Black Hills, South Dakota – Part I

Welcome to the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments and so much more.

Yeah! We Made it to the Black Hills.

We selected Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort in Custer, South Dakota, our base camp in the Southern Hills for eight nights starting on June 18, 2017. We never know what we are getting when we make reservations. As we drove up a small hill on the gravel road, I wasn’t sure we had chosen wisely. All doubts flew away, however, when we crested the hill to see the large expanse of grassy knolls and RVs tucked up under a stand of large pines. Buffalo Ridge is also a great place for tent campers with cabana/shelters, picnic tables, fire rings, and plenty of grass between sites.

I couldn’t resist including this sunrise at Buffalo Ridge.

Sunrise at Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort

Hill City

Hill City, established in 1876, is a cute little town with restaurants, shops, art galleries and of course a Harley Davidson store.

Restaurant in Hill City
Hill City Harley Davidson 

Once a thriving tin mining town, industries that support the city today include timber, tourism, and telecommunications. The art scene is also on the rise in the town, like this sculpture by John Lopez.

John Lopez Horse Sculpture

How many objects can you identify in the sculpture?

The Alpine Inn served up a delicious French dip with fruit on the side and we didn’t even have to wait. We had heard that since the restaurant does not take reservations, the lines could grow long. Oh, and you can leave your credit card at home, they only accept cash and checks.

Get Your Name on the List Early to Avoid Long Waits at the Alpine Inn

With all of the usual types of gift and souvenir shops, one store stood out. Art Forms Gallery, a co-op of twenty Black Hill artists offer a great variety of paintings, jewelry, woodwork, hand woven scarves, photography art books, and other artistic items for sale. It was nice to have a selection of goods made by local artists to browse through.

The 1880 Train

The Black Hills Central Railroad and the 1880 Train is what drew us to Hill City. We were too late to ride the train the first day we visited, so we returned a few days later. The steam locomotive, which takes three hours to prepare, pulls the train up and down 4% to 6% grades to Keystone over the course of the two-hour twenty-mile round trip.

Locomotive Spewing Steam
Engineer Patiently Waiting for Locomotive to Warm Up
Water Tower Used to Refill Locomotive

The Black Hills Central Railroad does a fantastic job renovating the cars and locomotives. Prefer a cushy seat? Grab a leather one in one of the enclosed cars. All of the windows open and close easily.

The Seat Backs Flip From One Side to the Next. No Matter the Direction, Riders Face Forward.

We saw Tin Mill Hill, Black Elk Peak, Elkhorn Mountain, and Old Baldy Mountain from the windows of the train cars among the farms, abandoned properties, and deer grazing in the fields. Here is a sampling of sights seen on the train ride from Hill City to Keystone.

Bambi in the Grass
Cold Storage Built Into Hill
One of the Many Curves on the Route
Farm Seen From Train
Abandoned Buildings
Wooden Cabin
Did the Boulder Fall on the Building or Was the Building Built Under the Boulder?
Another Abandoned Building


We got off the train to browse the shops selling T-shirts, hats, Native American art, leather goods, jewelry, and candy and check out which restaurant might satisfy us for lunch.

Motorcyclists are Common in the Black Hills
The Keystone Mercantile Sells Just About Everything

The Ruby House looked like a good bet and when I crossed the threshold, I thought time had shifted to the 1880s. The gold and red velvet wallpaper lining the walls, brass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and the paintings of cowboys, Indians, and portraits of people in their latest fashions of the day hung on the walls created an immersive atmosphere.

Ruby House Restaurant a Great Place to Eat.
Ruby House Restaurant Interior

After exploring the stores and filling our bellies, we arrived early at the train depot and watched the locomotive pull into the station.

Train Arriving At Keystone Depot

Be sure to sit on the opposite side of the train when returning to Hill City so you can see what you missed on the way to Keystone.

Stay tuned for future posts which will detail Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Needles Highway, and other sights.

Safe Travels

13 thoughts on “Black Hills, South Dakota – Part I

  1. The Black Hills of South Dakota is one of favorite areas to visit. Did you go to Deadwood? They use to have a great guided tour there. Not sure if you’ve been before but the Needles highway is a beautiful drive. If you can park your 5th somewhere though the road is better for smaller vehicles regarding to places to pull over. There is a view point pull off that has a great view of Mount Rushmore.


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