Mt. Rushmore is visited by approximately three million people annually. If you are one of the people who dream of seeing the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt carved into the mountain, then a Des Moines to Rapid City road trip is the perfect solution. You will discover many great things to do at the Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks at the end of your journey, along the way you can find fantastic activities at other state parks as well. You will also want to stop and explore many points of interest, like the World's Only Corn Palace and Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Badlands National Park
You will want to stop at Badlands National Park near Interior, South Dakota, on your trip. Start your visit with a drive on the Badlands Loop Road, and stop at the overlooks to see amazing views of this location. The landscape varies from extremely rocky terrain to pale yellow mounds at this park. One of the most thrilling hiking path is the Notch Trail that starts with an easy stroll through a canyon before climbing up the side of a steep wall on a rope-and-log ladder before hiking along narrow trails to reach the White River. While you are hiking along this path and others, be sure to look down to see the prairie dogs running and chattering to each other. Time your visit so that you are at this park at sunrise and sunset as your chances of seeing bighorn sheep, mule deer, and pronghorns are much better.
Wind Cave National Park
Extend your road trip from Des Moines to Rapid City, about 40 miles south of its ending point, to visit Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs, South Dakota. This cave is one of the longest and most complex in the world. Explore it on a ranger-led tour, and learn how the cave takes its name from the unique sound the wind makes near its natural entrance. During the tour, pay attention to the intersecting thin blades of calcite as you find it in very few caves in the world. This national park is a great place to watch prairie dogs, and you will see elk and bison. Take a scenic drive along National Park Service Roads 5 and 6 in this park to see the animals and the stunningly beautiful landscape. There are 11 hiking trails at this park, including ones leading into undeveloped backcountry locations.
Lake Manawa State Park
Stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on your road trip from Des Moines to Rapid City to explore Lake Manawa State Park. The paved path around the lake is a great place for a bike ride or a stroll. Mountain bikers will love playing on the eight miles of trails near the boat ramps. Rent tubes, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards to play on the lake, where you can also go swimming. Anglers will find that the lake holds outstanding walleye and bass quantities, and you can buy bait and other basic supplies without leaving the park.
Stone State Park
Stone State Park near Sioux City, Iowa, is a fascinating place to explore the steep hills in the Loess Hills part of Iowa. Observe as you hike or bike along this park's trails, and you may see wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and red foxes. Especially if you have children along, stop at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, where the staff can handle furs, antlers, and other wildlife objects. The center contains a walk-under prairie, allowing you to see the ground's underside and a 400-gallon fish aquarium.
Split Rock Creek State Park
While it might seem a bit unusual to include a Minnesota state park on your road trip itinerary from Des Moines to Rapid City, you will not want to miss doing the 41-mile drive north from Sioux Falls to visit Split Rock Creek State Park near Jasper. You can go fishing, swimming, and boating in the lake. Stop at the Beach Side Trail Center to see the views of the Coteau des Prairies region. This park is a great place to go birdwatching, especially in its southern wooded parts.
Good Earth State Park
Learn more about the Native Americans who inhabited South Dakota before the first settlers arrived by visiting Good Earth State Park near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The visitors center contains many large hand-painted murals to show you what life was like here between 1500 and 1700. Enter the Indian lodge to see how the Indians arranged their homes. You’ll find that there are 6 scenic miles of hiking trails available to explore.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park covers more than 71,000 acres in South Dakota’s Black Hills region. Nearly 1,500 bison live at this location near Custer, South Dakota. Try to time your visit so that you can drive along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway as the sun rises or sets. In addition to bison, you are likely to see antelope, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer, elk, coyotes, prairie dogs, and wild burros. Many vendors offer guided tours and wildlife activities. There are two hiking trails for those who would like to get a closer look. This park's lakes are a great place to catch fish or to go for a swim.
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium contains the largest cat complex and the largest indoor swamp in North America. It also contains the world's largest indoor desert and one of the world's largest nocturnal display areas. The desert display area is inside the world's largest glazed geodesic dome.
Stockyards Ag Experience
Located in Falls Park in Sioux Falls, Stockyards Ag Experience is in a barn that workers initially constructed in the late 1800s. The museum explores the 92-year history of the Sioux Falls Stockyards and explains how food goes from the field to your dinner plate.
The World’s Only Corn Palace
You will not want to miss seeing the corn murals on the outside of The World's Only Corn Palace at Mitchell, South Dakota. Each year, the murals covering the outside of this Moorish Revival building have a different theme. Local farmers grow over 12 varieties of corn so that students from Dakota Wesleyan University can design and build the murals annually. Check the schedule because special entertainment often appears at this venue.
Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame
See over 100 unique and vintage motorcycles dating back to 1905 at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. Learn about the individuals who have dedicated their lives to the motorcycling lifestyle.
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
Attend the rangers talks at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial to learn how workers constructed this monument and more about the presidents portrayed on it. Stroll through the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village at this national memorial near Keystone, South Dakota, to learn more about the Native Americans who live in this area.
While you are in Omaha, take in a performance at the Omaha Community Playhouse, the Holland Performing Arts Center, or hear the Omaha Symphony Orchestra perform. This city that sits along the Missouri River has many wonderful campgrounds, including Haworth Park, Walnut Creek Lake & Recreation Area, and Louisville State Recreation Area that take advantage of this area's scenic beauty. You can find RV dump stations in Omaha at Bob Hardy RV Park, Walnut Creek Lake Recreation Area, and KOA West Omaha/NE Lincoln.
Sioux City, Iowa
Regardless of the season, you can find great places to play in Sioux City. There are many summer festivals to explore. Many wonderful Sioux City campgrounds, including Little Sioux County Park, Brown's Lake-Bigelow Park, and Snyder Bend Park, make it easy to spend time here. RV dump stations in Sioux City are also easy to find. Check out the options at Koser Spring Lake Park, Hawarden City Park, and Le Mars Willow Creek Campground.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Sioux Falls KOA Journey, Tower Campground, and Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park of Sioux Falls are great campgrounds in Sioux Falls with lots of amenities and activities. You can find many unique places to explore around the city, like exploring the Butterfly House and Aquarium, the Great Plains Zoo, and the Pettigrew Home and Museum. Before you leave, use RV dump stations in Sioux Falls at the Salem Rest Area, Get-n-Go, or Camping World of Sioux Falls.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from Des Moines to Rapid City, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in Des Moines or Rapid City.