When most people plan a trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills, they have one destination in mind: Mount Rushmore. If they’re adventurous, they might add in other stops, like Crazy Horse Memorial or Custer State Park. But that’s usually it…
There’s so much more to explore in the Black Hills, and after you finish seeing those sights in the southern part of the region, head up north and use Lead, South Dakota as your base to see the rest. No matter what drives you to visit, there are plenty of things to do in Lead – a town named for its importance in mining and geology and which will continue to embrace that legacy for generations to come.
Lead is a town of about 3,000 people and has a long, fascinating history; from its early gold boom town days to making the register of historic places in 1974, Lead has played its part in the history of the region. Today, it’s also forward-looking, and has been selected as the site of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, a proposed facility for low-background experiments on neutrinos, dark matter, and other nuclear physics topics!
Go on then – explore the Black Hills beyond Mount Rushmore and see all that the area has to offer.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Psaalooké (Crow), Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Dig In at the Black Hills Mining Museum
Visiting the Black Hills Mining Museum is one of the most entertaining things to do in Lead. The museum is fascinating and thoroughly explains the mining process in the Black Hills. They also touch on what mining looks like in this century, including sustainable mining practices.
If you come with kids, make sure to take the underground tour. Homestake mine workers built an elaborate series of tunnels in the basement with examples of equipment, storage areas, plus a simulated explosion to show the blast patterns techniques. The staff also shows kids the specifics of panning for gold, and they get to take home what they find!
Visit the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center
The Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center is an obligatory stop when you’re in Lead, SD. Simply because it’s not every day one sees an open bottomless pit! The museum and research lab have curated exhibitions explaining mining history and the findings and developments that the lab has done lately.
You will also find a hanging display of the Homestake Mine tunnels and area, which puts into perspective how important this mine was to the U.S.. The museum also has a 3D design of all the underground mining and tunnels that exist underneath you.
Enjoy a Performance at the Historic Homestake Opera House
Built in 1914, the Historic Homestake Opera House has a large selection of events and programming throughout the year, from piano concerts to classic plays – reviewers state the acoustics are wonderful to behold.
The Opera House, a beautiful building, also holds a special place in Lead’s history. Unfortunately, in the 80s, a fire destroyed a lot of it. Fortunately, the government has carried out painstaking restoration works to bring it back to its former glory.
Visitors can take tours to learn about the building and its history. If you do, stop at the end and go through the exhibits in what used to be the library. The displays are stunning.
Admire Art at the Lead-Deadwood Arts Center
Want to get a sampling of local talent? Make sure to stop at the Lead-Deadwood Arts Center. A true gem of the community, this signature gallery houses a wide variety of art and collectibles by local artists.
Most pieces are for sale, so it could be a good opportunity to purchase a new piece of art for your house. The center also offers classes and special events, such as the Lego competition for kids.
Hike in Roughlock Falls State Nature Area
Roughlock Falls State Nature Area is one of Lead’s hidden treasures. While the falls are the star of the show, the stunning scenery and nature are a sight worth seeing in Lead.
The one-mile trail hike to the falls is a treat to the senses. Along the way, there are streams and creeks where you can cool off on a hot day. The trail isn’t too challenging for children or people who aren’t in top shape. Visitors can also drive to the top and park. It’s a dirt road but well-maintained.
Channel your Inner Cowboy with Andy’s Trail Rides
Andy’s Trail Rides have become one of the top things to do in Lead, SD. Andy and his team have designed a unique tour that allows visitors to experience an authentic horse ride.
Andy caters the rides to visitors’ skillset. So, the adventure begins by choosing the horse and journey that suits you the best. Newbies can follow Andy’s lead and enjoy a peaceful ride through the Black Hills, passing by stands of trees, over fallen logs, and across creeks before reaching the mountain peak. More experienced riders will be able to pick up the pace and cover some ground on their own.
Take a Black Hills Discovery Tour
If you want to explore all that Southern Black Hills offers, booking a Black Hills Discovery Tour is the way. Discovery Tours provides fully-narrated tours covering the main sights in the area.
The standard tour includes stops at Mount Rushmore Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake, and Custer State Park & Wildlife Loop. The company also offers customized tours for people who don’t have much time.
Sample the Local Brews at Dakota Shivers Brewing
It’s always a good time for a cold beer. There’s no better place to do it than Dakota Shivers Brewing.
This small brewery on Main St. has a fantastic selection of beers – all wonderfully brewed, well-balanced, interesting, and flavorful. You can try one of their flights or ask the bartender to suggest one. The staff is highly attentive and knowledgeable about the brewing process. Don’t be surprised if you end up getting crowlers and growlers to go.
Take a Peaceful Walk at Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary
If you’re looking for relaxing activities in Lead, Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary is the place to go. Serene and beautiful, Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary opens its doors to anyone who wants to connect with nature. The place has numerous nooks where visitors can read, write, or simply enjoy the stillness.
There are numerous walking paths that take you through the trees and beautiful grass areas. Plus, the trail is peppered with art and sculpture, enhancing the beauty of the place.
Ride the George S. Mickelson Trail
Connecting Deadwood with Edgemont, the George S. Mickelson Trail runs through the heart of the Black Hills. This trail is perfect for outdoor lovers, with creeks, towering rock formations, and sprawling meadows flanking the route.
As a heads up, hiking the George S. Mickelson Trail is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced hikers. It is a challenging route, taking over four hours to complete – beware that there’s no way to avoid the long climbs. Some people choose to break up the journey and complete the trail in two days.
Get an Adrenaline Fix with Mad Mountain Adventures
Forget about hikes or bikes; there’s yet another fantastic way to explore the wonders of the Black Hills: ATVs and snowmobiles. Mad Mountain Adventures is a company offering ATVs rental in the summer months and snowmobiles in the winter.
They take care of every detail, especially during the winter, providing snow bibs, jackets, gloves, boots, and a backpack to keep your belongings dry. They also give you maps and trails to discover the best landscapes of the Black Hills. Mad Mountain Adventures is one of the most popular things to do in Lead, so always try to make reservations.
Know of other great things to do in Lead, or have questions about these ones? Let me know in the comments!