(BPT) - There are some places that exemplify the classic summer vacation. One such place: Rapid City, South Dakota.
The gateway to the Black Hills, Rapid City is minutes from some of the nation's most famous places, including Crazy Horse Memorial®, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Custer State Park. But there's way more to Rapid City than just national icons. This summer, plan to dig into the unexpected on your visit to the City of Presidents.
From catching sunsets to chasing history, here are nine of the best things to do in Rapid City.
1. Stroll downtown. The heartbeat of Rapid City, downtown has 30+ shops, 43 statues of past presidents and more than 150 events, making it the place to be. Cool off in the splash pad at Main Street Square, peruse locally owned shops like Dakota Drum Company, Prairie Edge Trading Company, The Celtic Connection of the Black Hills and Mystic Market, all while soaking in the culture and history of the area.
2. Catch the sunset at Vertex Sky Bar. While there is no shortage of places to see the sunset in and around Rapid City, Vertex Sky Bar is one of the best. Elevate your viewing location by grabbing a drink and cozying up around the outdoor firepit to watch the colors cascade over the Black Hills.
3. Visit Norway, but in South Dakota. Built in 1969 and tucked away in a quiet corner of Rapid City is Chapel in the Hills, an exact replica of the Borgund Stavkirke in Norway. Open daily from May 1-September 30, visitors can see the chapel, stroll the grounds and take a walk on the Meditation Trail.
4. Stop by the Museum of Geology. Perhaps the best-kept secret in Rapid City, the Museum of Geology is located on the campus of South Dakota Mines. A natural history museum, it has a wide assortment of rare fossils from the White River Badlands, minerals and gems. Plus, entry is always free.
5. Cruise the Needles. A national scenic byway, Needles Highway is located within Custer State Park. This 14-mile-long scenic road is a must drive and includes sharp turns, narrow tunnels, high-rising spires and incredible views.
6. Satisfy your inner foodie. A cultural mecca in the wilds of western South Dakota, Rapid City has amazing dining experiences. Dine on the creations of Food Network personality Justin Warner at Bokujo Ramen and BB's Natural, dig into the best biscuits and gravy around at The Mud Hole of the Black Hills, enjoy music and a show at the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Show and sip on elevated cocktails at Windsor Block Bar. Keep your eyes out for food trucks, too.
7. Hike it out at Dinosaur Park. A Rapid City staple since 1936, the dinosaurs of Dinosaur Park have been welcoming visitors to the city for nearly 90 years. The park is currently having some work done but is accessible by trail, making it a great hike with a sweeping view of Rapid below. Here's what you need to know about visiting Dinosaur Park: you can climb on the dinosaurs, it's free, you can see 100 miles from the top and it's an amazing place to take in the sunrise, sunset or just to see the city lights at night.
8. Spend time at Canyon Lake Park. With 29 acres, picnic areas, a fishing bridge and paddleboat rentals, Canyon Lake Park is a great destination to spend time walking, picnicking, boating and more. And since it's located within city limits, it's easy to get on the water.
9. See reptiles and bears in the Black Hills. Two must-visit destinations on a family vacation in Rapid City are Reptile Gardens and Bear Country USA. And with their adjacent location (they're four minutes apart), it's easy to experience both in one morning. Animals include snakes, giant tortoises, lizards, crocodilians, arctic fox, badgers, black bears, buffalo, elk and wolves.
Start planning your summer vacation at VisitRapidCity.com.