The Black Hills and Badlands region of South Dakota is bursting with incredible natural attractions, surreal geological formations, historic Wild West-flavored townships and major All-American attractions. Sitting at the center of it all is humble Hill City, a tiny gold rush-era community that’s home to fewer than 1,000 year-round residents.

At first glance, Hill City may not seem the most likely of places to set up camp and go exploring abroad, but this charming small town is perfectly placed for those with fully loaded sightseeing itineraries. From here, visitors can range out and plan easy day trips to Badlands National Park, Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Park, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs and Rapid City.

Closer to town, Hill City is a major gateway to a pair of major attractions—Mount Rushmore and Black Hills National Forest.

Click here for Good Sam Parks in Hill City.

Face-to-Face with Rushmore

Start with Mount Rushmore, located 16 miles west of Hill City near the even smaller town of Keystone. This is the undisputed main attraction in southwestern South Dakota, so expect big crowds year-round. An average of three million people flock to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial annually, making it one of the more popular attractions in the entire country.

Beyond jaw-dropping views of the mountain’s famous carved faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, the site is home to an informative Visitor Center, the Presidential Trail (a must for those seeking up-close views of the faces) and a trio of Native American Heritage Villages.

If you have the time, pair your stop at Mount Rushmore with a visit to nearby Rushmore Cave. This unique adventure park is full of zip lines, cave tours, spelunking expeditions and even an interactive gunslinger adventure ride.

The Black Hills National Forest.The other major attraction here in Hill City is one with an abundance of choice. Black Hills National Forest sprawls across 1.25 million acres of wilderness that’s loaded with meandering creeks, rolling plains, lush forests and rugged foothills. Hiking, fishing, hunting, kayaking and canoeing are all popular activities. The numbers are staggering: The Black Hills are officially home to 353 miles of marked trails, 1,300 miles of fishing streams, 11 freshwater reservoirs and 30 different campgrounds.

For some of the best views in the Black Hills head to Harney Peak (accessible by a lengthy but extremely rewarding forest hike) or Breezy Point (easily accessible by car). Or you can simply hop on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway or Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, with each offering stunning views of the region’s multitude of canyons, mountain peaks and sweeping vistas.

Black Hills by Rail

For a change of pace from exploring the area by hiking boot, canoe or steering wheel, the 1880 Train is another great way to see a vast swath of the Black Hills. Departing from Hill City, this sightseeing train tour is pulled by a vintage steam engine and covers a scenic 20-mile roundtrip route to Keystone and back again.

The 1880 Train departs from each town at various points throughout the day, so this can be a great way to pencil in a trip to the National Presidential Wax Museum, located just outside of downtown Keystone. The museum features life-sized wax figures of every President in American history, each set in an iconic moment or scene during their presidency. Exhibits also display original items and artifacts from the lives and political careers of the presidents.

When you’re ready for a break from the great outdoors entirely, and ready to dive into the history of the Black Hills itself, you won’t have to stray far. The Museum at Black Hills Institute in downtown Hill City features a mix of geological and archeological artifacts that tell the story of the area. The main highlight here is “Stan,” a massive Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that towers over slack-jawed visitors.

Continue your trip back in time at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum and Big Thunder Gold Mine. The former is home to exhibits and collections outlining the importance of the railroad in the growth and expansion of the United States westward, while the latter demonstrates what life was like working in the depths of a turn-of-the-century gold mine.

Finally, for an attraction that’s tailor-made to please the kids, make a trip to Teddy Bear Town. It’s an absolute must. This quirky attraction holds the Guinness World Record for largest teddy bear collection. More than 9,000 plush teddy bears are stuffed into this attraction.

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  1. Anonymous

    You need to put this on your bucket list . The area is full of places to see and things todo