Hill City2021-03-24T16:15:23+00:00

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Sue, the second-most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found, resides in Hill City.

10,000. That’s how many Teddy bears call Hill City home at Teddy Bear Town.

Don’t leave your bestie behind! Hill City is one of the most dog-friendly communities around.

Welcome to Hill City!

Glittering Without Gold

Hill City got its start as a mining camp in 1876. Little gold was ever found but even today it’s obvious that Hill Citians work hard at other industries. The steam of a sawmill rises east of town. Three wineries and a wine/beer tasting room welcome travelers. Paleontologists and fossil hunters have created a world-renowned museum and studio on Main Street filled with fossils, replicas, minerals and more. Outfitters guide anglers and hunters through the forest, and an arts community has grown with fine galleries and special events. There’s more than gold that glitters in this town of 1,008 people.

Railroad Capital of the Black Hills

You can learn a lot about trains in Hill City, even though it was a late bloomer with railroading. The first steam engines arrived in the Black Hills in the late 1870s to serve Homestake Mine at Lead. In 1957, two sentimental railroad officials decided to start the Black Hills Central Railroad at Hill City. The Warder family has kept the trains going since 1990 — thrilling tens of thousands of passengers every year with daily excursions to and from Keystone. The Warders’ 1880 Train has starred in several movies. It is also featured in a new book by Sean Covel, the producer of Napoleon Dynamite. Several years ago, the South Dakota Railroad Museum was established next to the train depot. Even the rare person who doesn’t love trains will enjoy Hill City railroading.

Walnut Pie and Other Culinary Surprises

When you run a restaurant between the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse memorials, it needs to be special. That’s why there’s a legendary walnut pie recipe at Desperadoes (which operates in the oldest hand-hewn log building in the Hills). Alpine Hill, a popular steakhouse located in an 1886 hotel, serves a European lunch menu that is stream-lined in the evening (meaning only ribeye steak and a vegetarian primavera).  Mangiamo’s, a new pizzeria at the curve on Main, is already known for its artisan wood-fired pizza and pasta. Just south of town, a local haunt called the Silver Dollar Saloon serves burgers and homemade pizzas from an old CCC barracks that was a zoo in the 1950s. One day the lion attacked a zookeeper and was shot. When the Silver Dollar replaced the zoo, a lady from far away called to say that she had the lion (mounted by a taxidermist). She wondered if he could come home. Sure, said the bartender. All was forgiven. You’ll see him by the patio.

Mickelson Trail’s Comfy Midway Point

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained …” (Psalms 8-3)

That’s what one woman wrote in her journal as she traveled the Mickelson Trail, a 106-mile “rails to trails” experience that wanders the length of the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont. The Hill City Trailhead — one of 15 such stopsis about midway, and a favorite of many Mickelson travelers because it is in the middle of town, near many of the town’s amenities and comforts. Bikers, hikers and horses are all welcome on the trail, an old Burlington Northern rail track of crushed limestone. More than 100 railroad bridges and four tunnels lie along the way.

Was Granddad a CCC Worker?

More than 30,000 young South Dakotans survived the Great Depression by working on public projects through the Civilian Conservation Corps. Many of them worked on bridges and trails, dams, facilities and parks in the Black Hills. Their legacy — including wonderful photos and an intensive directory of the workers — is preserved at a CCC Museum in the Hill City Visitor Information Center along Highway 16. Motorheads will love the ’35 GMC CCC truck on exhibit (behind glass), one of only 433 ever built. West of the Visitor Information Center is a lovely picnic spot, remove picturesquely bordered by a forest stream and a high granite outcropping.

Entertainment Shopping

Chocolate and Men: The Richer the Better

So reads a sign in the Turtle Town chocolate shop. Hill City doesn’t have the longest Main Street in the Black Hills (most of the shops are in a three-block stretch … no urban sprawl here) but the shoppers and merchants share miles of smiles. You’ll find a handbag store, Black Hills gold jewelry, mountain outfitters, metal art, chainsaw art, fine art and antiques. Get a tattoo at the Gypsy Rose. Deal on rocks and firearms. Sample freshly-made beef jerky. And then explore beyond Main Street, because there are other fun shops along the highway.

How Hill City Became an Arts Haven

Actually, nobody seems to know exactly. Beautiful scenery and forest solitude does attract creative people, but Hill City has emerged as an arts haven. Jon Crane, the well-known Western watercolorist, lives near town and a gallery has featured his works for years. Four other galleries also feature regional and area artists. The Hill City Arts Council hosts Sculpture in the Hills on the last weekend of June and a huge quilt show on the weekend following Labor Day in September. Years ago, council members brought “Iron Star” to Main Street. The metal sculpture of a stallion was created Lemmon’s John Lopez, who turns scrap iron and everyday tools and utensils into incredible art. Look for a man’s face, flowers and other details in the complex work that has come to represent Hill City’s welcoming culture for artists.  Also, the bronze bison “Patriarch” by Peg Detmers greets visitors as they approach from the east into Hill City.

A City Surrounded By Water

The Black Hills are renowned for pine forests, meadows and mountain towns, but first-time visitors are often surprised to discover the lakes. Some of the Hills’ favorites surround Hill City. Twenty miles west of town is Deerfield Lake, with wonderful campgrounds and picnic areas.  Scenic Horse Thief Lake is just below Mount Rushmore on Highway 244. Sheridan Lake, only a few miles northeast of Hill City, has the best swimming beaches. Pactola, the biggest and deepest (up to 150 feet) is just a few miles north of Sheridan. Sylvan Lake, considered the Crown Jewel of Custer State Park, is just a short drive southeast of Hill City on Highway 87. Most of the lakes have small swimming beaches and boat rentals. All are surrounded by easy trails, and all have good fishing. Ahoy, mountaineers!

More stories on Hill City…

Improving With Age

Sandi Vojta became a fifth-generation winemaker at the age of four when she experimented with yeast and fermentation. Her dad would take her out to pick chokecherries for wine, tying a piece of twine with a pail attached around her waist so she could pick berries with both hands.

Walnut Pie Among the Pines

Hear an early-morning clamor in the kitchen of Desperados? Don’t be alarmed. It’s just Connie Heddles, the baker, crushing walnuts for a favorite Southern Hills pie. “She beats the walnuts with a mallet,” laughs restaurant owner Dan Dickey. “She says she can take out her frustrations while she’s working.”

The Original Badger Hole

The Badger Hole is missing! The cabin home of the cowboy poet, Badger Clark, located in Custer State Park has been demolished! No, it has not been demolished, it has been moved. But where? And why? Rumors are flying about the former home of beloved cowboy poet, Badger Clark, and it’s time to take the wraps off the mystery.

Eight Over Seven

Our Black Hills are gentle mountains. You don’t need ropes, axes and harnesses to tackle even our highest peaks. And most are climbable even in winter. South Dakota has eight peaks that stand 7,000 feet or taller in elevation. Rapid City journalist Seth Tupper wrote about them in 2017, and his reports seem to have inspired a new challenge for hikers, bikers and runners to do all eight.

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