Hill City Heart of the Hills – Day 1
Welcome to Hill City located in the center of The Black Hills National Forest, an area 125 miles long and 69 wide in western South Dakota. This quaint little town is conveniently located 26 miles from Rapid City on US Route 385 midway between Hot Springs and Deadwood making it the perfect headquarters for your Black Hills adventure. A few of our key attractions relate to our rich history. The railroad took over and dominated the first half of the century and by the late 1950’s, the Black Hills Central Railroad introduce the first passenger train commonly referred to today as the “1880 Train.” The community has evolved as an archeological and Paleontological hub with the nearby discovery of “Sue” the most complete TRex skeleton in paleontological history. Sue can be viewed today at the Field Museum in Chicago. At the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, visitor can view “Stan” the second largest T-Rex, also discovered in the area. Hill City is also known for its wineries and breweries! As you absorb the beautiful scenery around you, explore your new community!
Well, here it comes! Today you’ll have the chance to visit the iconic, bucket-list worthy Mount Rushmore National Monument.
Start early for Custer State Park, famous for its scenic highways, towering granite spires, pigtail bridges and rock tunnels framing Mount Rushmore. Bountiful wildlife, lakes, streams and historic stone lodges offer sites for all ages. A herd of 1,400 buffalo roams freely throughout the park. Within the park, you’ll discover outdoor activities that include hiking (check out 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak), mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, chuckwagon suppers and buffalo safari jeep rides. Custer’s expedition first discovered gold in 1874 in Custer State Park. Take in a theater performance at the Black Hills Playhouse or visit the log cabin that was home to Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet laureate.
Be sure to stop at Sylvan Lake. Here you can enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking, or a paddleboat ride. Rich in history and natural beauty, Sylvan Lake holds the designation as Custer State Park’s crown jewel. In 1921 this unique lake became a part of the newly created Custer State Park.
Proceed to the 70-mile, Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway comprised of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road. The Needles Highway winds through 14 miles of magnificent rock formations called “needles”. One of the most prominent features is the Needles Eye, which reaches 30-40 feet in the air with a three-foot wide slit. The Needles Eye is an excellent spot for climbing the rocky area and for taking pictures. Observe Black Elk Peak looming overhead and the waters of Sylvan Lake sparkling below, what a site!
Take the Wild life loop, stop at the Visitor Center and then continue to Iron Mountain Road. Experience the hairpin curves, wildlife, hiking trailheads, and three stone carved tunnels that perfectly frame an impressive view of Mount Rushmore in the distance. You’ve just experienced the road that engineers once said couldn’t be built.
You’ve arrived at Mount Rushmore where the majestic 60-foot faces of four U.S. Presidents gaze out over South Dakota’s Black Hills as a symbol of American democracy. Explore the extensive grounds, interactive learning centers, guided and self-guided tours, restaurants and gift shops. This national treasure tells the story of the United States’ rich history, rugged determination, and lasting achievement. From the Grand View Terrace, visitors get spectacular views of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt. For a closer view, visitors can walk the half-mile Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain. The Lincoln Borglum Museum contains interactive interpretive exhibits.
Just a few miles from Rushmore, saddle up for a late afternoon trail ride through the Black Hills National Forest at The Stables at Palmer Gulch located on Hwy 244. Stay for the Palmer Gulch Chuck Wagon Dinner Show! Choose to ride to the show on a good saddle horse or on a horse drawn wagon. A grilled steak with all the fixins’ is followed by a cowboy music show. This is authentic western family fun under a big South Dakota Sky!
If you’re up for it, go back to Rushmore, just a few miles away and take in the lighting ceremony at dusk.
Get an early start and visit Crazy Horse Memorial south on Highway 385. As a work-in-progress mountain sculpture, this massive tribute to the famous Lakota warrior and leader is visually striking and offers visitors endless educational opportunities. The memorial’s 40,000 square foot visitor complex, viewing veranda, museums and cultural center encompass the vision of the property: To spotlight our cultural and spiritual diversities, and to encourage harmony and diversity among our people and nations. The nightly laser light show will keep you oohing and aweing!
Return to Hill City for a ride on the 1880 Train. This vintage steam train is famous for its stunning scenic route, old world charm, and the unforgettable encounter of a bellowing engine and whining whistle. Approximately two-hours long, this tour takes you to Keystone and back.
Enjoy a tour of the South Dakota Railroad Museum located next to the 1880 Train station. This museum shows the history of the railroad and has many items used in the cars during the rich history of the railroad in South Dakota.
Make time for lunch or dinner at Hill City’s Alpine Inn featuring German food and great sandwiches at lunch or for the evening the very popular steak filet with a baked potato and a wedge salad. Not to be missed!
As you browse the quaint Main Street of Hill City, enjoy the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Museum. BHI has been the leader in paleontological excavations and preparation since 1974, helping supply museums and collectors the finest in professionally prepared fossils and cast replicas—an educational and impressive step back in time, to be sure.
Tonight…if didn’t make it to the Chuckwagon supper, it’s only a few miles away. Or, go to Crazy Horse for the Laser Light Show at dusk.
Today head North on 385 to Historic Deadwood and take a walk back in time. When you arrive in Deadwood board one of the historic tour buses for a one- hour tour which includes a trip to Mt. Moriah Cemetery and an earful of Deadwood History. You’ll learn of legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok, scandalous Calamity Jane and the luckiest of all Potato Creek Johnny.
Next step into history as you enter a real Black Hills underground mine, Broken Boot Gold Mine and try your luck at gold panning. Always a favorite activity for the family.
Some of the Black Hills’ greatest treasures are on exhibit at the Adams Museum including Potato Creek Johnny’s 7.346 troy ounce gold nugget and the Thoen Stone record of Ezra Kind party’s discover of gold in the hills in the 1830’s. Tour the Historic Adams House, built in 1892 and described in the press as the grandest house west of the Mississippi, and known for its modern 19th century plumbing, electricity and phone service. The Days of ‘76 Museum features pioneer and Native American artifacts; and historic firearms and rodeo collections. It also houses the region’s largest collection of historic horse drawn vehicles which are taken out of the museum annually for the Days of 76 Parade.
Make time for a ride on the Deadwood Stagecoach, the same mode of transportation used during the Black Hills Gold Rush. The stagecoach operates daily during peak season and weekends during the spring and fall season. New in 2020 is the Brothel of Deadwood, an experience you’ll never forget. Must be 16 years old.
Main Street Shootouts run May thru September, three times a day, six days a week, (no killin’ on Sundays). The historically accurate reenactments and street performances are fun for the whole family and FREE! Wrap of the evening with the Trial of Jack McCall. Jack is the rascal that shot Wild Bill Hickok in 1876. Family Friendly show.
Deadwood is known for some of the best entertainment around, plus saloons, casinos, sports betting, restaurants, and gift shops.
Stay another day
Here is what you may miss if you leave now: To the south of Hill City, Wind Cave National Park and the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs make another great all- day excursion. If you’re traveling with kids, the two adventure parks in Keystone and Bear Country and Reptile Gardens along Mt Rushmore Road are a big hit. To the North, Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway and Devils Tower just across the Wyoming Border make a great route especially if your next destination takes you west into Wyoming. If you’re heading east, make plans to stop at Badlands National Park, just an hour east of Rapid City. The possibilities are endless!