Rapid City, South Dakota: City of Presidents Self-Guided Walking Tour
Don't Miss This Fun Scavenger Hunt in Rapid City
Just Half an Hour from Mount Rushmore
Chiseled into the side of a mountain only 25 miles away from Rapid City, South Dakota, is Mount Rushmore. If you've never visited, put this on your bucket list.
The faces of four American Presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—gaze out over the Black Hills and the Badlands. The heads of the Presidents tower 60 feet (18.3 m) high, carved of granite and true grit, a testament to what the American Spirit can achieve. We Americans dream big, stop at nothing.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial was launched in 1927 with the vision of promoting tourism in South Dakota. Now a manmade shrine to democracy, over 3 million visitors flock to the memorial annually.
But wait. What about the other Presidents? Is it right to pay tribute to only these four?
Is It Right to Recognize Only These Four Presidents?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Come Meet the Rest of the Family of Presidents in Rapid City, SD
Faced with the challenge of keeping tourists engaged and in the area, nearby Rapid City launched an ingenious plan in 1999. Local businessman Don Perdue led an initiative to jumpstart the local economy. The city has since placed lifesized brass sculptures of each American President on its street corners. The effect is utterly delightful.
Over $2 million was raised through private donations to fund the project, and the talents of South Dakota artists were summoned. Each artist carefully studied the personality and achievements of the President they sculpted. They attempted to capture the spirit of their subject. The sculptors for the Clinton statue, Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby, even visited personally with the former President for inspiration.
This ambitious project took 10 years. Rapid City is the now the only location in the world where all of the U.S. Presidents can be seen in life-sized bronze statues. It demands that you come see for yourself.
From the mountain to Main Street, you have seen four presidents at Mount Rushmore. Now, come to Rapid City and see the rest of the family.— City of Presidents Visitors Guide
Receive a Presidential Greeting in Rapid CityClick thumbnail to view full-size
Go Ahead! Take Some Selfies with Your Favorite President
Get acquainted with the 42 life-sized statues that dot Rapid City's street corners. (President Obama's statue will soon take its place among them.) The brass statues of the American Presidents sit, stand and stroll in candid poses that reflect not the sterile historical facts but rather their habits, passions, and inner souls.
While my teenage daughter was in a STEM camp at the nearby South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, I spent several hours roaming downtown Rapid City. I was so happy that I invested my time this way. Not only was I entertained but I was also inspired and educated about these leaders.
One of my favorite statues was Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States. He was an honest and capable President but preferred the company of nature to that of people. In brass, he sits by himself on a bench hand feeding birds.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to snuggle up close to him and take a selfie. What a kind man. I know we would have been friends.
Can You Find Your Favorite President?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Concentrating On the Positive
Each sculptor had artistic freedom in portraying his or her presidential subject.
- Would Nixon's statue focus on Watergate?
- Would George W. Bush's statue reflect the Iraq War?
- Would FDR appear in a wheelchair or would his statue conceal his disability?
Most chose to concentrate on the positive. Many of the artists' choices present interesting conversation points if you're navigating the city with family. Ask your family, "Is this how you would have portrayed him?"
The statues also bring out little known facts that are skipped over in history books. For example, McKinley was the first known President to use a telephone during his campaign (so blame him for telemarketing).And on the way to his inauguration, Franklin Pierce experienced personal tragedy when his 11-year-old son was killed in a train accident. Pierce and his wife survived but the couple experienced deep depression that profoundly impacted Pierce's performance as President and his wife, Jane's, service as first lady. One month later, Pierce's Vice President died.
Take a Stroll with the PresidentsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Take the Presidential Quote Quiz: Who Said It?view quiz statistics
Where to Start: Drop by the Visitors Bureau
To get the full experience of this walking tour, it's essential to have the official map for this walking tour. Stop by the Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 444 Mt. Rushmore Rd. N. for your FREE map featuring
- a brief history of the City of Presidents project
- street locations for each President
- identity of scavenger hunt items
- and interesting facts about each President's life.
Using the map, you can then plan your route and check off who you've already visited.
Rapid City: A Vibrant Downtown Oasis
Clean, vibrant downtown Rapid City ... it has a charming flair with life-like Presidential statues adorning its street corners. There are also shops, restaurants, and pubs, plus plenty of friendly locals ready to welcome tourists. Go ahead. Grab a bite to eat, snap unique photos, and let the kids play in the fountain at the downtown square.
Receive a Presidential Welcome in Rapid CityClick thumbnail to view full-size
Rapid City is the only location in the world where all of the United States Presidents can be seen in life-sized bronze statues.— The City of Presidents Visitors Guide
The Father of Our Country Stands Guard Outside of a Starbucks
Surprises Along the Way
Along the way, you may find surprises and ironic twists. George Washington, the Father of our great nation, stands guard outside of a Starbucks. Lyndon Johnson leans against his desk, perched outside of a First Stop Guns store. Bill Clinton grins outside of a dry cleaner's shop, the infamous blue dress nowhere in sight. (NO, sorry, I made that one up!)
Some Presidents seemed to have better billing than others. You know what they say in real estate: "Location, location, location."
While George W. provides a "thumbs up" outside of a Hardee's, scowling Herbert Hoover lives it up outside of a Mexican cantina. If you know anything about Herbert Hoover's immigration policies and his deportation of Mexicans during his administration, then you understand just how ironic the placement of this statue is! (Talk amongst yourselves.)
It thus should be evident that the statues are conversation pieces, not just photo props.
Do You Have A Favorite President In U.S. History? Tell Us In the Comment Section Who He Is and Why.
Here's How the Scavenger Hunt Works
To keep the kid in all of us occupied, Rapid City has added a unique feature to the self-guided walking tour: a Presidential scavenger hunt. Even though I was alone on my tour, this was my favorite part.
In the back of the self-guided tour map there are photographs of 10 items from the Presidential statues (see below). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to match each item with its respective President and submit your written answers to the President's Information Center. Your reward is a free Presidential soda (one per family).
I won't give the answers away (what would be the fun of that?), but let's just say I enjoyed the experience so much I have included several bonus scavenger items for you in the photos below. This is truly an experience that appeals to all ages.
Scavenger Hunt Items: Match Each Item with Its PresidentClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Worthwhile Trip
If I Could Change Anything About the Experience ...
What a pleasant surprise this experience was — a definite thumbs-up! If I could, I'd award the City of Presidents self-guided walking tour and scavenger hunt 4 1/2 stars.
I found the walking tour map and the Presidential biographies both fascinating and essential to a fulfilling self-guided tour experience. The biographies brought out facts that aren't typically highlighted in history books.
The statues were tasteful and provided wonderful photo and conversation opportunities. Some inspired empathy and admiration for their Presidential subjects. Rapid City locals were warm and welcoming.
My only criticism pertains to the jumbled and confusing assignment of numbers to Presidential statues. This numerical randomness added a layer of confusion to map reading. For example, George Washington was the first President of the United States. However, he was assigned #24. John Adams was our second President but was assigned #42. There must be an easier approach.
Overall, however, this was a worthy side trip not to be missed.
Questions & Answers
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