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Hill City

Monuments, mountains and trains transport visitors to the Old West

One of the Black Hills’ oldest towns, Hill City is one of the region’s most charming enclaves and a convenient base for exploration. With a smattering of museums, compelling history and quaint streets sprinkled with art galleries, the town is a welcome launching pad for adventures in the region’s stunning parks.

Along with the family-friendly South Dakota State Railroad Museum, a plethora of railroad-themed historic sites in town speaks to South Dakota’s epic railroading story. At the Wade’s Gold Mill and Mining Museum, you can pan for gold, poke around antique mining equipment and check out a rare gold mill. And just a half-hour car ride from Hill City, you can gaze in wonder at Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Monument, or revel in prime wildlife viewing and terrific hiking trails at the magnificent Custer State Park.

Custer State Park

The undisputed jewel of South Dakota’s state park system, Custer State Park, just east of the town of Custer, is one of the nation’s most memorable outdoor experiences. Extending for more than 71,000 acres of picturesque meadows, majestic pine and spruce forests, and the rugged granite peaks that erupt along the 14-mile Needles Highway, Custer State Park is a hiker’s paradise.

The park is refuge to an incredibly rich inventory of wildlife. Herds of buffalo graze on open meadows, while sightings of prairie dogs, rams, coyotes, bighorn sheep and the cheeky wild donkeys — famed for their tourist solicitation skills — are practically guaranteed on the 18-mile-long Wildlife Loop Road. Within the park, there are four fishing lakes.

Hiking Black Elk Peak

Within striking distance of Hill City, there’s an extensive network of hiking trails woven through a rugged patch of Black Hills terrain. Something of a rite of passage for locals, one of the region’s most popular hikes is to Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), the highest elevation point in South Dakota at 7,244 feet. Many trails within the Black Hills National Forest lead to the peak, but the shortest and least arduous access point is the Harney Peak Trail from Sylvan Lake (in Custer State Park), which begins at an elevation of 6,200 feet. The 3.5-mile hike starts with a scenic stroll through pine forest before taking on a more strenuous nature due to switchbacks (no technical skills required) during the final climb (total elevation gain is 1,100 feet) to the summit. Novice hikers should allow four to five hours for the round trip. At the summit, there’s a stone lookout tower.

Drew Jacksich

One of the most popular sites in Hill City, the South Dakota State Railroad Museum comprises a vivid and stirring series of exhibits that examine the history, myths and romance of U.S. railroads. Along with a fully operational scale railroad with scale buildings and scenes from around the state and region, there are locomotives and rolling stock from South Dakota’s still-operational railroads. Also on display are captivating replicas and models of famous trains from around the U.S. A favorite with young families, there’s plenty of interactive and “climb-aboard” activities for kids.

Rail lovers won’t want to pass up a ride on the 1880 Train, an immaculately restored vintage steam train that runs for 20 miles (two-hour journey time) between Hill City and Keystone. With lively onboard narration delivered by costumed engineers, passengers learn about the history of Black Elk Peak, Mount Rushmore and the Holy Terror Mine. Complete with Western-themed skits and a classic “All Aboard” countdown, the 1880 Train makes for an informative and truly enchanting family excursion.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Just a few miles south of Hill City, the monumental Crazy Horse Memorial, which stands at an awe-inspiring 563 feet tall, was built as an answer to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In 1939, Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (who had worked on Mount Rushmore), stating that he “would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” Ziolkowski subsequently designed the memorial to Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, a visionary leader who helped spearhead the 1876 attack against Gen. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana.

More than 60 years since work began, the memorial is still in progress, partly because the Ziolkowski family has refused government funding and in part because (until her death in 2014), Ruth Ziolkowski remained ever true to her late husband’s desire: “Crazy Horse must be finished. You must work on the mountain—but slowly, so you do it right.” Although the carving remains painstakingly slow, there is now a visitor center and the Indian Museum of North America to round out the visit.

For More Information

Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce



South Dakota Department of Tourism