Travel Nurse Assignments: Live Like a Local – Rapid City, SD!
Welcome to Rapid City! Located in western South Dakota, Rapid City is the state’s second most-populous city and is known as the “gateway to the Black Hills.” The city is close to some of the most iconic parks and monuments in the country, including Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, and Jewel Cave National Monument. Furthermore, the area has unique wildlife native to the Great Plains such as bison and prairie dogs. The city itself is appealing for visitors as well, with a bustling downtown area packed with trendy restaurants, shops, bars, and breweries. Let’s explore some of the wonderful attractions Rapid City has to offer!
Just a half hour from Rapid City, Mount Rushmore is one of America’s most famous landmarks and South Dakota’s top tourist attraction. The immense sculpture was designed by Gutzon Borglum who employed 400 workers to carve the 60-foot-tall heads into the rock face. The sculpture was completed in 1941 and features the heads of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The monument is surrounded by the beautiful Black Hills, which provide a stunning natural backdrop and plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping. You can walk the President’s Trail which circumnavigates the monument and offers numerous viewpoints or hike the Blackberry Trail which ventures into the Black Hills wilderness. Both trails are short and good for all ages.
Badlands National Park
Another natural gem worth visiting is Badlands National Park, just an hour east of Rapid City. The park consists of 244,000 acres of geologic formations surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie. The multitude of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires was formed over hundreds of thousands of years through the geologic processes of deposition and erosion. In layman’s terms, the rocks were slowly stacked on top of each other like a layer cake and are eroding at an estimated rate of 1 inch per year.
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There are several viewpoints throughout the park you can drive to with boardwalks for easy access. There are also several hiking trails in the park and off-trail hiking is encouraged. Camping is also popular and there are established sites, as well as backcountry camping if you’re feeling adventurous. Some of the unique wildlife in the park include bighorn sheep, bison, and black-footed ferrets. In addition, the park is known as a hotbed for fossils and you can learn more about ancient life in the area at the Fossil Preparation Lab.
More Parks and Monuments
There are countless other parks and monuments to visit in the Rapid City area. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a rock sculpture similar to Mount Rushmore dedicated to the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse famously fought and defeated the U.S. Army led by General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn during the American Indian Wars. The monument has been under construction since 1948 and has yet to be completed. The head and face of Crazy Horse are the only part of the monument that has been completed, and it is 27 ft. taller than the heads of Mount Rushmore. Visitors can view the monument as well as tour the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center on the campus.
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Jewel Cave National Monument is the third longest cave in the world, with over 215 miles of mapped and surveyed passages. Visitors can take part in four different guided tours which range from a standard ranger-led tour to a wild caving tour for the more adventurous. If you take the Historic Lantern Tour, there is a good chance you will see some of the 1400 bats that call the cave home. There’s plenty to do above ground as well. The visitor’s center provides exhibits where you can learn more about the geology and history of the cave system, and there are a few hiking trails as well.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is a 71,000-acre wildlife preserve that is a major hub for outdoor recreation in the area. Hiking, camping, biking, swimming, and paddleboarding are all popular activities. The park is also known for its scenery and wildlife. There are about 1500 bison that call the park home and there is an annual Bison roundup that takes place in late September and early October. There are also lodges and restaurants, and interpretive centers to learn more about the history and nature of the park. It’s only 30 miles to the state park from Rapid City which makes it perfect for a day outing or a quick escape from the city.
Animal Attractions in Rapid City
Back in Rapid City, there are a few unique animal attractions worth visiting. Bear Country USA is an outdoor zoo with natural enclosures that offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with several North American mammals. It is home to the largest collection of privately-owned black bears in the world and also features animals like wolves, bobcats, and pronghorns. You can drive through the 200-acre park and also enjoy daily activities in the Wildlife Walkway area, with knowledgeable staff ready to give you more information about the animals.
Reptile Gardens is another fun attraction that has become one of the most popular tourist activities in Rapid City. The gardens feature a diverse collection of reptiles and over 40,000 flowering plants. Some of the reptiles that are featured in the gardens include snakes, crocodiles, and giant tortoises. One of the main highlights is the Sky Dome, a three-level conservatory that houses tropical plants and animals. The Safari Room in the Sky Dome houses an impressive collection of beautiful orchids, bromeliads, caladiums, and other tropical plants from around the globe.
Downtown Rapid City
Downtown Rapid City is a vibrant gathering place home to a wide array of attractions, bars, and restaurants. Main Street Square is the cultural hub of the downtown area and has a fountain that runs in the summer, as well as an ice rink in the winter. The square also serves as a concert venue and is the perfect spot to mingle with locals. Some restaurants that are worth checking out include Delmonico Grill which serves up American Traditional favorites and Que Pasa Cantina, a modern Mexican kitchen and tequila bar. For drinks, you have to visit Firehouse Brewing Company, located in the original Rapid City firehouse. You can also visit Press Start, an arcade bar that has classic video games in addition to delicious drinks.