Anyone could spend weeks exploring the Black Hills of South Dakota and still not fully experience everything... but while you're at it, the town of Hot Springs is the perfect home base. Located close to gems like Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Park, it's a gem in its own right. Hot Springs boasts warm, natural springs where you can swim; fascinating ancient history; quaint, small town charm; and an incredible wild horse sanctuary. What's not to love? Here's our guide to Hot Springs, South Dakota's hidden gem.
Take part and support the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in its mission to help wild horses roam! Currently run and operated by 93-year-old Dayton O. Hyde, the sanctuary is home to thousands of mustangs that are all free to run wild. Supported by visitor donations, Dayton is committed to ensuring the horses can live happily without the interference of people. Stop by the sanctuary and watch as the horses make their way through the lands. Enjoy their beauty in their natural habitat on a two-, four-, or six-hour guided adventure.
Built in 1890, Evans Plunge is the oldest tourist attraction in the Black Hills, and has been the go-to spot for family fun for more than a hundred years. The natural spring-fed waters of Evans Plunge maintain an average temperature of 87 degrees, and the spring has been developed into a man-made pool area. The water that's constantly flowing into the spring is fresh and clean, and there’s even a water slide for those who like their hot spring relaxation with a side of adrenaline. Recently purchased by the city of Hot Springs, Evans Plunge continues to remain an iconic piece of South Dakota history, and provides long-lasting memories for the thousands of families that visit each year.
Home to the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world, the Mammoth Site is an active archaeological dig with dozens of Ice Age fossils waiting to be seen. It was originally intended to be a housing development near a hot spring, but after heavy equipment operator George Hanson stumbled on the fossils, the rest was history. Since his discovery in 1974, paleontologists and archaeologists have continued to explore and study this special spot. The Mammoth Site is dedicated to continued scientific discovery and is a place where visitors can learn about the mammoths and their historic land. Stop by and see the jumble of massive, real-life bones in situ for yourself.
Spend the day swimming and enjoying the babbling water in this popular swimming hole with crisp clear water, thanks to the nearby geothermal springs. With both deep and shallow access, Cascade Falls is the perfect stop for the entire family. The water is a little cooler here than at Evans Plunge (around 67 degrees), but think of it as a refreshing reward for the stroll down the path to the falls. It's been a popular local secret for a hundred or more years, thanks to its idyllic setting and the slow-moving water that's safe for swimming.
Hot Springs is home to the lovely Angostura Recreation Area, set beside a reservoir that's loaded with opportunities for recreation. If you're looking for an incredibly clean and quiet campground, Angostura is calling your name. With multiple "pods," you can choose from a wide variety of settings for your camping adventure. Spend the day fishing with the family, or go on a long hike. You can even sunbathe on the beach— the reservoir has 36 miles of shoreline! Be sure to stop by the dam, which was built in 1949.
Take a drive to the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and soak up some history. The museum has 25 different exhibits across 4 floors with memorabilia and artifacts from different eras in history— including tools, photos, art, and even an old doctor's office. The museum is located in an old 19th-century schoolhouse, which really adds to the atmosphere. You'll feel like you've stepped back into the Victorian era, when Hot Springs was a frontier town!
Make your way to the most one-of-a-kind national park in the country, which just so happens to be located in Hot Springs: Wind Cave National Park. A whole other world lies below the surface of the town, and it's well worth exploring. Book one of the ranger-led tours through the massive caverns (they're first-come, first-serve!) for the best experience. The 1-hour, 1/3-mile Garden of Eden Cave Tour shows off the rare boxwork and other special cave formations; the Natural Entrance Cave Tour reveals how Wind Cave got its name; and the more strenuous Candlelight Cave Tour lets you experience the cave the way its earliest explorers did. They're all worth taking, and above ground, you'll find camping, hiking, and loads of bison roaming around!
The family-owned-and-operated Woolly’s Grill and Cellar is one of the most popular fine dining spots in all of the Black Hills. Made with only fresh ingredients and always homemade, the food at Woolly’s Grill is simply out of this world. If you’re looking for some of the best the Black Hills has to offer, make your way to Woolly’s, which is famous for specialty steaks and grilled goodies. The prime rib is the stuff of legend, and the new wine cellar has something for every occasion. Plus, since Woolly's started off as a coffee kiosk, the owners have kept to its roots with a killer coffee bar, and they still whip up homemade desserts. Pro tip: Woolly's isn't open year-round, so check their website in advance!
There's no better way to end your trip than spending a day or two on the golf course. It doesn't hurt that Southern Hills Golf Course is one of the most beautiful golfing properties in the entire country. This gorgeous 18-hole course is tucked away on the edge of the Black Hills and offers views you simply won't find anywhere else. Plus, it's a public course, so you don't have to go broke playing a round. Tee up and hit the green!
Whether it's exploring the Wind Cave National Park, or admiring the hundreds of classic automobiles at Pioneer Museum, Hot Springs, South Dakota, will fill you with unexpected surprises and treats as you explore the hidden gems that the wonderful state has to offer. Go swimming in some of the most clear and clean swimming holes around, or post up and camp next to a pristine beach. Hot Springs has a little something for everyone, and it's the perfect place to escape and enjoy time with the entire family.