With gas prices through the roof, having a vacation this summer may not be an option. Luckily for us in Rapid City and the Black Hills area we already live in a beautiful area that is a huge tourist spot. So many things to do right here in our own backyard!
How to Have a Cheap Black Hills Vacation
Even if you don’t live in the Black Hills but plan on traveling here in the summer, there are plenty of great options for cheap or free attractions. Hopefully, you can use this list to plan your next adventure.
Black Hills Area Coupons
There are many different sites and places that you can find coupons for area attractions:
- Black Hills/Badlands.com has lots of coupons for lodging, attractions, dining, chuckwagons, and more.
- VisitRapidCity.com has coupons for the Rushmore Mall, various Black Hills attractions and more.
- Find out if your employer offers a Rapid City Chamber Card. The cards have dozens and dozens of discounts for many Black Hills attractions, as much as 50% off some and even some for free tours!
- Buy a Black Hills Coupon booklet, for $15 you can get a coupon booklet with coupons for various Black Hills attractions worth over $375 or for $20 you can get a Black Hills Coupon Booklet with over $2200 in coupon savings. Both booklets feature shopping, entertainment, and attractions coupons.
- There is also lodging coupon booklets that you can pick up in various gas stations and travel centers in the Hills and in Rapid City.
Free or Cheap Places to Visit in the Black Hills
So those are ways to make the attractions around the Black Hills cheaper but what about free or inexpensive things to do?
Reptile Gardens is a neat little gem at the entrance to the Black Hills right off Highway 16 on your way to Mt Rushmore. It’s only a few miles outside of Rapid City so it’s easy to drive to. Reptile Gardens offers many fun exhibits like Prairie Dog Town, the Giant Tortoise, the Sky Dome and much more. If you are a local Black Hills resident, make sure you ask for a Resident Pass when you pay for your first ticket of the season. The Resident Pass will allow you to visit Reptile Gardens for the rest of the season for free after you pay for that first ticket!
The Outdoor Campus
The Outdoor Campus is a wonderful in the Black Hills, on the west side of Rapid City. They are open 7 days a week from dawn to dusk so you have plenty of time to explore what The Outdoor Campus has to offer. Outdoor Campus provides 32 acres of trails, habitats, and other areas to explore and learn, both indoor and outdoor. Make sure you check out the Community Program Flyer on their website to learn about the free programs and activities they offer so you can plan your visit around them. The best part is the Outdoor Campus is free and located right inside of Rapid City so it’s easily accessible.
Keystone Walking Tour
Just outside Rapid City to the south down Highway 16 you can find the tourist town of Keystone. Instead of heading into the main shops part of the town, turn left right when you get into town and head into Old Keystone. Simply follow the numbered signs around town and learn all about the historic buildings there and who lived in them. If you visit between June and August make sure to also stop in the Keystone Schoolhouse as part of your tour. It’s free to visit and features many historical photographs and memorabilia from the area along with a large collection of Carrie Ingalls items. The walking tour is free.
Located right in Rapid City up on the beautiful Skyline Drive overlooking the city, Dinosaur Park is another great free attraction. There are 7 large concrete dinosaur exhibits and the exhibits are open until 10pm. Kids are free to play and climb on the dinosaurs. It’s a great place to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the top of the hill.
Museum of Geology
The School of Mines Museum of Geology is another great free attraction located right in Rapid City. The museum features many full mounted skeletons of various dinosaurs, mammals, marine reptiles, and fish. There are many local displays with local minerals and gems along with local fossils found in the Badlands. The museum is free and open daily, including most holidays.
DC Booth Fish Hatchery
Our family’s personal favorite place to visit in the Black Hills for a free activity is the DC Booth Fish Hatchery. The fish hatchery features many areas where you can look at and feed the fish, plus several historical exhibits throughout the grounds. Every exhibit on the grounds is free to check out and the fish hatchery is located right next to the Spearfish Park, a great place for a picnic and a place for the little ones to run around on the huge playground. Ask for the scavenger hunt in the museum and complete it to get free fish food.
Storybook Island has been around for decades and remains to be one of the best places to take children in Rapid City. Storybook Island is a free park featuring life-size exhibits of your favorite storybook characters. Enter the park by walking into Cinderella’s Castle and then tour each of the dozens and dozens of sets. Storybook Island also features a theater and train rides that will only set you back a few dollars.
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
The Black Hills is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base and the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. The museum features dozens of full-size flight craft exhibits that you can tour and learn about. The museum is open daily and is free for all (no military id required, it’s located right outside of the base gate).
Rapid City Summer Nights
On Thursday nights throughout the summer you can check out Summer Nights on 7. There are free games for kids, free music and entertainment and more. This is located on 7th St downtown Rapid City.
Cheap Eats in the Black Hills
Need some cheap lunches while you are out and about? Here are some ideas…
- Pack lunches. There are so many parks in the Black Hills it’s fun just to bring your lunch along to your destination. Roads like the one that goes up Spearfish Canyon and around Mt Rushmore have many roadside tables next to the creek for a fun picnic.
- Go out for lunch, not supper. Most fancier restaurants offer much cheaper lunch specials so if you do decide you want to eat out, plan on eating out for lunch and be home for supper.
What are some of your favorite things to do in the Black Hills for free or cheap?
This article on how to Have a Cheap Black Hills Vacation was originally published on Little House Living in May 2011. It has been updated as of June 2019.