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7 Awesome Adventures in and Around Rapid City, South Dakota

By: CampCo + Save to a List

Presented by Visit Rapid City

Skyline Wilderness Area

Located inside the city limits and just minutes from downtown Rapid City, you’ll find the Skyline Wilderness Area. With 150 acres to explore, this area boasts many miles of trails to hike, bike, or run. The Skyline Wilderness Area rises 500 feet above the surrounding area, offering a quick escape from the city with views in every direction. If you’re short on time, there is also a scenic road that hugs the ridgeline of the mountain.

As we get out of the car at the Petrified Forest Trailhead, a light breeze washes over us and disappears into the trees below. The narrow mountain top offers a nearly 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Having this so close to the city makes for a quick getaway to get out and smell the fresh pines.

A short hike across the road and around the west side of the ridgeline offers beautiful views of the Black Hills in the distance. Crossing the road once again, we disappear into the trees with the sound of birds chirping all around. We sit on a rock and take it all in for a few minutes. A few houses across the valley remind us that we're not that far from civilization. Even so, it’s surprisingly quiet up here. Below us, trails snake down the valley and into an open meadow. I can only imagine how much fun this area would be on a mountain bike. A fun fact about the Ponderosa Pines here - if you lightly scratch the bark, some smell like vanilla, and others like butterscotch!

Exploring Badlands National Park

Most of the drive to Badlands National Park from Rapid City goes through grasslands, including Buffalo Gap National Grasslands. Small glimpses of the badland formations appear in the distance.

As we enter Badlands National Park, we’re greeted by a field full of prairie dogs. We stop and get a closer look. Very much a communal animal, we hear the back and forth calls of the animals warning each other of our approach. It appears that the younger prairie dogs have yet to learn the ways of their elders as they bounce and chase each other in the fields without a care in the world.

Driving just a little farther into the park, we start to see that the Badlands boast an incredible landscape in stark contrast to the surrounding grassland. Some would even call this landscape other-worldly. If you look in the right direction, it’s easy to believe that you are standing on the surface of Mars. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife while you're driving within the park, including deer, pronghorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs.

With only a few hours of daylight left, we plan to hike the Notch trail. At the trailhead, we find a long boardwalk with a few short viewpoints. Always up for seeing something that wasn’t part of our plan, we hike out to see the views. The boardwalk takes us safely over the sensitive grassland that borders the rock formations. Young and old rabbits rustle in the grass below us. The boardwalk leads to a small overlook to view the jagged formations. Behind us, there's a flat area where we decide to take a few “Mars selfies.”

Having successfully gone to another planet and back in a few minutes, we get in gear and head over to the Notch Trail. The trail itself starts off quite nice, meandering through spires, grass, and, something completely unexpected, a prickly pear cactus hiding in the grass.

After a quarter-mile or so, we come to a steel wire and log-runged ladder that lies across the ground, then bends up a rock slope. Certainly not for the faint of heart, this log ladder quickly gets steeper before topping out to some great views of the park to the west.

Long shadows created by the sun edging closer to the horizon show the incredible textures in the landscape. The views from the top were so mesmerizing, we ran out of daylight and had to turn back to the car. We certainly didn’t want to navigate that log ladder with only the light of our phones.

Even though we didn’t finish the hike, it was still a success in our book. One thing about really enjoying the journey and not necessarily the destination is that sometimes we don’t always “finish” the trail. Judging by the other hikers’ description of the trail, we absolutely want to come back and finish it next time we’re in the area.

Hiking the Volksmarch at Crazy Horse Memorial®

We planned to be in Rapid City on the weekend that the bi-annual Volksmarch at Crazy Horse Memorial® takes place. The drive from Rapid City takes just under an hour, but with the incredible mountain scenery, it feels more like 20 minutes. Green pines pepper the area with the occasional opening of a meadow. We’ve been told that if we keep a keen eye, there’s a good chance we will see some wildlife.

As we pull into The Crazy Horse Memorial®, we’re greeted by a greyish granite outcropping in the distance. At first, there appears to be an arch in the outcropping. As we draw nearer, it’s revealed to be a tunnel underneath a carved face, the face of a famous Oglala Lakota warrior by the name of Crazy Horse. The carving was started in 1947 by a Polish American named Korczak Ziolkowski to memorialize the warrior. Crazy Horse bravely stood up to the U.S. Federal government during many battles, two of his most famous battles being the Fetterman Fight in 1866 and the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Ziolkowski worked tirelessly on the memorial for nearly 36 years, never taking a paycheck. Work on the monument continues to this day.

The Crazy Horse Memorial® statue is not that far in front of us at the starting line of the Volksmarch. The trail itself winds through the forest, and the cool, fresh morning air makes the hike quite pleasant. The Volksmarch is the largest organized group hike in the country, so we’re anything but alone. Before we know it, we reach the top of the mountain and we’re standing under the face of Crazy Horse. I don’t know if it’s good luck or not, but we walk over and put our hands on his massive chin. The face itself towers more than 60 feet above us. Taking a step back, we stop to admire the amount of work that must have gone into creating this piece of art. With the ambitious plan for the finished result, one can only imagine how much more work is still ahead of the team that’s hard at work here.

Kayaking and Canoeing at Sylvan Lake

Just within the boundary of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is a wonderful place for a relaxing afternoon. With tired legs from the Volksmarch, sitting next to a peaceful lake sounds perfect. Upon arrival at Sylvan Lake, we find an easy path that hugs the shoreline. Many docks large enough for a few camp chairs dot the shore for easy chilling by the lake. Aspen, evergreen, and ponderosa pines opposite the shoreline offer some nice shade for a warm afternoon.

Nearing the end of the path, we encounter several small nooks and crannies in the granite spires. It looks as if the trail ends at a cliff, then we see a few stepping stones in the water that allow us to cross over to the top of the dam. We were delighted to find that the small dam creates a quaint waterfall flowing down into a beautiful, yet small, valley below. Trails in the valley lead downstream to explore more of the area.

Heading back to the parking lot, we notice canoe rentals and decide to give them a try. Exploring the same area from different viewpoints is always fascinating. I’m always amazed at how just a small shift in perspective can give you a whole new view on things. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a canoe.

The glassy surface of the lake is perfect for canoeing. We paddle over to the other side of the lake where large granite outcroppings rise out of the lake. In some spots, we can paddle all the way around some of the outcroppings. Paddling around these unique features is not something you can do at just any lake. Before we know it, our hour is up and it’s time to return the canoe to the dock.

Fly Fishing in Rapid Creek

Rapid Creek offers easy access to fly fishing right in the heart of Rapid City. Fly fishing is something I’ve thought about doing for a while now, but I don’t have any gear or know-how. Luckily, Dakota Angler & Outfitters has all the gear to outfit novices and old fishing pros alike. It was suggested that we head about 15 minutes up the road to find a secluded spot on the creek to fish, so we do.

Nestled in the woods, we get out of the car and hear the light rumble of the creek below. It feels like we have the whole place to ourselves. As we head down a faint trail and approach the water, the light roar grows louder, muting the outside world. I can already see why this is such a relaxing activity. Rapid Creek is known mostly for its brown trout, although there are some rainbow trout here as well. Beginners' luck was not on our side today; the trout were as elusive as the mountain lion. Even so, I can’t wait to try again!

Hiking the Spring Creek Loop Trail

One amazing thing about Rapid City is that you’re never far from adventure. Just 30 minutes from Rapid City, the Spring Creek Loop Trail offers beautiful scenery, a quaint stream, and a fairly easy trail to see it all!

Just a few minutes into the hike, we see some 30-foot rock walls that offer a fun place to explore. Heading up the trail a little further, we come upon a skinny wooden bridge barely wide enough for both of your feet! Be sure to have good balance before proceeding, or walk through the creek and get your feet wet. Having successfully crossed the bridge, with the obligatory mid-bridge dance, we soon come upon a short side trail that leads to a secluded bend in the river. The perfect spot to pause and take in some of the freshest mountain air we’ve had yet.

After hiking a few more minutes down the main trail, we spot a swimming hole. This would be an incredible find on a hot summer day, but today is a perfect 70-something degrees, so we decide to stop and take a break instead. Under a rock, I spot the corner of a piece of paper. I bend down to pick it up, only to find that it’s a note saying, “Pete, I love you!” I can’t help but wonder if it’s part of a scavenger hunt, or perhaps a note to randomly be found.

A short while later, we top out at Sheridan Lake where beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains greet us. So much beauty in one place! Before we know it, the sun is getting low in the sky. Not knowing how long the rest of the loop will take us, we decide to head back the way we came.

Celebrating America at Mt. Rushmore

An iconic American landmark in the heart of the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial stands just above the quaint town of Keystone. We arrived minutes before sunset and enjoyed the beautiful cotton candy clouds behind the carvings in the mountain.

As the mountain faded into the night sky, the evening's lighting ceremony began. A combination of live presentation from a park ranger and video gives a rich history of the mountain, the carving, and America itself. Before long, the ceremony is over and floodlights illuminate the faces once again. Be sure to stop at the Avenue of Flags on your way out for a truly unique view of this memorial.

Cover photo: CampCo

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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