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Spotlight: Hill City

Explore the heart of the Black Hills

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.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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 most 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 (for up-close views of the faces) and a trio of Native American Heritage Villages.

Pair your stop at Mount Rushmore with a visit to nearby Rushmore Cave. This unique adventure park is full of zip lines, spelunking expeditions and even an interactive gunslinger adventure ride.

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 among visitors.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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.

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

For More Information

Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce
South Dakota Department of Tourism