Hill City originally attracted gold miners when it was founded in 1876 but had better luck with tin in the 1880s, and later, the railroad industry. Once notorious for the boisterous antics of its tin miners, who sought refuge from a hard day’s work in one of the town’s many saloons, Hill City today attracts arts lovers and adventure seekers.
The Black Hills Central Railroad 1880 Train is a year-round draw for visitors of all ages seeking a vintage steam train experience. Two-hour narrated tours whisk guests from Hill City to Keystone and back aboard one of several restored passenger cars, each with its own unique feel. Popular special events include a Wine Express, Oktoberfest, Train Appreciation Day, Old West Shootouts, and the Holiday Express. There’s even a grown-up version of the latter, complete with spiked hot cocoa.
The South Dakota State Railroad Museum, located adjacent to the 1880 Train depot, was established in 1994 to preserve, educate, and promote railroad history. The museum houses an extensive collection of educational displays, railroad equipment, memorabilia, and interactive exhibits, including an operational model train. The Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota is dedicated to the memory of the CCC workers who built many of the Black Hills’ most enduring structures, including dams, bridges, and the famous “pigtail bridges” on Iron Mountain Road. Photos, documents, and artifacts related to these projects, all of which were created between 1933 and 1942, are on permanent display. If you prefer displays that are fluffier, Teddy Bear Town holds the Guinness World Record for “Largest Teddy Bear Collection.” It contains over 10,000 teddy bears in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. The Museum @ Black Hills Institute includes natural history exhibits featuring dinosaurs, mammal and marine fossils, minerals, meteorites. It’s the home of Stan, the second-largest and second-most complete Tyrannosaurus Red skeleton ever discovered.
The High Country Guest Ranch offers an authentic Old West experience. Lodging options range from cowboy cabins and Native American sleeping cabins to fully appointed vacation homes, and guests can participate in activities including guided horseback rides, UTV rentals, and a chuck wagon show complete with a delicious cowboy dinner and Western-themed entertainment. Looking for a perfect souvenir of the Black Hills? Dakota Stone Rock Shop sells a wide variety of rocks, stones, and geodes. Gem panning, gold panning, and a mine treasure hunt make this a must-stop for the kids. With a thriving local arts scene, be sure to stop by one of the town’s galleries. Warrior’s Work & Ben West Gallery, Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing, insideout, Dakota Nature and Art, and Sandy Swallow Gallery all offer unique artwork, as well as custom gifts suitable for the home or garden.
Hill City hosts many family friendly events, beginning on January 1 with the First Day Hike at Custer State Park. Dress for the weather! Additional ranger-guided snowshoe hikes take place throughout the winter; check the park’s website for listings and dates. The annual Breakin’ the Winter Blues Chili Cook-off in January brings local businesses together to compete for top honors. Guests can sample from more than 20 vendors and vote for their favorites, and may even walk away with a door prize! The Tour de Chocolate is the perfect lead-up to Valentine’s Day; this annual event attracts chocolate lovers from around the region who come to sample a variety of sweet treats and enjoy in-store specials at participating businesses. Also in February, the Black Hills Film Festival screens independent films produced and shot in South Dakota, as well as other national and international entries.
Every April, the Spring Fling Fun & Glow Egg Hunt at Rush Mountain Adventure Park provides kids with fun activities such as face painting, games and prizes, and photos with the Easter Bunny, as well as a tour of Rushmore Cave, where they can count the glowing eggs and enter a Grand Prize drawing. Local artists gather every June for Sculpture in the Hills, an art show that allows guests to meet and talk with the artists, enjoy sculpture exhibits, and buy artwork direct from the source.
Rodeo fans can enjoy barrel racing, bull riding, team roping, saddle bronc and bareback riding events, and more at the Mount Rushmore Rodeo at Palmer Gulch. There are several dates throughout the summer; check their website for listings. Another popular summer event is the Hill City Wine, Brew & BBQ, a weekend-long event in August that gives barbecue lovers a chance to sample creations from the region’s top Pit Masters and BBQ enthusiasts. There is plenty of local wine and craft beer to help wash it all down, as well as live music and kid-friendly entertainment. The Hill City Quilt Show & Sale in September showcases a featured artist; visitors can view more than 200 beautiful quilts, enjoy fiber arts demonstrations, and take home that perfect quilt if they are so inclined.
Hill City kicks off the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving with the Olde Tyme Christmas Parade & Celebration Kick-off, a month-long event that features visits to the North Pole aboard the 1880 Train; the Trees & Trains exhibit at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum; a lighted parade preceded by roasted chestnuts and hot apple cider; and photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Also taking place the weekend after Thanksgiving is the Kris Kringle Homemade Kraft Fair & Bazaar, a great place to pick up unique homemade local gifts for those hard-to-shop-for people on your Christmas list.
Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain events may be postponed or canceled, and attractions may not be open as regularly scheduled. We encourage you to check with each venue before planning your visit.