If you’re looking for scenic beauty, a bit of culture and some fascinating history all the way back to the prehistoric, make sure you take time to stroll the streets of Hill City, the second oldest town in the Black Hills (Custer wins as the oldest). With a plethora of things to see and do, it would be easy to spend more than a few days exploring the quaint treasurers of the town. But if you find yourself on a time crunch, consider these categorized “musts” to make the most of a few hours in the “Heart of the Hills.”
Hill City is dotted with a variety of eating establishments, covering the desires of even the pickiest palate. If cowboy cuisine is calling your name, hit up Desperados Cowboy Restaurant and try one of the finest buffalo burgers or steaks in the Black Hills. Stop in for either lunch or dinner, and while you’re there, be sure to ask the owner Dan about the paranormal activity in the dining room that was once a saloon!
At the other end of Main Street is the Alpine Inn, located in the historic Harney Peak Hotel – a true treasure of the Black Hills. They feature a special luncheon menu of eats with European charm. Their famous evening menu offers only 3 selections: a 6 oz. or 9 oz. bacon wrapped Filet Mignon, or a vegetarian option. The Filet Mignon is accompanied by a generous lettuce wedge with an incredible homemade ranch dressing (trust me – it’s to die for…), a baked potato and Texas toast. The dinner is wonderful, but be sure to save room for dessert. Their dessert menu includes more than 20 options of deliciousness.
For those passionate about food, the Kitchen at Prairie Berry Winery provides its guests with a diverse array of menu items that boast the best of South Dakota’s local and regional flavors. They develop their seasonal menus with upscale appetizers, entrées, and desserts for the sophisticated palate, and of course, each dish is created with their handcrafted wines in mind. Opt for a seat on their patio and soak in the beautiful Black Hills view while you indulge! Read more of our Prairie Berry food review here.
If your legs are cramping from too many hours in the car, the Hill City area is the perfect place to stretch out and get the blood flowing again. The George S. Mickelson Trail (our 109-mile-long state park) supplies year-round outdoor adventure. Spend some time hiking, biking, or horseback riding – or come back in the winter months for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Surrounding Hill City, the trail winds its way through nearby countryside, passing through some of the Black Hills’ most scenic expanses. The Burlington Trailhead near downtown marks the approximate mid-point of the trail.
For an epic twist on your vacation, consider hiking to the top of Harney Peak in Custer State Park. Not only is Harney Peak the highest point in South Dakota, it’s also the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the French Alps. Though it reaches 7,242 feet, a hike to the top is moderate and appropriate for many skill levels. The trails are heavily used and don’t require any technical climbing skills. Several trails will lead you to the old lookout tower, with a rough average of about 4 hours round-trip.
- Museum at Black Hills Institute: Travel back in time to see the remains of ancient creatures that roamed land, sky and sea in the age of dinosaurs. See mineral treasures from around the world, with a special section dedicated to the regional area. Learn the history of the explorers and miners who forged the present and fossil hunters who shed light on past.
- 1880 Train: All aboard for a 20-mile journey on a vintage steam train like the ones that helped settle the great American West. Several trips daily between Hill City and Keystone.
- South Dakota State Railroad Museum: Railroads influenced South Dakota in many ways. Come and experience rail memorabilia, model trains, and interactive displays that will give you an understanding of both the history and future of railroads.
- Brulé, Horseback Trail Rides & Circle B Chuckwagon at High Country Guest Ranch: High Country Guest Ranch is home to summer evening performances from the world-class Native American group, “Brulé.” They also offer another must-do for your Black Hills vacation: trail rides in the beautiful Black Hills National Forest! Choose from morning and afternoon ride times 6 days a week, Mon-Sat. Then save room to taste the best of the West at the Circle B Chuckwagon.
- Palmer Gulch Stables & Chuckwagon Supper: The friendly wranglers at Palmer Gulch Stables offer trail rides available in length from 1 hour to 4½ hours through the Black Elk Wilderness Area and the Norbeck Scenic Wildlife Preserve. Make plans to join them for an open air chuckwagon supper show by arriving in a remote mountain meadow via horse-drawn covered wagons to enjoy a real cowboy music show!
- Wineries/Breweries: Hill City has established itself as the “Heart of the Hills” but you could also say they are the “Heart of the Vine” – home to several wineries and new microbreweries. Prairie Berry Winery is famous for their Red Ass Rhubarb wine, as well as several other fruit wines inspired by native South Dakota ingredients. The same owners have ventured into the microbrewery business with Miner Brewing Company, located right next door. Nearby you’ll find the Naked Winery Tasting Room, where they aim to please and tease! Discover traditional grape wines that bring people together, and if drinking “Naked” (wine, that is) isn’t enough, try their Sick-N-Twisted line of in-house microbrews.
- Teddy Bear Town: You have to see it to believe it! Teddy Bear Town is home of the Guinness World Record “Largest Teddy Bear Collection,” with over 9,000 different Teddy Bears of all shapes, sizes and origins imaginable!
- Dakota Stone Rock Shop: The Rock Shop offers fun activities, gem panning, a mine treasure hunt and a small mine museum. They sell large and small boulders, rough rock, high-quality polished stones, stone made home décor, figurines, local stones, fossils, and much more.
- The Handbag Store: Looking for a little retail therapy? You’ll be happy as clam when you browse The Handbag Store’s wide selection of handbags, jewelry, scarves, caps, kids’ items and locally handcrafted fabric items.
- Mount Rushmore Memories: Commemorate your trip to the historic Black Hills with the perfect souvenir from Mount Rushmore Memories. The store carries books, gifts, art and visitor information about Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills area.
- Sandy Swallow Gallery: Internationally-known Oglala Lakota artist Sandy Swallow showcases her complete line of authentic American Indian art and culture through fine art, pottery, jewelry, apparel, and bronze and stone sculptures. The gallery also features other Native American and South Dakota artists.
For more information on everything to see and do in Hill City, stop by or call the Hill City Visitor Information Center and Chamber of Commerce, located one mile north of town on Hwy 385, 1-