Tucked into the steepest folds of the Black Hills, Lead is still a place where you can escape from the world. This historic gold town is an off-the-beaten-path playground where people are more about relaxed authenticity than glamorous trends. With so many amazing attractions, parks, and monuments scattered throughout the Black Hills, we understand that visitors have to be choosy when deciding how to allocate their precious time. With that in mind, we’ve put together this four-hour itinerary to help you get the most out of a half-day in Lead.
Start your day off with a visit to the brand new Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center where you can tour the educational displays and gain an understanding of the timeline and intriguing history of the Homestake Gold Mine/Sanford Lab. Whether or not you’re a golfer, be sure to get your “hole-in-one” by teeing off into the Open Cut. (Then make sure you buy a t-shirt so you can prove it to your friends later!) The visitor center also offers a unique gift shop featuring beautiful works of art by local artists. You can easily spend 45 minutes to an hour exploring all that the visitor center has to offer.
From here, take advantage of the city’s “Gold Ticket” and “Silver Ticket” tour program which allows you to save a little money by combining the entrance fees to three of Lead’s cornerstone attractions: the Sanford Lab & City Trolley Tour, the Black Hills Mining Museum, and the Historic Homestake Opera House. The Gold and Silver tickets, sold inside the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, cover your fees to all three attractions for a flat $20 per person or $60 per family.
The Sanford Lab & City Trolley Tour begins at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center and lasts approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes. Along the route, you’ll see historic and significant points of interest throughout the city of Lead and explore the hoist room of the Sanford Underground Lab. The tour is offered daily beginning at 10 a.m., and runs every hour and a half throughout the day, with the last one offered at 4 p.m.
After your tour, spend your lunch hour enjoying a delicious meal in an elegant atmosphere at the Homestake Chop House. The restaurant itself could be its own museum—it has been beautifully restored and features crystal chandeliers, custom wood tables, an actual train car that you can dine in, an indoor water feature, and an adorable toy store. With the feel of a five-star restaurant, but with prices that appeal to all, they offer a wide range of menu items that include wild game, fresh seafood, seasonal favorites, and a fine wine selection.
Walk off your meal at the Historic Homestake Opera House. (Call beforehand to reserve your tour time.) This partially restored building was originally constructed as a gift to the community from the gold mining company—beautifully built in 1914 and nearly destroyed by fire in 1984. Today, this incredible facility hosts a variety of theatrical and musical performances, presentations, tours and special events. If you’re lucky, the opera house’s executive director may even treat you to a vocal demonstration, highlighting the building’s outstanding acoustics. (Her voice is spectacular, too!)
Finish off your day with a visit to the Black Hills Mining Museum—the official mining museum of South Dakota—located next door. Here you can pan your own gold, view numerous exhibits, and take a guided tour of their simulated mine—which will give you a real feel for life as a miner. This progressive tour leads you through the advancements in mining technology and is sure to be enjoyed by all ages.
Since we are limiting this itinerary to just a few hours, you can end your time in the city of Lead and begin exploring some of the area’s most inviting outdoor opportunities. Three trailheads located in town will get you started on the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail. A short drive down Highway 14A will take you to the southern entrance of breathtaking Spearfish Canyon and all of its recreational opportunities—hiking, biking, rock climbing, ATVing/UTVing and more. Other nearby outdoors activities include golfing, fly-fishing and deer or wild turkey hunting.
More than most towns, Lead’s history shows its compelling face as a mining town and its glory days are reflected in its historic institutions. Complementing its history, present-day Lead offers a well-deserved break for those seeking some of the most majestic scenery the Black Hills have to offer. Come, stay and play in Lead!