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13 Awesome Things to Do in Hill City, South Dakota

View of Hill City

Just 20 minutes by car from Keystone, South Dakota, otherwise known as home to Mount Rushmore is Hill City.  When planning your visit to the Black Hills, you will undoubtedly have questions about what to do, where to stay, and what other cool things there are that might not be common knowledge.

I like to make sure everyone knows how special Hill City, South Dakota is and why they should make sure not to miss it! This is one of the hidden gems of the Black Hills and it even has its own train station that will take you on a scenic journey into Keystone and back!

In this article, I will introduce you to some of my favorite things to do and of course one of the best places to eat in the entire Black Hills area!

What to do in Hill City & Keystone, South Dakota: 1880 Train, George Mickelson Trail

Shopping

Now of course who doesn’t love shopping on vacation? Okay, I know not everyone loves to shop, but whether you enjoy it or not, Hill City has some excellent shops that might pique your interest. Of course, the typical souvenir-style shops and a really cool Harley-Davidson shop are available. If you have been in the Black Hills long you might even see your fair share of Harley motorcycles as we are home to the world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Keeping on trend with motorcycles, Hill City has a great leather shop and a beef jerky experience store. All of this is located on Main Street, in addition to, art galleries, restaurants, candy, ice cream, and more. I’ll list a few of my favorites below!

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The Farmer’s Daughter 

The Farmer’s Daughter is a great place to shop for creative souvenirs or gifts and take home a unique hand-crafted piece of art for your own yard. From the outside, it looks like a flea market. Don’t miss the fun jail cell photo op!

Alpaca Store

This sweet store has the softest alpaca products!  They encourage you to touch it all.  Prices are also really reasonable!

Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing

This is probably my favorite store in Hill City! Jon Crane Gallery & Custom Framing has some of the most stunning art I’ve ever seen along with some rare pieces of furniture and decor.  The gallery features artwork from some of our most iconic places around the hills.  Though this place is a budget breaker, you still need to walk around and see it all for yourself.  Please don’t skip this one!

Museum At Black Hills Institute

Also on Main Street, and hard to miss with the giant triceratops head in front of the steps, is the Museum At Black Hills Institute.  Don’t let the small building fool you, it’s crammed with over 1300 fossils and has over 150 research-quality replicas.  If you want to get an idea of the actual size of a dinosaur, touch some real bones, and learn more about these prehistoric giants, then check this place out.

Dahl’s Chainsaw Art 

A staple of the Black Hills is Dahl’s Chainsaw Art!  You may have seen the world’s largest Bigfoot in Keystone, but here in Hill City, you can see the world’s largest Smoky the Bear!

Smoky the Bear, Hill City

The Dahl brothers create one-of-a-kind pieces from the ponderosa pines of the Black Hills.  They have become internationally known, award-winning carvers and we are blessed to have them decorating our Hills with their beautiful art.  Look for their other giant works in Deadwood, the Badlands, and Custer too!

As a side note, one of my favorite places to walk around in Keystone is at the Dahl brother’s site.  Tucked into the canyon and next to the creek and shaded by huge trees, it’s the perfect setup. Keystone wouldn’t be the same without them!

Worlds Largest Bigfoot in Keystone, SD

Mickelson Trail 

In the heart of the Black Hills is the Mickelson Trail.  This 109-mile trail goes through Hill City where some of the most scenic parts of the trail are located with converted railroad bridges and rock tunnels.

People visit from all over the world to hike, bike, or horseback ride this long but relatively easy trail. I will try to do a more comprehensive article regarding the Mickelson trail soon!

Bike Rental

If you want to just explore the town on a bicycle or take a stab at the Mickelson trail yourself you can rent a bike. Some places will even shuttle you there so you can save some of your energy for the trail! 

Mount Rushmore Resort & Lodge at Palmer Gulch

For short we just call this Palmer Gulch and it’s located in Hill City, but technically it’s between Hill City and Mount Rushmore.

Palmer Gulch is a one-stop shop for lots of fun in one place!  Here you can camp, ATV, fish, horseback ride, swim, hike, bike, and participate in games, activities, and crafts.  You name it and it’s probably available at Palmer Gulch.  If you are coming to the area to camp and you want a loaded place to stay then this is it!

1880 Train

It’s not every day you get a chance to ride on a real steam locomotive through a serenely scenic landscape so you might want to jump on this while you can.  The 1880 train is an authentically refurbished steam train from the late 1800s and it’s a thrill!

For more information and my personal review, you can read all about it in my article The 1880 Train In South Dakota: Should You Ride It?

1880 Train Hill City Depot

Visit the Train Museum 

The South Dakota State Railroad Museum is located alongside the 1880 train station.  This stunning beauty houses some of the most educational railroad history.  There is much to see and experience in this museum and if you have an 1880 train ticket you can receive $2 off admission!

Train Museum, Hill City

Prairie Berry Winery and Miner Brewing Company

Prairie Berry Winery offers international award-winning handcrafted on-site wines!  I’m not a wine drinker, but the reviews and feedback I’ve heard about their wine are nothing but great. The winery is tucked back in the most gorgeous setting and the food is top-notch, serving artisan plates and fancy sandwiches that you might expect at a winery.

Next door to Prairie Berry is the Miner Brewing Company which was opened in 2013 by the same family.  You can enjoy a more traditional, European-inspired style craft beer while appreciating the view of Black Elk Peak and surrounding ponderosa pines. 

Rent a Razor 

Spend the day or just a few hours exploring the Black Hills on a 4 or 6-seat ATV.  The Black Hills National Forest is a popular area for back road driving and the trails are endless with over 3600 miles of roads and 600 miles of trails for ATVs, UTVs, and other similar vehicles. Because of snow, this is primarily a summer activity. Check out Adventure Rentals for this and other types of rentals.

Hiking

Hiking is one of the most popular attractions of the Black Hills.  While most trailheads are several miles from Hill City, you can still access a couple near town.  For a short 2.5-mile loop you can hike the Willow Creek Trail which is popular but also easy enough for all!  This trail is also frequented by horseback riders.

Horseback Ride

Horses on trail

Whether you bring your own horse or rent one in Palmer Gulch, the Black Hills are the perfect place to galavant through on horseback.  Trailheads located in Hill City can take you into Custer State Park for an up close and personal look at the nature and wildlife.

Alpine Inn

Alpine Inn

This is my favorite restaurant in the Black Hills to date! I’ve even written a review article: A Gem in Hill City, South Dakota; Alpine Inn.  This adorable inn serves some of the best food in the area and the service is terrific.  Make sure to bring cash (they do not accept cards) and get there early because they generally have a line, especially in the summer!

I recommend the Monte Cristo sandwich or the grilled Havarti bacon apricot sandwich.  Want to take it up a notch? Add turkey to your Havarti sandwich! My husband and I always split these two sandwiches since both are equally delicious. 

Is There Anything Else I Should Know?

Yes! There are so many amazing things to do in the Black Hills. The Black Hills can be confusing because it is a HUGE area.

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to all the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2 hours of stories about the park!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO THE BLACK HILLS

BLACK HILLS TRIP PLANNER: To read or watch all of our content about the Grand Canyon, check out our Black Hills Homepage

AREAS: The Black Hills is home to some amazing national parks and monuments: Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave National Parks, Badlands, and Crazy Horse.  Plus, the amazing Custer State Park

THINGS TO DO: There is much more to do than hike and look at Mt. Rushmore.  Explore the 1880 train, Reptile Gardens, slip down a natural waterslide, or go on a scenic drive

GREAT CITIES TO STAY OR CHECK OUT: Explore some amazing mountain towns including Deadwood, Keystone, Hill City, and Rapid City.

GET QUIRKY: Want something REALLY different? Check out Devil’s Tower and Wall Drug

WHERE TO EAT: Check out the best places to eat in and around Mt. Rushmore plus where to eat in each city

WATCH: Enjoy videos of the amazing Black Hills while learning our best tips for visiting by watching our Black Hills YouTube Playlist

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