Rapid City, the second largest city in South Dakota, is located on Rapid Creek near the Black Hills. The “Gateway to the Black Hills” is known for its attractions and religious sites of interest to faith-based travelers.
Michelle Thomson, tourism director of the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Rapid City “works to entice faith-based group leaders to visit Rapid City and the Black Hills region” by attending religious travel conferences.
Religious Attractions and Churches in Rapid City
The Chapel in the Hills is a replica of the Borgund Stavkirke stave church in Laerdal, Norway. Dr. Harry R. Gregerson, who had a Lutheran radio ministry, chose to replicate the Borgund Stavkirke because many of the first settlers in the area were Norwegian Lutherans. The chapel is made of intricately carved wood and was dedicated in 1969. The grounds feature a prayer walk with benches and statues and a stabbur, or authentic grass-roofed storehouse, imported from Norway. The stabbur houses the visitor center and gift shop while the Norwegian log cabin displays 19th century Scandinavian artifacts. Thomson mentioned that everyone is invited to attend worship services held in the chapel every evening during the summer months.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church is the only downtown church still holding services in its original building. The congregation was established in 1887 under George G. Ware. The church was finished in 1888 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended a Sunday service there in 1936.
The cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rapid City is the 1963 Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Other Catholic parishes in Rapid City include Blessed Sacrament Church, St. Isaac Jogues and St. Therese.
Rapid City’s Tourist Attractions
Animal lovers will want to visit Bear Country U.S.A., a drive-through wildlife park. See bears, buffalo, elk, goats, sheep, wolves and other North American animals. The park has one of the largest collections of privately owned black bears. Make sure to see the baby bears and other young wildlife at Babyland.
Tour the Black Hills Caverns to see colorful crystal and rock formations. The “Crystal Tour” is a half-hour tour on the main level of the caverns and the “Adventure Tour” is a ¾-mile hike that goes over 200 feet underground. Tour the Sitting Bull Crystal Caverns to see large dogtooth spar crystals and other natural formations and fossils.
Visit the Circle B Ranch for an Old West experience. Eat supper in the chuck wagon barn and watch the cowboy music and variety show. Trail rides are available. The Flying T Chuckwagon Supper and Show and Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper and Cowboy Show provide similar experiences.
See the Cyclorama, an American history mural, at the Dahl Arts Center. The mural includes special lighting and narration. There are also three art galleries.
The South Dakota Air and Space Museum is located outside Ellsworth Air Force Base. Learn about South Dakota’s aviation history or take a bus tour of the base.
The Journey Museum recounts the history of the Black Hills region through exhibits on geology, history and paleontology. Exhibits include artifacts, fossils and rocks of the region. Visitors can learn about Native American heritage and other Black Hills cultures.
Fossils, minerals, ores and rocks are on display at the Museum of Geology. Make sure to see the skeletons of pre-historic fish, mammals and reptiles. Other highlights are fluorescent minerals, gold samples and meteorites.
The Reptile Gardens houses the world’s largest collection of reptiles. Walk through the Sky Dome to see birds, bugs, lizards, snakes and tropical plants. Don’t miss the giant tortoises, 8-foot long Komodo dragon, prairie dog town and 15-foot saltwater crocodile. Bird, gator and snake shows are highlights. Over 50,000 flowers beautify the grounds.
Storybook Island is a themed children’s park. The grounds have depictions of fairy tales and nursery rhymes (Snow White, the Dalmatians, etc.). The park also includes a children’s theater and a train.
Be sure to visit the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located 25 miles southwest of Rapid City. The faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are carved into a granite mountainside. The visitor center displays artifacts and historical exhibits. Guided tours of the Sculptor’s Studio and an audio tour are available.
The Crazy Horse Memorial in nearby Crazy Horse, South Dakota is the world’s largest sculpture-in-progress. Construction began in 1948 and continues today. Crazy Horse was a warrior and leader of the Sioux Oglala Lakota Tribe.
Badlands National Park is located 50 miles east of Rapids City. Come see the rough moon-like landscape of buttes, crevasses, rocks and spires. Visitors can view park scenery and wildlife by foot, car and horseback.
Rapid City Events and Festivals
Summer Nights is held every Thursday night from June 1 through Sept. 1. The event includes family entertainment, food and music.
The Black Hills Pow Wow, held every October, is an event celebrating American Indian heritage. The main event is a native dance competition.
The attractions and religious sites in Rapid City and the Black Hills draw faith-based travelers. Religious group travelers have a wide choice of places to visit.