South Dakota’s Hill City may be small, but it is packed with virtually endless recreational possibilities.
It is packed with many attractions, such as a well-preserved 1800s-era steam train, dinosaur fossils, parks, festivals, and railroad museums, among others.
No wonder this small community is dubbed as the “Heart of the Hills.”
Hill City got its nickname for being the city on the foot of the famous Black Hills.
Hill City is more than just its historical landmarks and parks.
It also has a vibrant arts community.
This city is a 42-minute drive southwest of Rapid City but closer to the Black Hills National Forest and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
If you’re planning to create awesome travel memories, Hill City is one of the most underrated choices out there.
Whether you want to wander on your own or with your family, Hill City has something exciting for all.
The city has numerous restaurants, wineries, and pubs, which adds more fun to your travel experience.
If you’re planning to visit this small city in South Dakota, here are the 15 best things to do in Hill City, SD:
Travel Back in Time at the 1880 Train/Black Hills Central Railroad
Upon arriving in Hill City, your first visit should be at the 1880 Train/Black Hills Central Railroad or locally known as the 1880 train.
It’s a recommended place to visit if you want to get a glimpse of South Dakota’s natural beauty in a different view aboard a century-old train.
The 1880 train is steam-operated and tours people around Hill City to the town of Keystone.
The total travel takes about 20-miles vice versa.
Along the way, you’ll see the majestic natural beauty of South Dakota through its untamed mountains, forests, and rivers.
To start your Hill City travel adventure, head to the 1880 Train.
To book a ticket for this famous train, it is at 222 Railroad Ave, Hill City, SD, and they are open from 9 am to 3 pm daily.
Stay at the Historic Alpine Inn
The Alpine Inn is a tourist spot in Hill City that has been operating since 1884.
Today, it still welcomes guests to its elegantly designed rooms that take you back to the old world.
The Alpine Inn, formerly known as the Harney Peak Hotel, is not just a highly recommended place in Hill City.
It’s also a historic landmark with a key significance to the city’s history.
Plus, it has a renowned restaurant known for its excellent fine dining experience.
This famous hotel is at 133 Main St., Hill City, SD.
Treat Your Palate With Flavorful Wines at the Twisted Pine Winery
Hill City is home to numerous wineries and vineyards.
That is why you shouldn’t miss visiting its wineries and tasting different wines that you can’t find anywhere else.
One of the best wineries to visit aside from Prairie Berries is the Twisted Pine Winery.
They are well-known for their wide array of wines, balsamic vinegar, and Italian olive oils, grown and manufactured in their backyard.
Over at their tasting room, you can try different wines and other specialties that are only available in South Dakota.
Plus, the winery has a brewery that features fine craft beers you can try.
This winery is at 216 Main St, Hill City, SD, and they are open from 12 noon to 5 pm daily.
Take a Closer Look at Dinosaur Fossils at the Museum @ Black Hills Institute
The Museum @ Black Hills Institute at 117 Main St in Hill City is home to a collection of well-preserved dinosaur fossils, including a Tyrannosaurus-Rex they named “Stan.”
This museum in Hill City is a popular destination for the entire family who wants to take a closer look at these amazing dinosaur fossils.
Aside from Stan and other dinosaur fossils, the museum also features an extensive collection of prehistoric marine animal fossils, petrified minerals, plants, and meteorites.
The group behind this museum, the Black Hills Institute is a pioneer in various paleontological excavations since the 70s.
The group is the main supplier of fossils to various museums and collectors.
To museum is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Stroll Around Tracy Park
This park in Hill City is the gateway or trailhead to the 109-mile-long trail of the George S. Mickelson Trail.
Tracy Park is one of the best places to hike or simply relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.
The park has numerous picnic shelters, a barbeque area, restrooms, picnic tables, and a vast children’s playground.
It’s also the perfect spot for outdoor recreation with your family or friends.
If you’re into a more adventurous recreation, you can hike through the George S. Mickelson, which takes you to numerous forest reserves and parks down south.
To visit Tracy Park, it is at 512 S Newton Ave, Hill City, SD.
Fish for Big Catch at the Major Lake
Major Lake is part of George Mickelson’s 109-mile-long trail that stretches farther north of Hill City to the city of Custer down south.
Major Lake, which also serves as a park, offers you dozens of outdoor activities, mainly fishing.
The lake is teeming with different fish species.
Ospreys are commonly seen around Major Lake to feed, so chances are, you might come across some of these birds while you’re fishing there.
Major Lake may not be that huge, but it’s packed with fish, so it would also be worth trying to fish there.
This fishing spot in Hill City is adjacent to the Ranger field track.
Experience Old West Style Dining at Desperados
This restaurant in Hill City is very popular among locals and tourists alike because of its Old West feels that you can see in its design and ambiance.
The building where Desperado’s restaurant is nestled was the former Von Woehrman Building built back in 1885.
It was once owned by local businessman Camillo Von Woehrman who utilized the building as a saloon.
After surviving numerous fires and other incidents, the building is still standing firmly until this day.
Thus, the National Registry added this building as a historical site.
The restaurant isn’t just popular for its historical significance in Hill City.
It also serves delicious American-style food and beverages.
The Desperados restaurant is at 301 Main St, Hill City, SD.
The restaurant starts serving delicious food from 11 am to 7 pm.
Browse Through History at the Hill City Public Library
For history buffs, aside from Hill City’s museums and century-old trains and railroads, Hill City also has a public library packed with interesting information about this vibrant small city.
The library offers you an extensive collection of the city’s well-kept old photographs, memorabilia, books, and other important documents.
It has a repository project that’s currently being constructed to add more book collections to the library.
If you’re very intrigued about the rich history of Hill City, head to 341 Main St to visit this Library, which opens from 8 am to 5 pm daily.
Celebrate Art With the Hill City Arts Council
Hill City has a thriving arts community that regularly holds workshops, events, and exhibits to promote its passion for art.
The Hill City Arts Council, a local organization, is highly-dedicated to promoting arts in different but very creative ways and projects to enhance art culture in their community.
Their main goal is to promote art to the community through affordable and fun-filled art experiences with their activities.
They regularly hold musical, fine arts, and written word activities in Hill City, which caters to locals and people around the Black Hills.
They also have art-oriented festivals and shows year-round that you might want to join.
Check out the Hill City Arts Council at 280 Main Street, Suite 12 PO Box 321, Hill City, SD.
They also have a website wherein all of their scheduled events are posted.
Learn History at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum
If you’re into history and also interested in railroads and trains, then head to the South Dakota Railroad Museum at 222 Railroad Ave Building A, Hill City, SD.
This museum is teeming with interesting stuff from the 1800s to the present day that is all about trains, people, places, and railroads.
The South Dakota State Railroad Museum is highly accessible since it’s adjacent to the 1880 Train.
So, it is ideal to visit the museum after a fun ride with the famous 1880 train.
Furthermore, the museum features exhibit, train models, memorabilia, artifacts, and a huge 75-foot mural billed as the “TimeRail.”
The South Dakota State Railroad Museum is open daily from 10 am to 3 pm.
Join the Black Hills Film Festival
The Black Hills Film Festival is a major annual event in Hill City happening every February.
It’s the largest congregation of aspiring filmmakers in South Dakota and the Black Hills, wherein they showcase their respective film entries.
It’s like the Cannes Film Festival of South Dakota, where you can watch entertaining but very meaningful independent films.
Besides the film festival, the organizers also hold seminars, workshops, and forums to learn more about filmmaking and other relevant topics.
The highlight of the film festival is the awarding night wherein the winning filmmakers receive numerous awards, such as the best-featured documentary, short documentary, short film, student film, and people’s choice.
What makes it more interesting is all of the film entries are shot in South Dakota while some are shot abroad.
Taste Award Winning Wines at the Famous Prairie Berry
The Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City has already received dozens of awards for the past two decades.
Your visit to Hill City won’t be complete without visiting its winery and tasting room, serving excellent varieties of wine since 1876.
This family-owned winery only uses fruit grown in South Dakota’s prairies.
What makes them a highly recommended place to visit is their free wine tasting from their vast collection of wines.
You can taste different wine flavors and notes from fruity, robust, crisp, dry, and oak-aged wines which will surely treat your palate to a whole new experience.
Plus, they have a delectable food menu that you can pair with their wine.
To visit the Prairie Berry Winery, it is at 23837 US-385, Hill City, SD, and they are open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
Explore the Vast George S. Mickelson Trail
Hill City’s trailhead to the George S. Mickelson Trail starts in Tracy Park.
It traverses down south to Black Hills National Forest, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the city of Custer.
It’s where most outdoor enthusiasts in South Dakota go because of its recreational activities involving sports like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, biking, and horseback riding.
The entire trail was once a rail line decommissioned back in 1983.
From then on, it’s been a popular hiking trail in Hill City and neighboring towns and cities.
Along the way, you can cross more than a hundred bridges, several tunnels, and the majestic Black Hills.
If you’re already tired, there are numerous benches and shelters at the trailheads along the way.
Roam Around the CCC Museum of South Dakota
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum of South Dakota opened in 2009 in a 728-square feet facility that features historical artifacts of the Black Hills and Hill City.
The museum mainly caters to people who are curious about the CCC’s historical past, wherein you can learn more about how people back in the day overcame the Great Depression and many more.
The CCC is a group introduced back in the 1930s to provide employment and livelihood to locals in South Dakota during the Great Depression.
The group also aimed to protect the rural lands and natural resources from exploitation.
Today, their efforts are immortalized by the life-sized bronze statue in front of the museum.
The CCC Museum of South Dakota is at 23935 US-385, Hill City, SD, and it’s open from 9 am to 4 pm daily.
Unwind at Hill City’s Memorial Park
Like your typical recreational outdoor park, Hill City’s Memorial Park is a perfect spot to unwind and do outdoor activities.
The park has a vast open space teeming with sports facilities, such as a soccer field and a baseball diamond.
Plus, there are barbeque pits, picnic tables, shelters, and restrooms for your convenience.
Furthermore, Spring Creek, a popular fishing spot, is adjacent to the park, offering you more outdoor recreation.
To visit this park in Hill City, it is at 12480 Old Hill City Road.
The Hill City Memorial Park opens from 9 am to 5 pm the entire week.
After reading through this list, you might probably know why Hill City is billed as the “Heart of the Hills” in South Dakota.
Its museums, parks, and wineries make it a worthy travel destination.
For sure, there are dozens more exciting things to do in this vibrant small city waiting for you to explore.
Whenever you’re ready to go to Hill City, don’t forget to browse through this list to make your itinerary more exciting.