Frequently Asked Questions

What is the 1880 Train?

It is a two-hour, narrated 20-mile round trip between Hill City and Keystone. Passengers view vistas of Harney Peak, mining encampments and participate in good old-fashioned fun. Trains follow the original route of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad laid down in the late 1880s to service the mines and mills between Hill City and Keystone. The Black Hills Central Railroad is the oldest continuously operating tour railroad in the nation and operates three steam and two diesel engines throughout the season. One of our locomotives is more than 100 years old!

Why is the railroad called the “1880 Train?”

In 1957, the 1880 Train was started by a man named William Heckman. He believed "there should be one working steam railroad, for boys of all ages who share America's fondness for the rapidly vanishing steam locomotive." He wanted a railroad that was reminiscent of one from the 1880s. The name stuck, and the 1880 Train has been chugging through the Black Hills ever since. The 1880 Train is the oldest continuously operating tourist train!

What towns does the train depart from?

The train goes back and forth between the Hill City station and the Keystone station. You can start your ride from either end.

Is parking available at your depots?

Our Hill City depot has free parking. In Keystone, a city parking lot is available close by. It has a three-hour limit. The Borglum Story in Keystone also allows visitors to park in their lot all day for a fee of $5. We recommend Keystone passengers park at the Borglum Story.

How long does the ride take?

It is an hour ride each way, with a 15-minute layover time. Budget between 2-1/2 to 3 hours for a complete roundtrip, plus time to pick up your tickets at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure.

When can I get my train tickets?

Train tickets may only be picked up the day of the train ride. Because of our ticketing system, we do not print tickets in advance. Tickets may be picked up as soon as the previous train departs. If you are riding on the first train of the day, in most cases, tickets may be picked up as soon as the Gift Shop opens. We recommend picking up tickets no later than 30 minutes prior to departure and reserve the right to cancel tickets not collected 15 minutes prior to departure. You may only collect tickets from the depot your train is departing from.

How can we ensure we ride when the steam locomotives are being used?

Steam locomotives are scheduled for all summer-time departures following the completed restoration of our second large steam locomotive. Our vintage diesel #63 is featured during our Holiday Express departures. As with any railroad, scheduled motive power is subject to change due to mechanical reasons, including the use of the diesel locomotive for limited substitutions.

Are there assigned seats?

All seats are assigned! In order to ensure your party is seated together and secure the seats you desire reservations are recommended. Seating options can be found here.

How can we ensure our group can all sit together?

All seating is assigned. When purchasing your tickets, purchase all tickets together and select the seats you prefer. Once selected or assigned, seat assignments cannot be changed. The earlier you purchase your tickets, the better the chance you will be seated together.

If you are trying to sit next to a party that has already purchased tickets, please call our office at 605.574.2222 and we will do our best to seat you as close as possible.

Do passengers need to ride on the immediate return or can they come back later?

Passengers may spend time in the town. However, tickets are time specific, and visitors must check their tickets for details or talk to a ticket agent about their plans.

How should I dress for my train ride?

Our train has both open and enclosed train cars. We run a varying combination of cars, depending on the time of year. Our train cars do not have air conditioning, but the enclosed cars do have windows you are welcome to open or close at your discretion. We recommend that if you dress to be comfortable outside, you will be plenty comfortable onboard the train. If you are not familiar with the climate in the Black Hills, be aware that we have very cool nights, so you may wish to pack a pair of pants, a pair of shoes besides sandals and a sweatshirt or jacket.

Will my child like the train ride?

Yes! The train is enjoyed by passengers of all ages. There are many sights and sounds for your children to enjoy.

Can children meet the engineer?

Yes, while the engine is taking on water.

Can a stroller, car seat or cooler be brought onboard the train?

Ask our Conductor or Brakeman for help storing a collapsible stroller onboard the passenger car, or strollers can be stored in either depot. Car seats can be brought onboard the train, however passengers will need to hold the car seat or purchase a child’s ticket for the car seat. Fresh made food options designed to be taken aboard the train are available in our Hill City and Keystone depots, as well as an expanded menu in the High Liner Eatery. Beer, wine, waters, and soft drinks are available in our Hill City depot. All food purchased on the property can be taken onboard the train. Small personal coolers for small children or food allergies must be kept under the seat and cannot obstruct seats or the aisle.

Can someone in a wheelchair ride the train?

Yes, we can accommodate up to two wheelchairs per departure. The BLUE BIRD passenger car is designed with mobility assistance features such as wheelchair seating and a vertical lift for those who need additional assistance boarding. Rows 1-2 are specifically reserved for families with wheelchairs–choose seat 1A or 1D for wheelchair if unable to transfer to a regular seat. Wheelchair seats are available on a first come, first serve basis. Reservations are required to ensure availability.

Why does the train go so slowly?

We have some of the steepest grades in the U.S. The track has several sharp curves. It’s hard work for the engine to get up the hills, and we go slowly down the hills and curves to reduce the chance of accidents.

What will people see on a train ride?

The central Black Hills is abundant with forests, meadows and wooded canyons. Much of the train route follows Battle Creek, home to gold prospectors before and during the turn of the century. The train passes throughout National Forest Service land on its way from station to station, and passengers can also see the remnants of old mines and mining operations. Some of these mining claims have been turned into residential land, and some houses are visible from the train. County Road 323, along with a few private drives, crosses the train tracks several times, giving passengers the opportunity to enjoy the sound of a steam whistle.

What kind of wildlife is around?

Many different kinds of woodland animals call the Black Hills home. Most often, passengers will see white tail deer, mule deer, wild turkey, wood chucks, mallard ducks and cottontail rabbits.

Is the train ride narrated?

Yes, the train ride is narrated by a host, and a speaker system allows each car to hear their narration, which includes information about the train, the Black Hills and also points of interest along the route. A guide book is for sale at either depot as well as onboard the train. This guide book tells the history of the 1880 Train, includes technical information about the equipment and has a section in which you can follow along with the train ride.

Is food served on the train?

Drinks, popcorn and candy bars are available onboard between Memorial Day through Labor Day. A broad selection of made-in-house wraps, salads, sandwiches, and sweets are available at either depot and the Highliner Eatery adjacent to the Hill City depot. Beer, wine, waters, and soft drinks are available in our Hill City depot. All food purchased on the property can be taken onboard the train. We are committed to sourcing at least 50% of our food as organic or locally grown!

Are there restrooms on the train?

No. They are only available at the stations.

Are pets allowed on the train?

We only allow certified service animals onboard the train.

Can passengers walk around during the ride?

No, for our passengers’ safety, we ask that all riders remain in their seats during the train ride. At the opposite station, passengers will have the opportunity to switch to a different seat if they wish.

What kind of oil does the train use?

The steam engines burn recycled motor oil.

Did the train run to Deadwood at one time?

Yes, special runs along the High Line to Deadwood were made before the rail line was removed to make Rails to Trails.

Where does the sand come from?

A couple times each trip, the fireman throws sand into the firebox. This sand is drawn through the flues to clean them and is exhausted from the stack. Some of this sand may fall on passengers, but it is easily brushed off.

How much oil and water is used?

It takes about 200 gallons of oil and 1,000 gallons of water for one round trip with Engine #104. Engine #7 takes almost twice as much fuel, and Engine #110 takes 200 gallons of oil and 2,000 gallons of water.

What does ‘narrow gauge’ mean?

A standard gauge track has rails that are 4’ 8 ½” apart. On most narrow gauge track, the rails are 3’ apart – although there are other narrow gauges as well.

Who owns the 1880 Train?

The train is owned by the Black Hills Central Railroad formed by a small group of stockholders who were interested in preserving steam railroading.