A popular vacation destination for generations, the Black Hills in South Dakota draws travelers each year for its outdoor beauty, Old West history, two stunning national parks, and the famous Mount Rushmore.
Yet the holiday season is a particularly special time to visit the Black Hills. With less tourist traffic, the Black Hills’ lively holiday festivities are all yours.
Plus, the outdoor beauty everyone loves is still there but now on full display as a serene winter wonderland.
If you’re planning to visit the Black Hills over the holidays, check out our list of 10 things to do in the Black Hills at Christmas!
Winter Packing Essentials:
1. Ugly Sweater Skate Party
In Rapid City each December, locals and tourists participate in an annual holiday tradition, the Ugly Sweater Skate Party.
At the festive Main Street Square downtown, ice skaters in ugly Christmas sweaters celebrate the holiday season at the city’s outdoor ice skating rink. With Christmas lights and music, the event becomes a local holiday spectacle.
With nearby Christmas shopping and tasty local restaurants, the Ugly Sweater Skate Party provides a fun evening of holiday festivities and ambience!
2. Winter Buffalo Safari Tours in Custer State Park
With milder winters in Custer State Park, the holidays can be a special time to see buffalo (also known as bison), a must-see experience in the Black Hills. In the glistening snowfall with less vegetation, bison and other wildlife stand out more than other times of the year.
To enjoy this special experience, I recommend taking one of Custer State Park’s Buffalo Safari Tours, open daily all year. See the majestic buffalo firsthand in an off-road jeep under a warm blanket!
While you’re at Custer State Park, be sure to enjoy the Black Hills’ other winter activities, like hiking, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.
3. 1880 Train’s Holiday Express
Passengers board the Holiday Express in quaint Hill City and take a magical ride to the North Pole to pick up Santa.
During the ride, guests enjoy hot cocoa, cookies, and hear a special Christmas story. On the way back, Santa visits each passenger and passes out sleigh bell souvenirs to the children.
Be on the lookout for limited Spiked! departures where adult passengers can sip spiked hot cocoa in keepsake mugs during the ride.
4. Christmas Nights of Light at Storybook Island
Visitors can take a charming stroll through a magical land filled with festive Christmas lights (almost 20 miles of lights!) with a warm cup of cider or cocoa (or a Santa shake) in hand.
Want to experience more Christmas magic? Guests will appreciate Storybook Island’s holiday train and carousel rides. Delighting visitors for over 60 years, Storybook Island is a cherished Rapid City treasure worth seeing on your Christmas in the Black Hills visit.
5. Mount Rushmore at Christmastime
One of the most iconic landmarks of the United States, Mount Rushmore draws visitors from around the world every year to the Black Hills.
Normally, Mount Rushmore is full of crowds, but at Christmastime, the park is quiet and easily accessible. Make time during your Christmas visit to the Black Hills to have this legendary monument almost all to yourself.
During your holiday visit, be sure to grab a keepsake Mount Rushmore Christmas ornament, a popular Black Hills souvenir. Mount Rushmore’s visitor center (and any gift shop in the area) will have a variety of options so you can find the perfect one for your tree at home.
6. Kris Kringle’s Christmas Market at Outlaw Square
Deadwood draws visitors to the Black Hills for its notorious Old West reputation as the former stomping grounds of legends Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. The hub of Deadwood’s activity throughout the year is always Outlaw Square.
During the holidays, Outlaw Square hosts Kris Kringle’s Christmas Market, a holiday shopper’s delight for Black Hills artisan gift ideas. Full of food and gift vendors, this Christmas Market is a great way to take in the holiday ambience and get some shopping done in this Old West town.
In addition, visitors can meet Kris Kringle himself, go ice skating, and enjoy live entertainment performances.
7. Hill City’s Olde Tyme Christmas
The charming mountain town of Hill City hosts its community Christmas celebration, Hill City’s Olde Tyme Christmas, the weekend after Thanksgiving to welcome the holiday season. This cozy Black Hills town comes alive with small-town Christmas festivities you won’t want to miss:
- Lane of Lights along Museum Drive
- Trees and Trains exhibit at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum
- Roasted chestnuts and cider at the Alpine Inn
- Kris Kringle Kraft Show
- Ugly Christmas Sweater Dance at the Mangy Moose
In addition, the town’s small businesses provide festive shopping with holiday deals, and the culmination of the festival is the Home-town Lighted Parade. Santa and Mrs Clause pass out apples to children afterwards and make time to hear each child’s Christmas wishes.
8. Holiday Shopping at Wall Drug
Travel about an hour from the Black Hills, and you’ll find the hallowed roadside attraction of Wall Drug. Of course, if you’ve been driving this whole time, you’ll already have noticed a small billboard for Wall Drug every mile along the way!
With 76,000 square feet of souvenirs, western art, spirited photo-ops, and tasty food, Wall Drug is a tourist haven, unique cultural experience, and a local institution all combined. During your Christmas visit to the Black Hills, a stop at Wall Drug is a must-see holiday staple.
If you’re seeking Black Hills souvenirs and Christmas gift ideas, Wall Drug will provide more than enough to satisfy. The buzzing, festive atmosphere will give you a holiday experience you’ll remember for years to come (as well as the family photo in front of the giant jackalope).
Be sure to take a moment from all the festivities and grab a cup of Wall Drug’s famous 5-cent coffee or free ice water!
9. Christmas Caramel Rolls at the Latchstring Restaurant
Nestled in the beautiful Spearfish Canyon sits the Latchstring Restaurant, a must-stop for your Christmas in Black Hills visit.
You’ll love the cozy cabin feel of the 100-year-old restaurant and the wintry views of Spearfish Canyon, producing a merry, inviting atmosphere.
The best part though is the Latchstring’s famous caramel rolls, a staple in the Dakotas. Gigantic, gooey, and glorious, these rolls will remind you of the cinnamon rolls your mom used to make every Christmas morning, only five times the size.
10. Spearfish Christmas Stroll & Holidazzle Parade
An annual tradition for over 20 years, the Spearfish Christmas Stroll & Holidazzle Parade turns the Black Hills town of Spearfish into a festive Christmas spectacle each December.
The town embraces the holiday spirit with a multitude of family-friendly festivities, including visits with Santa at the Matthews Opera House and Christmas carolers singing aloud on street corners.
The town’s shops provide Christmas shopping specials, and everyone gathers together for a warm chili supper at the Community Chili Feed.
Afterwards, the community comes out to see some spectacular Christmas lights and holiday floats at the Holidazzle Parade.
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Did we miss any of your favorite things to do in the Black Hills at Christmas?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more to the list!