Ready to explore the Midwest? Perfect for history lovers of all ages, here’s how to spend seven days in South Dakota.
Day 1 – Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP)
South Dakota often flies under the radar in terms of tourism in the United States. While researching the state, I determined that it was best to fly in and out of Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), since most of the state’s popular attractions are nearby. A nonstop flight from Charlotte to Rapid City is just over 3.5 hours, leaving you with plenty of time to pick up your rental car, check in to your hotel room, and grab some groceries before eating dinner and resting up for the week ahead.
Day 2 – Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Start your morning off with a latte or London Fog from Harriet & Oak, an eclectic coffee shop on Main Street in Rapid City offering its own version of scratch-made Pop-Tarts (the Nutella flavor is a local favorite). Once you’re fueled up and ready to go, head 30 minutes southwest to Mount Rushmore National Memorial to see the iconic sculpture of four former presidents carved into the side of a mountain. If you’re feeling extra patriotic, stop by the National Presidential Wax Museum on your way back to Rapid City for a lighthearted history lesson.
Day 3 – Badlands National Park
An hour east of Rapid City sits the stunning Badlands National Park, which is home to 244,000 acres of geologic formations, prairie grass, and wildlife. While there are a few hiking trails in the park, families can easily see the park from the comfort of their vehicle on the scenic Badlands Loop. If your rental car is AWD and you don’t mind a dusty dirt road, consider driving along Sheep Mountain Table Road if you have another hour or two to spare.
Day 4 – Custer State Park
If driving through Badlands left you itching to hike, head half an hour south to Custer State Park to quench your hiking thirst. Be prepared to pay an entrance fee before hitting the trail. For a moderate day hike, Black Elk Peak Loop is seven miles round trip with an elevation gain of nearly 1,500 feet. Those looking for shorter and less strenuous hikes are likely to have better luck taking on the Cathedral Spires Trail (1.6 miles round trip) or the Little Devils Tower Spur Trail (3.5 miles round trip).
Day 5 – Wind Cave National Park & Crazy Horse Memorial
Wind Cave National Park is small in size, but houses one of longest caves in the world. Just under an hour south of Rapid City, visitors can take a guided tour of the cave and see countless wildlife. Visit Bison Flats for a chance to see bison and pronghorn antelope, along with elk at Boland Ridge.
History buffs should head to Black Hills to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial before returning to Rapid City for the afternoon. Take a look around the Indian Museum of North America and view the unfinished mountain carving of Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, first sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948. Entrance fees to the memorial benefit the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and preserving the culture and heritage of North American Indians.
Day 6 – Downtown Rapid City
After nearly a week of presidents and prairie dogs, take a break from sightseeing to sit back and relax at one of Rapid City’s many watering holes. Black Hills Contraband Distillery is famous for its family-owned flavored liqueurs. Feeling nostalgic? Mix up an adult-friendly root beer float with Contraband Root Beer Liqueur.
Next-door to the distillery sits Hay Camp Brewing Company, known as Rapid City’s first production brewery. Spend your final night in South Dakota sipping on the brewery’s Czech, Please Pilsner or the Dino-Sour sour ale before your head hits the pillow.
Day 7 – Heading Home
Sadly, it’s time to pack your bags and check out of your little hotel on the prairie. RAP is a smaller airport with very few dining options. If you have time to spare in the morning before your flight, consider stopping for a quick breakfast or coffee before catching your three-hour flight back to Charlotte.