I have mixed feelings regarding Rapid City, South Dakota. On the one hand, it’s the perfect central location for seeing the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, and Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately, it’s also something of a tourist trap. There’s lots to do but, if you’re a family on a budget, you’ll really want to research everything before planning your activities. That being said, Dinosaur Park in Rapid City is definitely worth checking out and, best of all, totally FREE to the public!
When driving between Rapid City and Keystone (where we were staying and also a tourist Mecca), you’ll pass many interesting attractions such as Reptile Gardens and even a dinosaur museum which we declined to visit on account of poor reviews coupled with steep admission prices. There are, however, plenty of FREE prehistoric photo ops peppered throughout South Dakota.
Dinosaur Park is located on a steep hilltop with a visitor center/gift shop below. It was evening when we pulled in and, after surveying the stairs that led to the dinosaurs, decided to work up our courage by visiting the store first.
Outside the building was a small sculpture of a Protoceratops and a Dimetrodon. This was a small taste of the larger ones up the hill as they are all green in color and abstract like these.
I have to say, this was one of the better dinosaur gift shops I’ve visited. It had a large selection of goods to appeal to all dinosaur fans young and old. They had toys, nice T-shirts, and a collection of rocks and fossils too.
We dropped our goods off at the car and made our way across the street. After a full day of sight-seeing none of us were enthusiastic over the stairs but they actually looked a lot worse than they were.
When we reached the dinosaurs we had to take our turn with other families taking photos but there was a beautiful view of Rapid City and beyond (the sign said you could see 100 miles out) to keep us occupied in the interim.
The five dinosaurs featured ranged from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. As these were crafted back in 1936, they depict the two-legged dinosaurs as standing upright in the “tripod” position, tail dragging behind them.
The beasts were created with concrete and part of a depression era WPA project to help draw tourists who’d come to this remote area in search of Mount Rushmore. Despite their age, you’re welcome to climb all over them and they seem to be holding up quite nicely. Our grandparents/great-grandparents sure knew how to build em’ back in the day!
We returned to car and my daughter, Jade, ran back into the store. Savvy as she is, she’d noticed our hotel had a Dinosaur Park brochure in its kiosk that included a coupon for a free bag of popcorn. She came back out and shared her snack with all of us as we sat outside enjoying the breeze and gazing at the dinosaurs up on the hill. Just like a beautiful summer day in 1936.