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FREE fun for kids in Rapid City, South Dakota

Family vacations can add up quickly, and including some free fun in the mix is a great way to keep your budget in tact while still having a great time! We went to Rapid City in summer of 2019, and found tons of totally free fun for kids, plus some ways to keep our costs down with some of the non-free fun. here are my top FREE attractions for kids in Rapid City, South Dakota.

in background, a small boy peers into a book held by a statue of the Cat in the Hat. in foreground, the words "FREE fun for kids in Rapid City, South Dakota" and "SiouxlandFamilies.com Facebook.com/SiouxlandFamilies"

 

PS: Check out my post on visiting Badlands National Park with kids for suggestions of fun stops along the way if you are coming from Sioux City, Sioux Falls, or other points east!


Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills

the four heads carved into Mount Rushmore are centered above a gray brick wall and some dark green pine branches, with a bright blue sky in the background
photo of Mt. Rushmore, taken by my 10 year old!


Rapid City's most famous monument is actually in Keystone, South Dakota, about a half hour from downtown Rapid City! You could easily spend your entire Rapid City vacation in the Black Hills, where you find Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills! 

Mount Rushmore is very kid friendly, and the main plaza is stroller friendly. However to get a closer look, be sure to bring a baby carrier, as the path close to the monument has tons of stairs! If you have kids old enough to write, be sure to ask for a junior ranger activity booklet--they had them available for both preschoolers and older kids, and they came with a free pencil, which was very exciting for my kids!

Kids will also love the gift shop, and the Mount Rushmore ice cream, made with a historic recipe!

Mount Rushmore itself is free to visit but the parking is not free--expect to pay around $10 for parking (but check current rates) if you park close to the monument. If you're willing to walk or hike a bit, there is free parking a little bit farther from the monument! You should also plan on souvenirs at Mount Rushmore costing a bit more than is usual for the Midwest. I wouldn't say they are exorbitant, but they definitely aren't bargains either. 


The Black Hills themselves are largely free to drive and hike in. Iron Mountain Road provides a beautiful view of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, and is free to visit. 

a woman with dark hair and a baseball cap wears a toddler in a pink hat in a gray carrier atop Iron Mountain in South Dakota
stopped for a hike and picnic along the Iron Mountain Road!



Storybook Island

a toddler with a purple skirt and short curly red hair walks into a wooden cabin with Snow White's face on it and statues of dwarves outside it
Snow White's Cottage at Storybook Island!


My top recommendation for where to go in Rapid City if you have any kids under the age of 6 is Storybook Island

Storybook Island is a park with dozens of small play areas themed around characters from classic children's stories, including Mother Goose, Disney, classic folk tales, and many others. Many were little houses like Snow White's cottage, all with adorable details. 

Storybook Island is free to visit, but also has a carousel and gift shop, and neither the carousel rides nor souvenirs are free but both are quite fun. There is a large parking lot at Storybook Island with free parking.

a boy crouches in a brick fireplace next to a mural depicting one of the three little pigs
Looks like a big bad wolf in the pig's cottage!



All of our kids had fun at Storybook Island, but our son who was 5 when we went had basically the best time of his life. Our planned 2020 trip back to Rapid City ended up being cancelled, but this was the main place I had wanted to go back to for him! Some of the attractions could only be fully enjoyed by climbing, but the paths were wheelchair accessible and there definitely were many play areas that a child in a wheelchair or using another type of mobility aide could access and enjoy.

 

Air Museum

A boy wearing a brown hat sits in an airplane at the South Dakota Air Museum
Future jet pilot??


The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is an impressive collection of aircraft at the air base (it's outside the secure area though, so visiting it was no more complicated than visiting any museum.) There are lots of impressive artifacts inside the museum but even more fun is the collection of  full size aircraft outside the museum! The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is free to visit and has ample free parking. This is one of my top picks for any kid who loves airplanes, and especially for tween or teen boys who will be less interested in Storybook Island than their younger siblings.

airplanes outside the South Dakota Air and Space Museum



Dinosaur Park

the silhouette of a huge concrete brachiosaurus sits against a darkening sky in Rapid City, South Dakota
Dinosaur Park at dusk


This classic Rapid City attraction was built by the CCC during the Great Depression and sits on the top of a hill. More art walk than playground, the park features huge concrete dinosaurs along a winding path. Unfortunately there are many stairs, so it cannot be easily accessed by wheelchair or stroller. I definitely recommend bringing a baby carrier if you plan to go with kids who can't walk up a steep staircase independently! Atop the hill, the colorful concrete dinosaurs tower over Rapid City, with a beautiful view of Rapid City and the Black Hills adults will love as much as the kids love the dinos!

Dinosaur Park is free to visit and has free parking in a lot just across the street from the bottom of the park stairs.

Presidential Statues

full size metal statue of John Adams in Rapid City
Photo courtesy of Marcia Frost, WineandSpiritsTravel.com


One of the most unique features of downtown Rapid City is a series of life size statues of each of the presidents of the United States, from founding fathers to modern presidents, with the most recent addition at time of posting being Barack Obama. Be sure to download the guide from the city to find all the presidents, and pose for a selfie with your favorite presidents! 


photo courtesy of Marcia Frost, WineandSpiritsTravel.com



Outdoor Campus West

One of South Dakota's premier outdoor education centers, Rapid City's Outdoor Campus includes a nature center with tons of informative displays, a 4600 gallon aquarium, an archery park, and 1.5 miles of hiking trails outdoors. Outdoor Campus is known for its excellent outdoor adventure programming, covering topics like archery, boating, fishing, trapping, and survival skills, so watch the Outdoor Campus West FB page for info on classes that may be happening when you'll be in town! 


Geology Museum at the South Dakota School of Mines

a triceratops skull and other fossils in a display case at the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines


The Geology Museum at the South Dakota School of Mines is an underrated gem of the Black Hills. The extensive fossil collection is hard to match and easy to enjoy, and there were a good combination of large and small fossils, well labeled. South Dakota is one of the best places in the country to dig up fossils, and there are still active digs in the area to this day, so it makes sense that they would have such a cool collection. When we went, there was also a really fun selection of items kids could touch! And the museum is easy to access with a stroller or wheelchair. Because the geology museum is all inside, it's an especially good pick for a rainy day or during the high-sunburn-risk middle of the day. 

a boy in a stroller grins in front of a case displaying fossils at the Geology Museum at the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota
He was thrilled to see the dino fossils!



Admission is free, and so is parking in front of the building. There is a gift shop, and it had the best inexpensive souvenirs we found anywhere in Rapid City--tiny stone dinos were under $1 at the time we went, and other fun dinosaur souvenirs for good prices. Plus the money funds the museum, the college, and finding more dinos!

Memorial Park


This city park has several playgrounds and is a convenient central location, making it a great choice for visitors to Rapid City. Adults and older kids will also enjoy the statues and monuments, including a Berlin Wall exhibit. 

Canyon Lake

water falls over the dam at Canyon Lake in Rapid City
photo courtesy of C.H.

a small boy in a blue hat fishes in Canyon Lake on a sunny day in Rapid City, South Dakota
photo courtesy of C.H.


Another city park, the star of Canyon Lake is the walking trail, which provides a relaxing walk around a small lake that's a favorite of local waterfowl! There's also a playground, butterfly garden and lots of other scenic beauty!

The Stratobowl

scenic view of the Black Hills and many pine trees in Rapid City
photo courtesy of C.H.

a small boy gazes at the Black Hills behind a wooden post fence
photo courtesy of C.H.


Head for a hike in the mountains at the Stratobowl, a natural depression in the Black Hills with a 1.7 mile hiking trail that is one of Rapid City's best kept secrets! The trailhead is near 13600 S Highway 16, Rapid City, SD 57702 and there is free parking in a lot at the trailhead. The stratobowl has a fascinating history, used for aviation research by the Army in the 1930s and the Navy in the 1950s and a commemorative marker with info on the history of the area marks the turnaround point for this trail.


Rapid City is such a beautiful part of our country and I hope you get a chance to visit it someday. And I hope these sites help you fill your days with fun without going over your family travel budget!


at top, "SiouxlandFamilies.com". in center, a photo of a boy who is holding a large shell up to his ear while looking at a display of rocks and fossils. at bottom, the words "FREE fun for kids in Rapid City, South Dakota"


I want to send BIG thank-you to Marcia Frost from Wine And Spirits Travel and to C.H., who generously let me use some of their photos in this post! You ladies are awesome!

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