When Fred and Moses Manuel discovered a large vein of gold in a rocky outcropping three miles south of Deadwood in 1876, they had no idea of its significance. They staked a claim, named it the Homestake Mine, and sold it to George Hearst in 1877. The mine would operate for the next 125 years, producing 40 million troy ounces of gold—making it one of the richest gold mines in the world. The Homestake Mine finally closed for good in 2002, but Lead reinvented itself as a city on the cutting edge of science. Today, Sanford Lab resides deep inside the former mine, conducting experiments on neutrinos, dark matter, and more. Visitors will find plenty of homages to the town’s gold mining days, but this former company town offers more than just memories of gold.
Located beside the 1,250-foot deep “open cut” portion of the original Homestake Mine, the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center features exhibits dedicated to the city of Lead and the mine’s storied history, as well as information on the experiments taking place at the Sanford Underground Research Facility more than a mile underground. Guided tours are available, and guests can even hit a golf ball into the open cut for a guaranteed hole-in-one. The Black Hills Mining Museum is dedicated to preserving the town’s gold mining legacy through a variety of exhibits and activities. Tour a recreated gold mine and try your hand at gold panning—you’re guaranteed to find gold, and are allowed to take it home, too. It’s an educational and fun experience for the whole family. The Historic Homestake Opera House dates back to 1914 and was established by Phoebe Hearst to provide cultural opportunities. The venue included a 1,000-seat theater, recreation center, library, bowling alley, billiards hall, social hall, and indoor swimming pool. Destroyed by a fire in 1984, the Opera House was rebuilt and currently hosts dozens of arts/educational events throughout the year. Still undergoing restoration, one of its newest additions is an Interpretive Center upstairs. Tours are available. To promote Lead’s vibrant arts community, the Lead-Deadwood Arts Center houses an art gallery and gift shop, as well as custom framing services. A number of classes and other activities are scheduled year-round. To check out some of the art yourself, grab a map and embark upon the Lead Urban Art Mural Project, a self-guided walking tour of 19 (and counting) murals at various locations throughout town.
Boasting more annual snowfall than any other town in South Dakota, Lead is the perfect setting for Winterfest, an annual three-day event in January celebrating all things winter. There are fun activities for all ages, including a parade of lights; Christmas tree bonfire; snowshoeing; skiing; pub music festival; chili cook-off; fat tire bike race; Homestake Opera winter movie series; ugly sweater run; fireworks and more.
If cold isn’t your thing, Lead Mountain Nights is a free monthly summer music series showcasing local bands and artists. Food and craft vendors, a beverage garden, and activities for kids make this a perfect family event. Performances begin in June and continue through September.
Gold Camp Jubilee Days is one of the biggest and most popular 4th of July celebrations in the Black Hills. In addition to fireworks over the open cut, this four-day festival in Manuel Brothers Park dates back to 1926 and includes plenty of activities for kids and adults. There’s a parade, live entertainment, poker tournament, trail run, horseshoe tournament, arts and crafts, food and beverage vendors, a car show ‘n shine, and lots more.
The second Saturday in July is reserved for Neutrino Day, a free science festival sponsored by Sanford Lab to celebrate and educate visitors about science, including the ongoing neutrino and dark matter experiments being conducted a mile below the surface by Sanford Underground Research Facility. Activities and educational talks take place at several venues in town including the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, the All In One Events Center, and the Historic Homestake Opera House.
Light Up Lead is the perfect event to get you into the holiday spirit. This annual Christmas light decorating contest encourages residents to put up holiday lights and leave them on from dusk until 10 p.m. or later throughout the month of December so visitors can drive around and look at them. Prizes are awarded to the best displays. Another popular holiday event is the Festival of Trees Vintage Holiday Celebration at the Historic Homestake Opera House. It’s been a family tradition for almost 40 years, making it the Black Hills’ oldest festival of trees. The celebration features a collection of decorative wreaths and trees, musical performances and caroling, photos with Santa, screenings of popular holiday movies, a live auction and raffle, and plenty of cookies, cider, and hot chocolate to ward off the winter chill.
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.