The 1880 Train – A Ride From Hill City to Keystone, South Dakota

I don’t know if it’s the whistle or the puffs of steam, but I love old train rides! Whether it’s a short ride or a long one, it’s always one of the first things I want to do when we are traveling, and our stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota was no different! The Historic 1880 Train runs daily to and from Hill City to Keystone, and it’s a very scenic ride!

We took off from the Keystone Train Depot. You do need to purchase your tickets online, and it’s a neat way to see either city. Each ride has a 15 minute stop, or you can purchase a later return ticket to spend a little more time sightseeing or getting lunch! The ride each way takes one hour.

Here’s a tip, the Hill City depot has FREE parking, while Keystone does not.

You also can choose which car you want to sit in. They offer pictures of each car to help you choose. Seats are assigned by your ticket, so you want to purchase in advance if you have a large party to be assured you can all sit together.

While a speaker does narrate the trip and point out interesting sights, I really recommend picking up a book in the Gift Shop, that allows you to follow along with the narrator.

If you’re a fairly consistent reader, then this will not surprise you at all, but my younger somehow LOST his shoes before he was suppose to get on the train. We never could find them. I told him that people in South Dakota were going to think Texans just ran around barefoot!

The 1880 Train started in 1957, and is the oldest tourist steam train in the nation! While I love the steam engine, there is also a diesel engine. When you make your reservations, be sure and pay attention to which train is working that day, if you prefer one or the other.

Eagerly awaiting the sound of the steam whistle! We rode in an enclosed car on the way there. We had the window open, but you can close it if you want!

The train tracks run along Battle Creek for much of the trip, which gives a nice view. Battle Creek has many gold mines claim along it! We went gold mining earlier in the day with Big Thunder Gold Mines, and not only did we find some gold, but we had the BEST time!

A fun addition to our train ride was FRED! He raced us on his bike along the train trip! As we crossed the road several times, it was always fun to see if we were going to beat him there or not!

There views are incredible! There are also many old prospector mines along the way. The Black Hills Gold Rush took place in 1874, when gold was first discovered in Battle Creek. In 1874, thousands of prospectors descended on Dakota Territory, which was still Sioux Indian Land, led by General George Custer. This was after he was stationed in Austin, Texas in 1866, following the Civil War. Following a recommendation on Wikipedia, I read the tales on life in Texas written by Custer’s wife Elizabeth, Tenting on the Plains. If you love Texas history, or just history in general, it’s an interesting read.

The Homestake Mine was the largest gold deposit ever found in South Dakota, and was worked for over 100 years.

I haven’t watched it, but the HBO series Deadwood is set in this location during the Gold Rush.

As we get closer to Hill City, we leave the mountains and canyons in the distance, as the terrain turns to farm land and tall forest of Ponderosa Pines.

We spotted quite a few deer on the train trip. South Dakota is home to white tail deer, mule deer and elk. We also spotted a marmot, a first for me, although I didn’t get a picture! Oh wait, you don’t know what a marmot is? It’s a large ground squirrel, or groundhog!

Although we were riding through some National Land, there aren’t any bison ranges on this trip. To see free ranging bison, visit nearby Custer State Park.

More of the scenery along our ride!

In Hill City, we only had 45 minutes (it was the dinner train) before our return trip, but if you purchase your ticket for later in the day, you can stay longer. We grabbed a snack and drink, and did some quick sight-seeing before boarding again.

On the return trip, we rode in an open-air car and it was so much nicer, especially since the weather was just perfect!

Here’s a cool thing about the train; it doesn’t turn around, you simply flip the back around on your seat to face the way you are heading, or to be face to face with your riding companions.

Click HERE to read a little more about the history of the railroad in the Black Hills. Click HERE to visit the 1880 Train’s facebook page! I love it when venues have active facebook pages!

The 1880 Train also has some Special Event excursions during the year!

It’s just beautiful!

Click HERE for another fun article about more to see and do in South Dakota!

Moments like this are why I love our family vacations!

The closer we came to Keystone, the more rocky the terrain became!

Hey, there’s FRED! I think we beat him back to the depot!

While we were disembarking (nope, de-boarding is not a word) from the train

Here’s a last, fun tip! Go watch as the steam engine takes on water! It’s a neat way to throw in a little science to your trip, and discuss how steam engines work. If you’re not sure yourself, go ahead and ask the engineer! This is a great time to meet him and ask questions!

Know Before You Go

There are not restrooms on the train! There are restrooms at both depots.

For more things to see and do in South Dakota!

When in South Dakota, a visit to Wall Drug is a Must!

The Badlands National Park offers incredible hiking, camping or just an amazing driving tour!

Custer State Park and Resort was our home while in South Dakota, with incredible hiking trails, wildlife tours, horseback riding, swimming, fishing and so much more to see and do, whether you are camping or staying in the lodge.

Still unfinished after a over a half century of construction, The Crazy Horse Memorial is a testament of determination!

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