Located in a picturesque sandstone canyon at the southern edge of the Black Hills, Hot Springs is the county seat of Fall River County in South Dakota. Unlike many other communities in the region that staked their fortunes on the Black Hills gold rush, early settlers in Hot Springs focused instead on the natural mineral springs that gave the town its name. Spas and sanitariums were among the area’s first tourist attractions, and while the therapeutic waters are still a major draw, there is plenty more to see and do when visiting Hot Springs, the Southern Gateway of the Black Hills!
Downtown features distinctive pink sandstone buildings constructed in the Romanesque architectural style, most of which were built between 1890 and 1910 out of sandstone obtained from nearby quarries. These are characterized by thick walls, semicircular arches, barrel vaults, large towers, and decorative arcades. Examples include the Evans Hotel, City Hall, Fall River County Courthouse, Battle Mountain Sanitarium, and Fall River Pioneer Museum. Built in the 19th century, the museum originally served as a schoolhouse and features original art, handcrafted tools, and countless historical exhibits depicting early pioneer life.
The oldest tourist attraction in the Black Hills, Evans Plunge remains a popular destination for residents and visitors alike. Fed by an 87-degree thermal spring, the world’s largest natural warm water swimming pool offers adult and kids’ pools, water slides, hot tubs, a sauna and steam room, concessions, and a gift shop. For a more upscale experience (and a great place to spend a few days while exploring), visit Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa, a moccasin-shaped pool dating back to 1890 that was once called Minnekahta Bathhouse. Don’t feel like taking a dip but still want to enjoy the mineral springs? Locals fill containers with the crystal clear water that seeps out of the canyon wall and into a basin at the Kidney Springs Gazebo. A prominent sculpture called “The Gift” makes this spot impossible to miss.
If you’re looking for a larger body of water, Angostura State Recreation Area, ten miles southeast of town, provides 36 miles of shoreline and a variety of recreational activities include swimming, boating, wakeboarding, hiking, camping, disc golf, and some of the best fishing in the Black Hills. Anglers have excellent luck catching walleye, bass, crappie, northern pike, perch, and bluegill.
No visit to Hot Springs is complete without a stop at The Mammoth Site. Following the discovery of the world’s largest concentration of Columbian and woolly mammoth bones in 1974, work was halted on a housing project and the area was preserved instead. Today, this working museum, laboratory, and research facility boasts an impressive array of exhibits and tours, and paleontologists continue to excavate these historic remains.
Nine miles north of Hot Springs you’ll find Wind Cave National Park, a 28,000-acre wildlife preserve that is home to bison, elk, prairie dogs, and more. Beneath the largest natural mixed-grass prairie in the world lies the namesake cave, one of the longest and most complex in the world. Tours offer visitors a glimpse of rare boxwork and frostwork calcite formations. To date, over 150 miles of passages have been mapped.
Hot Springs hosts a number of signature events throughout the year, with activities for people of all ages. One of the most popular is the Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival, held every August. In addition to hot air balloon launches and rides and a night glow event at the Hot Springs Municipal Airport, there are plenty of activities downtown, including a free Kid Zone and vendors in Centennial Park, and Art Walk & Chalk event, and sidewalk sales at participating merchants.
Centennial Park is also the site of the Main Street Arts & Crafts Festival, which takes place during the last weekend in June. Visitors can admire handcrafted arts and crafts from local artisans, musical entertainment, sidewalk chalk, a children’s tent, food and beverages, and more.
Every April, the Spring Fling Home & Garden Show attracts visitors with a green thumb eager to leave winter behind and plan their gardens. A variety of vendors are on hand, along with demonstrations, door prizes, food, and beverages. This popular event is held at the Mueller Civic Center.
Those seeking great views of the city (and an excellent workout) can take part in Climb Hot Springs, an outdoor stair-climbing event up five flights of stairs followed by a seven-mile race. Participants can opt for a shorter three-mile route that incorporates two sets of stairs instead.
Not all the fun is reserved for the warm summer months. Christmas in the Hills is a longstanding tradition taking place the first weekend in December. It includes a tree lighting ceremony, community caroling, parade of lights, musical performances, winter marketplace, tour of homes, and—of course—photos with Santa.
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.