Hill City is a small town in terms of population, but is considered a vital tourism community due to its location near the center of the widely popular Black Hills, a proximity that has earned it the nickname Heart of the Hills. The oldest city in Pennington County, Hill City is just 26 miles southwest of South Dakota’s largest city, Rapid City. A diverse network of unique shopping and dining destinations cater to the large number of tourists. Popular restaurants include the Bumpin Buffalo Bar & Grill, the Alpine Inn, and the Continental Cafe. Specialized shops include handmade jewelry outlets, the year-round Christmas outlet Mistletoe Ranch, the Prairie Berry Winery, and a variety of specialty gift shops.
The second American settlement in the Black Hills, Hill City is part of the wave of towns that sprang into existence after the 1876 Gold Rush in the Black Hills. After several centuries of occupation by Native American tribes, the discovery of gold in surrounding areas in 1874 opened up Hill City to an influx of miners. The early mining community was known for its riotous lifestyle. Although it was settled in the late 1800s, Hill City wasn’t officially incorporated until 1945. Major railways intersect Hill City, including the carefully restored Black Hills Central Railroad and the Burlington Northern Line. The major sources of income for Hill City are tourism and the timber industry, both due to the city’s close proximity to the Black Hills National Forest.
Its proximity to many major South Dakota attractions, including Mount Rushmore, the Sturgis Motorcycle Festival, and Custer State Park, makes Hill City a hub for tourists. The 1880 Train provides two-hour train tours through the scenic Black Hills. The National Presidential Wax Museum is another popular destination, uniquely commemorating some of our nation’s most celebrated leaders. The Harney Peak Hotel, registered as a National Historic Landmark, has been fully restored to capture the city’s charming character.
Hill City boasts a rich culture and arts community under the direction of the Hill City Arts Council. Each year, the Art Extravaganza and the Arts & Crafts fair respectively feature art displays and handmade crafts by local artists. Several local galleries feature metal sculptures, paintings, and handmade quilts. A wide variety of creative merchants peddle Black Hills gold and bronze jewelry, Native American art, and works of renowned local artist Jon Crane. Music enthusiasts enjoy country and bluegrass performances by the Hill City Slickers. Several area museums showcase the rich heritage and history of Hill City, including the Black Hills Museum of Natural History, which exhibits fossils, dinosaur skeletons, and precious gemstones. Wade’s Gold Mill & Mining Museum celebrates the Black Hills’ long history of mining, and also holds gold panning lessons.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find no shortage of pursuits in Hill City. Ample hiking and biking is encouraged by a network of trails, including the George S. Mickelson Trail. Eleven water reservoirs foster numerous aquatic activities, including fishing, swimming, and boating. Remarkable cave formations are ideal for spelunking, while prairielands are conducive to horseback riding and hunting. Hundreds of well-maintained paths make Hill City a desirable location for snowmobiling in the winter. Dogsled racing is also a popular sport, with Hill City organizing the Run for the Gold Dogsled Race each year, attracting thousands of spectators from across the country.