A Tourist Guide to Hot Springs, South Dakota

December 10, 2021

So why did you end up in Hot Springs, South Dakota? Are you visiting the Black Hills? Are Wind Cave or the Mammoth Site on your travel itinerary? Perhaps you’re coming to work at the VA Hospital, or plan on crashing at the local KOA for a few nights. Maybe you’re leaving the big city junk show and looking for a small town to set down roots. Whatever your reason for coming to town, welcome! Hot Springs, South Dakota is a wonderful place to be!

Hot Spring is a pioneer town at the southern end of the Black Hills. Different from its gold rush counterparts, the city of Hot Springs was developed as a health resort. Early settlers used mineral-rich waters from canyon springs to ease their pains and treat illnesses. It didn’t take long for the word to spread, and folks came from all over to partake of the warm, healing waters.

As with everything else in the Black Hills, the native peoples of the region have long frequented this area. They consider the mineral springs sacred, calling it Minnekahta, which means “warm waters”. For hundreds of years the tribes congregated in these parts for the salubrious qualities of the ground springs.

White settlers initially called the town Minnekahta, but after a year or so they simplified the name to Hot Springs.

The modern town is small and charming with a single stop light on N. River Street. Original buildings made of Lakota Sandstone remain as primary structures. Architecture is beautiful and helps maintain a turn-of-the-century atmosphere. There are no mega-stores or prominent grocery chains (unless you count Dakotamart, which we don’t). The theatre views one movie at a time, three days a week. The nearest town which offers typical modern conveniences is Rapid City, over fifty miles away.

Despite the low profile of Hot Springs, South Dakota, the town is a significant hub for tourism. Whatever brought you to town, we encourage you to take your time. There is much to do here and the people are friendly. Please continue reading to learn all about the things to do, the places to eat, and where to stay in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

What to Do:

1. Wind Cave National Park

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

The densest cave system in the world is at Wind Cave National Park. Since 1950, modern cavers have brought the total distance explored to over 150 miles of discovered passageways, and there is plenty of exploration yet to come. This makes it the 6th longest cave system in the world as well.

There are a handful of tours that allow park goers to see some of the features for which the cave is known. They say that 95% of the world’s box work is found at Wind Cave National Park. The park is free to enter, but the tours cost $10-12 depending on which one you select.

Seldom mentioned about Wind Cave is the abundance of bison that roam the 34,000 grassland acres above the tunnels. It is the largest remaining natural grass prairie in North America. Some would say it is the best part of the National Park.

Learn about all the Beautiful Things to Do at Wind Cave National Park by clicking here. It is without question one of the best things to do in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

2. Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

The Mammoth site is a mind-blowing curiosity. 150,000 years ago there was a steep-sided watering hole from which the Columbia Mammoth and Wooley Mammoth would bathe or drink. The sinister thing about this oasis was the slick shale surrounding the grassy edge made it easy to slip in and difficult to climb out. Over sixty known mammoths and other awesome creatures fell prey to the slippery perimeter, falling into a 65-foot lake from which they would never escape.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

In 1974, a construction project revealed a massive mammoth gravesite. A paleontologist purchased the land at cost, and the Mammoth Site has been a working paleontological dig ever since.

Volunteers help to unearth the fossils, and you can learn about the process and even become apart of it. This is a fascinating place to visit because there isn’t much like it available to the public. Plan on spending 2-hours or longer to read the placards and peruse the exhibits.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

3. The Pioneer Museum

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

In 1893, the city accepted the lowest bid of $23,500 to build a K-12 school for the children of Hot Springs. What they got for their money is a beautiful, four-story, sandstone facility that has remained one of the finest buildings in Hot Springs. With a splendid perch overlooking downtown, it is hard to miss the extraordinary structure. The school closed in 1961. It is now maintained as a museum by the Fall River County Historical Society.

If you want to know what life was like 100 years ago, the Pioneer Museum is 25 exhibits of everything from sewing machines, to beds and quilts, to dishes, tools, and musical instruments. There is a country general store recreated in the basement, a doctor office, a dental office, and a hair salon (at least I think it was a hair salon — it was weird). A 19th century classroom with everything from desks and books to teacher has been recreated in an old… uh… classroom. There is a hot air balloon apparatus that you simply have to see, and much, much more.

And then there’s fifty years of graduating classes from Hot Springs High. Our nation clearly lost its way in the early 80’s.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota
My friend and co-worker’s graduation photo, accidently discovered while photo-happy on tour.

Get lost in the trinkets of yesteryear at the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs. While the Henry Ford Museum it is not, it is fun and interesting, and there is zero pressure. Its like having the Mona Lisa to yourself for an afternoon, if the da Vinci masterpiece were a cornflower blue quilted blanket from the Dakotas.

Admission is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors, and children under 12 are free.

300 N. Chicago St. Hot Springs, South Dakota 58847

4. Lake Angostora Reservoir

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

In 1949, the dam that formed the Angostora Reservoir was built for irrigation purposes. Unless you’re a farmer, you probably aren’t here for the irrigation.

So what’s the draw? The draw is a beautiful lake with 36 miles of beachy shoreline.

Is it just an ordinary lake? Yes, but it is a pretty one that’s full of fish.

Just like every other lake? Lake Angostora is better than most; the water is clear and the sand is nice.

Does it really have beaches, or is it just sand dumped in a couple of spots? It feels like a genuine beach in multiple places.

I still don’t understand why it’s special. Would it help if we told you it’s all imported from France?

Lake Angostora has a harbor for the boaters, a barroom for the boozers, disc-golf for the long-hairs, and a campground for the fams. The views are terrific and the traffic is light. When the heat is sweltering in Hot Springs, South Dakota, this is the best place in town to go.

So you’re telling me it’s not just a lake? No.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

5. Downtown Hot Springs, South Dakota

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

The Downtown District in Historic Hot Springs, South Dakota will take you back to a simpler time. N. River Street is casually strollable with retailers, restaurants, a movie theatre and an ice cream shop all eager to meet your needs. The hill above town is occupied by the VA Hospital, and across the road is the fall river.

The Fall River lazily churns through town. A peculiar waterfall known as Kidney Springs feeds into the river. Kidney Springs are part of the famous spring system that brought people to town 130 years ago. Its supposedly some pretty potent stuff — locals collect it at the source and use it for everything from drinking to cooking to bathing. A white, Victorian gazebo rests a short walk from the spring; and atop the trellis is a statue holding a pitcher of water.

Walking the river through town is an obvious thing to do in Hot Springs, South Dakota. The Farmer’s Market is here on Fridays. The river walk will take you through town then drop you by the old Dakota Territory Jail and Union Train Station with a train car you can climb on. At the end of N. River Street is the famous Evan’s Plunge.

6. Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

Founding Father Fred Evans was one of the biggest developers in Hot Springs. He is responsible for many of the town’s advancements, such as bringing the railroad and electricity to town. He also built the tourist destination known as Evans Plunge, one of the best things to do in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

So what is Evans Plunge? It is a large, spring-fed, gravel bottomed swimming pool. It really hasn’t changed all that much over the past hundred years. They’ve added a couple of short waterslides inside and outside. A nifty set of Olympic-style rings dangle above the pool (photo above). It’s a real challenge to get across the pool on said rings (take it from the aging guy with arthritis in his shoulders), but that doesn’t stop many from trying!

So how does Evans Plunge work? The biggest and warmest (87 degrees) spring in all of Hot Springs flows up through the gravel bottom of the pool.  It completely refills the water in the oversized pool seven times a day. The overflow drops into the Fall River.

The Plunge is like a YMCA with some quirks. There is a decent gym for workouts, a series of saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms, a gift shop, and a snack bar.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

7. Sage Meadow Ranch

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

This is a very personal recommendation for a small horseback riding ranch 15 minutes outside of town. The owner was very kind to give a private lesson to our daughter, which included prepping the horse, an hour-long trail ride on her property, and brushing out the horse afterward. From start to finish the lesson lasted 2-3 hours. It was the best horse riding experience our daughter has ever had.

Sage Meadow Ranch is beautiful and decorated with lots of fun horse garb. The drive in is a little off the beaten path, but rest assured there’s a ranch back there on those dirt roads.

She took tremendous care of our daughter and the price was very fair. We would strongly recommend Sage Meadow Ranch.

Phone: (605) 745-4866

Address: 26840 Iron Shoe Trail, Hot Springs, SD 57747

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

8. Colbrook Lake

When we got to town in mid-July this is the first place that was recommended to us. Colbrook Lake is a damned up river that makes a pretty, little lake of cool, green water. A scenic, ten-minute drive from downtown will get you there, and it is one of the best things to do in Hot Springs, South Dakota when the sun gets hot. Drive around the back side of the lake to find a small camping area and then a beach.

Fun Story: The water is cold, so I slowly worked my way until about naval deep, then I dropped to my knees and acclimated for a few minutes. As I was looking around at what you see in the photo below, trying to find some peace in the 103 degree heat, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left nipple. I looked down just in time to see a fish about 5″ long attached to my body, in full reverse trying to swim away with my nubbin’. The little bugger took off before I could grab him.

That really happened. So, watch out for the fish.

Things to do in Hot Springs South Dakota

Where to Eat

Wooly’s Grill and Cellar

Wooly’s is named after a mammoth and is located next door to the Mammoth Site, yet it has a big, black cow on its sign? We figure they want to make it clear they aren’t serving mammoth steak to avoid the grinding machinery of Paleontological PETA. Wooley’s is one of the nicer restaurants in town and the average dinner will run around $20. They have a “sides bar” where all the side dishes are available on a cart beside the salad bar. All you can eat side dishes, anyone? Menu here.

Winner’s Circle:

The first thing locals will tell you is the bowling alley has some of the best food in town. We scoffed at first, but we learned. It’s true. They have an outrageously long appetizer menu with rather cheap prices and their burgers are fantastic. We came here again and again. Menu here.

Big Time Pizza

The best pie in town is at Big Time Pizza. A 20″ family-sized pie will run $32-60, so you’re not getting off easy. If you’ve never eaten bison, try it crumbled on a pizza! Menu here.

Silk Road Experience

Some folks consider the Silk Road Experience the best food in town. The Silk Road is located between two buildings on N. River Street — like a permanent food truck. They have a rotating menu of Pakistani dishes and keep some peculiar hours (closed sun-mon). Here is their facebook page.

Red Shed Smokehouse

The Best BBQ in the area belongs to the Red Shed Smokehouse. This is another food truck-like establishment and you’ll frequently see a crowd of diners swarming the property. Outdoor seating available. Menu here.

Where to Stay

Stay USA

The only mega-hotel in town.

Fall River Ranch RV Resort

We stayed here for three months this summer and thoroughly enjoyed our time. Todd and Melanie own and operate Fall River Ranch. They spent many years living in RV parks around the country. Over the course of their travels they devised what the perfect RV park would look like, and are now putting the finishing touches on their dream resort. While still under construction, they have full hook-ups and are working daily to complete the project. Located across the street from the Mammoth Site.

Black Hills KOA Holiday

The local KOA is on the highway about ten minutes from town. It’s a pretty good one and books out fast for the summer.

Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival

Every year in late August the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place over a three-day-weekend. Some of the highlights include the Glow Around Town, and the Balloon Launch from the Hot Springs airport.

They do a great job for the kiddos. There is a fire hydrant party, bow and arrow tag, go carts, crafts, inflatable obstacle courses and bouncy houses. The American Legion puts on a pancake breakfast, and local vendors offer other food items. The entire town dresses up their windows and sidewalks with hot air balloon merchandise and artwork, and locals stroll the streets.

If you happen to be in the Black Hills at this time of year, the Fall River Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Hot Springs, South Dakota is a worthwhile event.

Conclusion

The Black Hills of South Dakota are home to some incredible towns. Several of them are famous, like Deadwood, Custer, and Keystone. A good portion of their buzz is due to their proximity to Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, Jewel Cave, and other central attractions.

Where Keystone or Deadwood might feel a bit touristy, Hot Springs is genuine, mid-American, small town living. It has good access to all the same points of interest as it’s gold rush counterparts. You might have to drive a bit further to see the all the things, but we think it’s worth it. Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Free E-Book!

Learn our skills for traveling as a family. Get our free e-book PDF and jumpstart your family's journey.