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Sure, most folks mosey over to western South Dakota to visit the Badlands and the Black Hills and dudes carved in mountains. There’s a great deal of territory to canvas, and the best way to efficiently cover it is by using Rapid City as a hub for these bespoke attractions. That said, don’t be in a hurry to rapidly rush out of Rapid City, as it has a number of enticements in its own right.

RELATED: 8 reasons your next trip should be South Dakota

Digging Dinosaurs and Diners

Oh, give me a home where the dinosaurs roamed…. well, that home is South Dakota. 1) Head to the Museum of Geology downtown for a look at fossils galore, many dating back to the dinosaur era. 2) Fans of prehistoric kitsch will love Dinosaur Park, where seven life-size replicas of T-Rex and his cousins inhabit a hillside overlooking Rapid City.

Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

3) At the Journey Museum & Learning Center, learn about dinosaurs and more recent residents of the Black Hills, including Native Americans and pioneers. 4) More history is on display at the Hotel Alex Johnson, which opened in 1928. Built to pay homage to the Native American and the immigrant cultures prevalent in the Dakotas, the hotel is a host for presidents (six for far) and ghosts.

Hungry? Then, tally-ho. 5) It’s off to Tally’s Silver Spoon in the heart of downtown. It’s been a greasy spoon favorite for locals since the 1930s. Nowadays, though, the spoon is no longer quite so greasy. Indeed, this is no ordinary Midwestern diner, not with a Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School-trained chef at the helm.

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Cold-Blooded Snakes, Bears and Reindeer

Bear County

Bear County | Photo courtesy of Laura Powell

Looking for some live wildlife? 6) Wander a few miles down the road to Bear Country USA. Consider it a North American safari, as visitors drive through open fields filled with free-range elk, reindeer, buffalo, big horn sheep, mountain lions and bears. After the drive, park the car and stroll through Babyland to see bear cubs and smaller animals like lynx and otters.

Reptile Gardens

Reptile Gardens | Photo courtesy of LauraPowell

7) Reptile Gardens contains the world’s largest collection of cold-blooded critters (by species) in the world. Its indoor Sky Dome is filled with exotic lizards, venomous snakes and giant pythons. Under the same roof are big bugs, big buds, and Maniac, a giant croc imported from Australia. Outdoors, visit prairie dogs and birds of prey, along with 100-year-old giant tortoises and other cold-blooded creatures.

Cold Warriors

south-dakota-air-and-space-museum

South Dakota Air and Space Museum | Flickr CC: Andrea Church

During the Cold War, a vast arsenal of nuclear missiles was placed throughout the Great Plains, hidden in plain sight for decades. The land around Rapid City was home to 150 Minuteman missiles during this time. 8) The South Dakota Air and Space Museum, seven miles east of Rapid City, showcases Cold War era missiles, along with vintage military aircraft. 9) An hour east on Interstate 90, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site preserves two silos holding Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. A visitor center that opened in the fall of 2016 provides historic context. Given the region’s Cold War history, it’s notable that Rapid City is home to one of the biggest sections from the Berlin Wall in the United States. Located in Memorial Park downtown, interpretative signs help visitors understand its significance as the symbol of the Cold War.

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Laura Powell

Laura Powell

Laura is a 20-year veteran travel journalist. She was CNN's first travel reporter, and has written for publications ranging from Alaska Airlines Magazine to The Washington Post. Find her at the www.dailysuitcase.com or on Twitter: @dailysuitcase

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