Like many Black Hills communities, Keystone was established as a mining community during the Black Hills Gold Rush. Gold, mica, tin, feldspar, and other rare minerals were sporadically profitable, but the town’s history was forever changed in 1927 when sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose nearly Mount Rushmore as the site for his new monument to four American presidents. Today, Keystone is a top tourist destination, attracting visitors from around the world.
The main draw for most Keystone visitors is Mount Rushmore National Memorial, just three miles and a ten-minute car ride away. The idea for a monument was the brainchild of South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson, who wanted to pay homage to Old West heroes and hired sculptor Gutzon Borglum to carve the granite spires of the Needles. Deeming the rock too fragile, Borglum chose Mount Rushmore instead, and suggested honoring American presidents instead. The project began in 1927 and was completed in 1941; Borglum’s intention was to sculp the figures down to their waists, but death and the escalation of World War II brought the project to a close. Nevertheless, the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln proved an irresistible draw, and the memorial became a world-class tourist attraction. Visitors to the “Shrine of Democracy” can walk the Presidential Trail for unique views of the monument; check out the Sculptor’s Studio; stop by the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center; pose for a memorable selfie on the Grand View Terrace; find their state while strolling down the Avenue of Flags; pick up a souvenir from the Gift Shop; and enjoy Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe vanilla ice cream at Carver’s Café. Special events include the evening lighting ceremony, ranger talks, and more. Mount Rushmore is open year-round, though buildings are closed on Christmas day.
There’s no need to leave Keystone to get a taste of Black Hills history. The Black Hills Central Railroad’s 1880 Train offers two-hour round-trip steam-powered rides to Hill City and back. Popular seasonal excursions include a Wine Express, Oktoberfest, Old West Shootouts, and the Holiday Express. If you’d prefer to travel by foot, the Historic Keystone Walking Tour through Old Town features interpretive signs at 19 points of interest, including homes, saloons, hotels, gold mines, and more. It’s a fun and educational experience for the whole family! The Big Thunder Gold Mine provides an up-close look at Keystone’s past, offering visitors an opportunity to tour the mine, pan for gold, or sign up for a half- or full-day claim panning experience. The Mining Museum, a replica of the original Tycoon Gold Mill, houses an extensive collection of memorabilia from several area gold mines. The Keystone Historical Museum is located in a former Victorian schoolhouse and features exhibits and artifacts from the mining era, as well as the carving of Mount Rushmore. One of the most popular attractions is the Carrie Ingalls exhibit; the sister of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder was a South Dakota pioneer who once resided in Keystone. The National Presidential Wax Museum is a fitting tribute to all 45 of America’s presidents and includes lifelike wax figures of over 100 historical figures, displayed in impressive recreations of many iconic historical scenes. Self-guided audio tours and a seven-minute movie round out the experience.
Those looking to burn off some energy can practice their putting skills at Holy Terror Mini Golf, a picturesque 18-hole course tucked on the side of a pine-forested slope. In keeping with the town’s mining past, golfers must conquer sluices, a waterwheel and mill pond. For even more outdoor excitement, Rushmore Tramway Adventures offers a variety of family-friendly activities including an alpine slide, zipline, tubing hill, jump tower, and an aerial adventure park with a rope course suitable for all skill levels. The scenic chairlift offers breathtaking views of Mount Rushmore. Visitors to Rush Mountain Adventure Park can take a scenic cave tour; ride a roller-coaster; take a 630-foot zipline ride; immerse themselves in the multi-sensory Gunslinger 7-D Ride; explore the Wingwalker Challenge Course, which includes a miniature Sky Tykes option for younger kids; or pan for gemstones. For a truly unique experience, book a helicopter tour through Black Hills Aerial Adventures. Experienced pilots have been offering up-close tours of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills for 25 years; it’s an experience you will never forget.
If you’d prefer to keep it simple, strolling the Keystone Main Street Famous 1880 Boardwalk offers plenty to see and do. Pick up a t-shirt or other souvenir from the Black Hills, gather the family for an old-tyme photo, or grab a bite to eat (be sure to save room for salt water taffy or fudge!).
The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracts riders from around the country to western South Dakota for ten days every August, and there are events throughout the Hills. Scenic drives are popular; you’ll find hundreds of bikers in town, many passing through for the scenic 17-mile drive through the twists, turns, tunnels, and famous “pigtail bridges” along Iron Mountain Road (Highway 16A).
Hundreds of runners descend upon Keystone in September for the Mount Rushmore Half-Marathon. Described as “a race with presidential views,” this scenic but challenging 13-mile course rewards participants who brave the uphill climb with stellar views of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. The race begins at the Ghost Canyon Dude Ranch and ends at the Borglum Story Museum in Keystone; shuttles are available to transport runners once they finish.
Every October, ghosts, goblins, witches, and superheroes wander through Old Town for plenty of frights during The Haunting of Keystone. Multiple haunted locations include the schoolhouse, haunted forest, and mine, all promising thrills and chills for those brave enough to face creaking floors, creepy fog, blood-curdling screams, and dark figures lurking in the shadows. It’s scary good fun.
The 1880 Train hosts special events throughout the year. Train Appreciation Day in October honors acitve military and local residents of South Dakota and Wyoming with half-off rides for adults (children ride for free). Admission to the South Dakota State Railroad Museum in Hill City is also free. Departures are available from the Keystone depot and allow for time to visit the museum before the return trip.
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.