to Millard Fillmore. (Obama’s statue was brand new when I visited. It takes a while to get up a decent statue, and they don’t start until you’re out of office.)
You can also learn fun facts about each president when you explore the statues. (A map of all the statues is right here.) For example, I learned that President Taft was the first president to throw out the first pitch in a baseball game.
But my favorite statue is the one of President Harry Truman and the Dewey Defeats Truman newspaper. In case you don’t know the story, Truman was heavily favored to lose to Republican challenger Thomas Dewey. One paper even printed the headline Dewey Defeats Truman because they were so sure Truman would lose.
Of course there’s no President Dewey, which means Truman won. Truman couldn’t resist posing for a photo with the Dewey Defeats Truman paper. You know who I bet does not like that story? Thomas Dewey.
6) Hay Camp Brewing Co
I’m a little concerned that the wine tasting we had earlier wasn’t enough booze for you. That’s why I’m taking you to the Hay Camp Brewing Co. This craft brewery will let you sample a flight of three beers for one low price. Indeed, South Dakotans are a generous people when it comes to booze.
I got the specialty beers: a rich Breakfast stout that tasted like coffee, a flavorful Hazy IPA, and a fruit sour beer called the Dino-Sour. OK, what is it with South Dakota and dinosaurs? Is South Dakota secretly the Land Before Time or something? I really want to know.
24 Hours in Rapid City Walking Tour
Evening: Dinner at Tally’s Silver Spoon
Tally’s Silver Spoon is the only “fine diner” I have ever been to. For breakfast and lunch it’s a diner, but for dinner they serve gourmet cuisine. What an adorable and perfect for South Dakota concept! I got the Indecision Menu, which is their version of a tasting menu. You can choose from between two and five courses. I got five of course because you only live once.
The first course was plump shrimp with green apple and a strong taste of black pepper. Spicy and sweet is one of my favorite combinations, but I had never thought of pairing black pepper with apple like this. It was quite tasty.
The next course was a bacon salad with butter leaf lettuce. This felt like an upscale version of the blue cheese wedge that is so popular in the Midwest. Glammed up versions of down-home dishes is a trend I am always here for.
My favorite dish was the foie gras with morels and snap peas. First I had some tasty South Dakota bagels, and now I was feasting on foie gras in a Rapid City diner. Truly South Dakota was just breaking through all my preconceived notions about it.
For the fish course, there was beer battered cod, with a little tartar sauce, quinoa cake, and prosciutto. I would not have thought to put prosciutto with the fish, but the cured meat added just the right amount of saltiness. My only regret about this dish is that the fish wasn’t battered in dino-SOUR beer because this is Rapid City and everything needs to be about presidents and dinosaurs.
The final course was a pork tenderloin with beans and fried shallots. This was the only real meat dish of the evening, which surprised me because I think of Western food as being all about meat. I like how the dish was kept simple so the amazing quality of the pork could shine through.
My one question about this tasting menu was why there was no dessert. I wouldn’t have switched out any of the main dishes, but I’ve never seen a tasting menu without a dessert before. But maybe that’s just because South Dakota is in the Land Before Time and desserts haven’t been invented yet.
That’s a Perfect Rapid City Walking Tour!
What would you do on a Rapid City Walking Tour? Why are there so many dinosaurs in Rapid City? And if the dinosaurs elected a President what would that president be? (I vote for T-Rexevelt. Or perhaps Brontosaurus Obama.) Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to learn more about how I put my itineraries together, just click here! There are tons more fun things to do in Rapid City than you can fit on one 24 hours in Rapid City walking tour. If you have time, add on this Mount Rushmore Day trip. And if you want to see an itinerary for delightful North Dakota city Fargo, just click here or even here.