Getting out and having fun in the Black Hills doesn’t have to cost money. In fact, some of the best family- (and budget-) friendly places in the hills are free! We talked to local families and asked what their favorite free activities are around the region.
Central Black Hills
Outdoor Campus West – Rapid City An outreach of the South Dakota Game and Fish, Outdoor Campus West hosts free classes and activities to help families get comfortable exploring the great outdoors. Classes include everything from basic survival and hiking to archery, kayaking, and fishing.
Storybook Island – Rapid City Founded in 1959 by the Rapid City Rotary club, this park’s mission is to provide a free, safe, educational environment for those young in years or young at heart to experience the power of the imagination. Enjoy strolling through the many displays of nursery rhyme and cartoon characters and playing on playground equipment. There is a gift shop with toys and snacks for purchase, and a carousel, bounce house and small train in the park for a fee. During the winter holiday season they decorate the park with thousands of lights, with a $3 per person entry fee.
Chapel in the Hills – Rapid City This chapel is an exact replica of the Borgund stavkirke, or stave church, of Laerdal, Norway. Many of the original settlers of the Black Hills area were Norwegian Lutherans, and the construction of this chapel in the 1960s was in recognition and appreciation of their cultural impact in the hills.
Dinosaur Park – Rapid City This addition to Rapid City’s skyline was created in the 1930s as a fun tourist attraction for families who came to the hills. The hill is home to several dinosaurs and amazing views of the surrounding valley. The park is free, with a gift shop and ice cream stand available at the parking lot.
School of Mines Museum of Geology – Rapid City This museum sits on campus, but it’s free and open to the public. Learn all about the geology of the Black Hills, but also the incredible number of fascinating and rare fossils found throughout the region. If your kids love dinosaurs or rocks, this museum is a must-do!
The Fountains at Main Street Square– Rapid City The fountains only run in the summer (they turn into an ice rink in the winter, but there is an admission fee) but they’re the coolest place to be all summer long! They run Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and there’s a toy store, coffee shop, and ice cream parlor that front the large turf lawn next to the fountains. You’ll also catch live music, food trucks, and city-wide events here!
The Dahl Arts Center and Suzie Cappa Art Center – Rapid City Both of these art centers are free to the public. The Dahl Art Center house contemporary visual arts and hosts educational activities for kids of all ages. They have classes and studio space available for a fee as well. The Suzie Cappa Art Center is a member of the Black Hills Works family. Their gallery is free, and you can often see some of the artists practicing their craft in house. It’s a great chance to learn about the art, and your neighbors in the Black Hills.
South Dakota Air and Space Museum – Box Elder Next door to Ellsworth Air Force Base, this museum offers both an outdoor air garden and indoor hangar with over 30 vintage aircraft from World War II bombers to present-day airframes. There are also several missiles and galleries showcasing memorabilia and historical facts about aviation. The museum is also home to the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame, recognizing top South Dakota aviation pioneers.
Wall Drug’s Backyard – Wall What started as a simple offer of free ice water to weary travelers has turned into an incredible tourist stop full of wild west history and whimsy. The Backyard is a free playground where your family can stretch their legs and enjoy photo opportunities with a miniature Mount Rushmore, or ride a jackalope. There is also a water splash pad, arcade, and a paleontology store with fossil casts and replicas from the Jurassic period.
Northern Black Hills
D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery– Spearfish This fish hatchery has been a cornerstone of the Spearfish community for 125 years. Explore the grounds, visit the museum, and see one of the only train cars fitted to haul fish around the country. A family favorite is the underground fish viewing area where you can get face to face with the various types of fish that call the hatchery home.
Roughlock Falls State Recreation Area – Spearfish Spearfish Canyon is a must-see area of the Black Hills, with its amazing rock walls and beautiful waterfalls. Roughlock Falls in particular is a natural wonder where your family can hike, picnic, and enjoy the crisp air next to perfectly blue waters. The area does have paved walkways and boardwalks, which makes it accessible for everyone.
Southern Black Hills
Keystone “Old Town” Historical Walking Tour – Keystone Originally a mining town turned bucket list destination, Keystone is the home of Mount Rushmore and so much more! Their historical walking tour will take you around town and describe the history of this boom and bust town with engaging signs and photos.
Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway – Keystone As part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, these two stretches of road showcase the best parts of the Black Hills. Enjoy a slow, meandering drive around the hills through awe-inspiring granite spires, rock tunnels, and pigtail bridges supported only by timber frames. Needles Highway is closed in the winter, and Iron Mountain Road closes frequently due to snow and road conditions.
Architectural Walking Tour and “Eye Spy” Game – Hot Springs The original health destination of the Black Hills, Hot Springs is home to over 30 sandstone buildings. Their walking architectural tour will point out the original date and purpose of each building, while the eye spy game keeps younger viewers interested by looking for fun details.