Gillette is a coal mining town with a population of about 30,000. Because of the coal, oil, and natural gas production, the city calls itself the energy capital of the nation.
Gillette started as a tent city called Donkey Town in the 1890s, when a railroad line was built. For Edward Gillette's surveying work, the company who owned the line named the town after him. The early days of Gillette were rough, with over a dozen saloons and no church. There are stories of cowboys burning down the jail they were in to flee, a shootout downtown that killed a man, and outlaws in a showdown with officers. Despite all that, it never reached "Wild West" levels of violence and outlaws.
After law and order took hold in Gillette, it became a quiet and small ranching town, until major coal mines were developed in the 1970s. A major boom happened and the rough days returned. The majority of the housing during that time was mobile homes until the city stepped in. They focused on turning Gillette into a city based around families, and succeeded in restoring order.
Throughout its history, Gillette has been a launching point or a place to rest along a journey. Photographer William H. Jackson and painter Thomas Moran went to Devil's Tower in 1892 by horse-drawn wagon, using Gillette for their round trip. Today the city still promotes itself as a good place to stay when traveling between the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park.
Other historical tourism that continues today is hunting. From the early days for many decades there was a great pronghorn hunt that hunters from around the country came to participate in. The pronghorn are still everywhere and they make their way into town regularly.
Gillette is a blue-collar city where you will find large sunburned men sporting bushy beards in work clothes. Mixed with the tradesmen and miners are the occasional ranchers, clean shaven with their cowboy hats and shiny belt buckles. Women also dress casually, many still in their work hoodies and nurse scrubs. Suits, dresses, and ethnic clothes are a rare sight.
Politically, Gillette is one of the most Republican places in the country. Bumper stickers read "if you don't like coal don't use electricity" and signs with coal trucks tell residents to stay strong. People openly discuss their dislike of Democrats while also being cautious of Republicans.
With the mining related jobs, ranch history, and western ideas, come the trucks, and not of the small Japanese kind. A car feels small, sandwiched between all the pickups, SUVs, haul trucks, and semi-trucks on the road and in the parking lots.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Windy, cold, and dry. These are the words visitors use to describe Gillette. Keep water handy if you are from a humid climate and always have winter clothes for any season besides summer.
Located between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone National Park, Gillette is an excellent place to stop if you are traveling I-90 East or West. Highway 59 connects the town with Montana to the north and Douglas, Wyoming, to the south.
Watch out for deer on the road especially at night and early in the morning. Sometimes there are carcasses on the side of the road from previous collisions. The saying about a deer in the headlights is real. They will stare at the lights and not move. The pronghorn seen everywhere usually don't stop and get out of the way.
The airport is spotless, maintained, and completely empty if a plane isn't coming. While not worth seeing by itself if you do fly in take a minute to look around at the art on the walls and the nature scene displays. There's a cafe, ATM, and car rentals in the terminal.
Flying directly to Gillette is expensive. If you plan to rent a car or have a ride, a cheaper option is to fly to Casper, Wyoming or Rapid City, South Dakota. Casper and Rapid City are about 2 hr away by car.
- 1 Gillette-Campbell County Airport (GCC IATA), 2000 Airport Rd, e-mail: email@example.com. Gillette-Campbell County Airport has non-stop service on Delta to Rock Springs and Salt Lake City and United to Denver. All parking including long-term is free.
A simple town layout, but if you are still lost, use your phone or ask a local (they are very friendly!)
'Grid' Downtown is marked by
- N-S roads being named, for famous people in the area, as well as Gilette Ave.
- W-E roads are numbered, and called streets. The numbering amplifies with increasing south distance from Gilette Ave, and matches the address code as well. The numbering ends around 15th Street.
Gillette is best navigated by car. Parking in the city is free and street parking is plentiful while all business areas have parking lots. One-way streets are rare. Rentals are available at the airport and near the downtown area.
- Avis, 2000 Airport Rd Ste 143 (at the airport), ☎ . M-F 9AM-11:30PM, Sa 4PM-9PM, Su noon-5PM and 10PM-11:30PM.
- Enterprise, 603 E 2nd St, ☎ .
- Hertz, 2000 Airport Rd Ste 145 (at the airport), ☎ , fax: . M-F 9AM-11:30PM, Sa noon-5PM, Su noon-7PM and 9PM-11:30PM.
- Rent-A-Wreck, 513 E 2nd St, ☎ . M-F 9AM-6PM, Sa 9AM-5PM. Regular car rentals despite the poorly chosen company name.
While some bike paths do exist they are better used for recreation than as a main form of transportation. There are few bike lanes and outside of the summer there is no guarantee it won't snow.
Taxi service in Gillette is slow because of the distances they take passengers. It can take up to an hour before they pick you up. Since the services don't give an exact time you will be waiting outside in the heat or snow for a while.
- 1 Festival of Lights, Saddlehorn Rd (in the CAM-PLEX park), ☎ . November-January. Feeling the holiday spirit? Then this massive drive-through Christmas lights display is for you. It has dozens of animated displays, a light tunnel, and many thousands of lights. A short range radio station is setup at the park that plays Christmas music so don't forget to tune in. Free.
Gillette has over 140 sculptures across the city picked by the Mayor's Art Council. Several buildings have large murals including one downtown and another on one of the L&H buildings. On the outskirts of town two water towers in Sleepy Hollow have been painted based on the story Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
- 2 Avenues of Art, on Gillette Ave downtown and 4-J from Lakeway Rd to Boxelder Rd. While large sculptures and statues are spread across the city many pieces are concentrated on the Avenues of Art. The highest concentration is on 4-J and on Gillette Ave. The 4-J sculptures are best seen by using the bike and foot paths. The sculptures downtown are best seen by walking. The quality varies as much as the subject matter does. Free.
- 3 Heritage Center Art Gallery, 1635 Reata Dr (at the CAM-PLEX in the Heritage Center building; use the door near the Energy Hall; once inside go through the second door on the left). M-F 8AM-5PM. The quality of art in the gallery can vary greatly, but since it is right around the corner from the ticket office it is worth a quick look if you happen to already be at the CAM-PLEX. Other than events you will find it empty so you can look at the art in peace. If you enter the Heritage Center on the door next to the Energy Hall directly on the left are pamphlets, maps, and other things for visitors. Free.
- 4 Campbell County Rockpile Museum, 900 W Second St (next to the large rock pile off Hwy 14/16), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 9AM-5PM. The Rockpile was a landmark for cowboys and now it's a landmark for the museum built next to and named after it. This quiet museum has a mix of homesteader, cowboy, railroad, farming, coal mining, Indian, geology, and local history. Has a few hands on displays with old items. A back room in the main building is used for rotating exhibits and the empty space there in front of the covered wagons is for events and talks. Don't forget to walk outside to the annex building to see the larger displays and old school houses. Free.
- 5 Energy Equipment Park (near the CAM-PLEX multi-events center). A large outdoor display of retired coal mining, oil drilling, and agricultural heavy equipment. You can take your photo with a coal haul truck from Jacob's Ranch Mine the size of a house or dragline buckets you could drive a car into. The plaque for one of the tires says it was the largest tire in the world in the early 1990s. Free.
- 6 Gillette Post Office, 301 S Gillette Ave. Philatelic (stamps, postal history, and postal related) fans can see the old Gillette Post Office in the downtown area. It is the only place in Gillette on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Free.
- 7 Eagle Butte Coal Mine public viewing area (north of the Gillette-Campbell County Airport on Highway 14-16). Daylight hours. See a working coal mine with haul trucks and other heavy equipment in action. The outdoor visitor area has large chunks of petrified wood, a huge coal haul truck tire, and a platform to see the mine west of the highway that splits it. Free.
- 8 Overlook Park, 2901 Goldenrod Ave (in the Foothills area). 7AM-11PM. One of the highest points in the city for a great view of Gillette during the day and at night. Free.
A common complaint by some locals and many transplants is there is nothing to do. That depends on what you enjoy and are willing to try especially those from big cities. In reality Gillette like any city has things to see and do.
- 1 CAM-PLEX, 1635 Reata Dr, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. The CAM-PLEX event center hosts RV and motorcycle rallies, many rodeos including the National High School Finals, concerts, gun shows, car shows, flea markets, fireworks displays, conferences and the county fair.
- Coal Mine Tour, 1810 S Douglas Hwy Ste A (shuttle bus starts at the Visitor Center in the parking lot of Flying J), ☎ . $5.
- 3 Dalbey Memorial Park, 900 Edwards St, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 7AM-11PM. Where there is water there is life and with a little help from the city transplanting and stocking it becomes the Gillette Fishing Lake with all year fishing including ice fishing. Besides the water there are several large shelters, a few playgrounds, and restrooms. For sports there are several baseball fields, a football field, a large disc golf course around the lake, a spot for horseshoes, and canoes are allowed on the lake. Signs warn of high bacteria counts so don't plan to swim in it or let your pets in the water. Fishing in Wyoming requires a license which is sold at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, FCA Country Store, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Walmart. Free, fishing $14/day nonresident.
- 4 Brew Fest, Gillette Ave (downtown). Regional and local breweries show up and offer their beer right on the street with live music playing in the background. You can hold your craft beer in one hand and play oversized Jenga or cornhole with the other because drinking is allowed in public for the outdoor event. Or use that free hand to get some food from local vendors. Free.
- Campbell County Fair (at the CAM-PLEX), ☎ , fax: . Rodeos, bands, animal shows, dog race, tractor pull, and pig wrestling are just a few of the things you can find at the fair. The fair is mostly geared towards two types of people; local ranchers and children. The two meet when the families occasionally wander away from the free stage entertainment through the barn areas to see prize pigs, rabbits, sheep, rams, cows, chickens, goats, ducks, and turkeys. If you didn't grow up on a ranch then inside the Central and East Pavilion is a peek into their world. There is a reason farm kids don't have as many allergies as city kids and you will find out once you step through those doors and all the sawdust, a dozen species of animal hair and feathers, and smells that cling to you for hours being blown by high powered fans hits you like a brick. If you can get past that then walk through the pens and crates, maybe even stop for a show or get a free sample of sheep. While the ranchers are friendly they aren't there to entertain you and go about their business. Free.
- 5 Charity Chili Cook-off, 1635 Reata Dr (at the CAM-PLEX Central Pavillion). Local businesses, groups, the college, and others try to win your vote with samples of chili and salsa. The Central Pavillion is over 40,000 square feet and it is completely filled with over 30 booths and a large crowd. While orderly the lines are long so spend time talking to locals while waiting. Booths are sorted by last year's rankings; booth 1 will be the previous year's winner. The quality of the chili starts off great then tapers off to just good. Beer is available at extra cost and a few booths offer free beer tickets for stunts one of which is eating a whole ghost pepper. Money from the event goes to local charities such as the YES House and Council of Community Services. $10.
- 6 Cupcake Wars, 2101 S 4-J Rd (at the Campbell County Public Library). Inspired by the TV show, Cupcake Wars has over a dozen booths of homemade cupcakes each with its own theme and flavor. Tastes range from unbelievably good to finding out what happens when you let small children put whatever ingredients they want into it. After a massive sugar rush vote who had the best booth and taste. Water, plates, and napkins are in the center on tables. Even though there is no seating you have to eat it there because they don't allow anyone to wander the library stuffing cupcakes. $5.
- 7 Donkey Creek Festival, 300 Sinclair St (at the Gillette College behind the main building to the Technical Center), e-mail: DonkeyCreekFestival@gmail.com. Named after the creek next the Gillette College this two-day-long festival that stretches from the Gillette College Technical Center to the concert behind the Gillette College main building. Vendors line most of the area from the college to the technical center selling yard statues, knick knacks, and overpriced snacks. Depending on the year there is a disc golf tournament, car and motorcycle show, 5K run and walk, Avenue of Art reception and exhibit, and laser tag, but the big draw is the free concert. The concert is calm with adults lounging in foldable outdoor chairs baking in the sun and children playing up front at the stage. A beer garden near the stage allows drinking in the gated area with a close view of the bands playing. Signs encourage photography, but ban video recording. Free.
- 8 Gillette Gun Club Gun Show, 1635 Reata Dr (at the CAM-PLEX Central Pavillion), e-mail: email@example.com. Every year the gun club hosts a weekend long gun show at the CAM-PLEX. The building it is hosted in is 42,000 square feet and the vendors use most of it. Wyoming is extremely gun friendly. No permits are required at the state level to purchase and own a gun nor register with the state, but federal laws still apply. $5 a day/$10 weekend pass.
- 9 New Years Eve Buck & Ball Rodeo, 1635 Reata Dr (at the CAM-PLEX Wyoming Center), ☎ . Dec 31-Jan 1. Every year the CAM-PLEX hosts the Buck & Ball rodeo. See cowboys from around the region ride bucking broncos and bulls. After the rodeo a ball is held with live country music until the new years starts. $30.
- 10 Show & Shine, 211 W 2nd St (near the Frontier Auto Museum along S Ross Ave.), ☎ . The Frontier Auto Museum hosts a one-day small classic car show in front of their museum. As a bonus their museum is free to visit that day. If you love free car show, it is worth a look. Free.
- 11 Bell Nob Golf Course, 4600 Overdale Dr. 18-hole par 72 championship course. Operated by the county.
The old advice of locals has always been to travel to Rapid City, South Dakota to shop. That advice is becoming dated as more shops have opened up over the many years it has been repeated.
The major shopping areas are along East and West Lakeway Rd, South Douglas Hwy (Hwy 59), E 2nd St, and S Gillette Ave in the downtown area.
- 1 Gillette Avenue (Downtown), Gillette Ave, ☎ . The downtown area has a variety of local businesses, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Prices are higher than the chain stores around the city, but they sell things you won't find elsewhere. Some of the buildings are traditional architecture and there are several statues and a mural in the area. Before you go ask the Campbell County Rockpile Museum for their free walking tour pamphlet that explains the history of each building.
- 2 Walmart Supercenter, 2300 S Douglas Hwy (right off Hwy 59), ☎ . 24 hr. The Gillette Walmart is the same as other supercenters except smaller. It started as a regular Walmart and expanded into a supercenter without enough space. Avoid busy hours because it is packed full. Don't take the south entrance from Powder Basin Center because it has a narrow harsh turn. The severely dented barricades can attest to that. As with any Walmart it is a combination of a grocery store, general goods store, pharmacy, deli, and tire center. It sells cooked hot food during the day. The pharmacy and deli are not open 24 hr. Several other shops are inside including a salon, check cashing, and fast food. If you only need a big selection and lowest prices this is the place to go, but if you want anything beyond that try other stores.
Gillette is known for coal not food. Despite that there are several local restaurants and cafes worth eating at.
- 1 Humphrey's Bar & Grill, 408 W Juniper Ln, ☎ . Humphrey's Bar & Grill has a wide selection of beer, big portions for lunch and dinner, and a few unique food creations.
- 2 Jo-Bawb's BBQ, 601 E Boxelder, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 11AM-6:30PM. Briskets, pulled pork, ribs, and sides are served to take home from this unassuming tiny building. The down to earth man and woman running the place know their meats and how to cook them. They offer samples if you are unsure.
- 3 Pizza Carrello, 601 S Douglas Hwy, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. M-Th 11AM-9PM, F Sa 11AM-10PM. The formerly mobile Pizza Carrello now has their own restaurant with a bar that looks new and clean. They still use a wood fired oven which makes pizzas that have a completely different flavor compared to anywhere else in the city, but at a higher price. While the alternative crowd is still visible families and couples are also showing up. You can also find Pizza Carrello at seemingly every event with their mobile oven. $6-13 personal pizza.
- 4 Prime Rib Restaurant and Wine Cellar, 1205 S Douglas Hwy, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Th 11AM-10PM, F 11AM-10:30PM, Sa 4PM-10PM, Su 4PM-9:30PM.
- Roberto's, 10698 S Douglas Hwy, ☎ . 5AM-3PM. On Highway 59 just south of Gillette, this little cafe offers simple, cheap, delicious Mexican and American food.
Gillette is a hub for groceries in the area because of the distance to nearby cities.
- 5 Albertsons, 2610 South Douglas Hwy (in the Powder Basin Center and easiest to see by going on Hwy 59), ☎ . Albertsons has the best seafood section in town and high prices on everything to match. A sushi maker works in their deli and makes amazing sushi rolls that are sold ready to go in containers. It is the only supermarket with a liquor license. Also inside the store is a staffed Wells Fargo branch and a small Starbucks.
- 6 Don's Supermarket, 2610 South Douglas Hwy (directly off Hwy 14/16), ☎ , fax: . Don's is the only local supermarket in Gillette. They have friendly staff and retro style counters and signs from several decades ago. While the owners probably don't consider that a selling point it really feels like stepping back in time.
- 7 Smith's Food & Drug, 906 Camel Dr (use Hwy 59 and head east on Camel Dr, but turn right before the high school because their parking lot doesn't allow thru traffic), ☎ . 24 hr. Go to Smith's for the best stocked and kept produce section or if you need 24 hr service and are averse to Walmart, but don't expect friendly service or low prices.
On S Gillette Ave downtown there are three local shops with desserts all next to each other which forms a sort of unintended dessert corner.
- 8 Alla Lala Cupcakes and Sweet Things, 204 S Gillette Ave, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. $1.50-2.45 each cupcake.
- 9 Breanna's Bakery, S Gillette Ave. Doughnuts, cookies, and fudge. Also sells a variety of regular breads. Prices are slightly higher than chain store bakeries, but worth it for the better taste.
- 10 The Ice Cream Cafe, 202 S Gillette Ave, ☎ . If there was a noticeable class system in Gillette then the Ice Cream Cafe would be in the higher middle class. As with Breanna's Bakery the prices are a bit higher than chains, but completely worth it for the taste. Once you have decided on ice cream calories don't seem to matter so skip the small premade cake cones and go straight to their big chocolate dipped waffle cones with a marshmallow stopper at the bottom to prevent leaks. After that it is just a matter of selecting one or more of several flavors of ice cream. The Ice Cream Cafe always seems to have customers, but the line is never long.
Gillette has over 1,000 hotel rooms, many motels, and a few campgrounds one of which is in the middle of the city. There are usually plenty of rooms even during summer events. Prices go up and down in the same cycle as the boom and busts come and go.
- 1 Best Western Tower West Lodge, 109 N US Hwy 14-16, ☎ , toll-free: , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon.
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, 1908 Cliff Davis Dr, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Must be 21 or over to check in.
- 3 La Quinta Inns & Suites, 450 E Boxelder Rd, ☎ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Completely nonsmoking, pool, and free wireless internet. $82-93.
- 4 National 9 Inn, 1020 E Hwy 14-16 (from I-90 take exit 128, go west ½ mile), ☎ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Amenities include large cable TV, daily newspaper, guest business center, room service, 24-hour coffee bar, outdoor heated pool (seasonal), high speed internet, in-room microwave, and refrigerator. Restaurant, lounge. $49.59, kids 12 and under free, pets $7 pet.
- 6 Green Tree's Crazy Woman Campground, 1001 W 2nd St (right off Hwy 14/16). Free WiFi, trees, hot tub, and sauna.
- 7 High Plains Campground, 1600 S Garner Lake Rd (across from the CAM-PLEX on Garner Lake Rd.), ☎ , e-mail: HighPlainsCamp@yahoo.com. Propane, laundry, gas, full hookups, tenting, and groceries.
There is little to worry about in Gillette. Violent crime is rare and visitors are not targets. It is safe to go around the city without fear. The only threat to visitors is theft. The best deterrent is to not leave things behind and lock your doors because thieves do check for unlocked car doors.
Ignore the occasional beggars in the summer along Hwy 59 especially near the interstate exits and Walmart. They are aren't locals, but drifters passing through. Don't let them sucker you with their cute dogs. Though not perfect Gillette has many social services including a food pantry, thrift store vouchers, food and rental assistance, job training and placement, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, and so on. If after seeing them you still feel compelled to give to charity try the local Council of Community Services which runs many of those programs.
The police and sheriff's office respond quickly even to minor problems. Their phone lines aren't busy unless power is out across parts of the city and everyone is calling them. Both wear head cams and record all interactions.
- 2 Campbell County Memorial Hospital, 501 S Burma Ave (use the rear entrance for the ER and Walk-In Clinic; use the parking garage in front for the rest), ☎ . For non-emergencies the hospital runs a Walk-In Clinic during the day and unless you have a true emergency it leaves the rest to a several hour long wait at the ER. The cafeteria and cafe are open during the day, but at night you will have to settle for vending machines scattered across the hospital on multiple floors. The hospital has a blood lab, radiology unit with an MRI machine, a heliport for life flights to Denver, maternity, internists, and a psychiatric unit.
- 3 Campbell County Sheriff's Office, 600 W Boxelder Rd (the Sheriff's Office is in Gillette as it is the county seat), ☎ .
- 4 Gillette Police Department, 201 E 5th St (next to City Hall downtown), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, 610 S Kendrick Ave (downtown area), ☎ , e-mail: Holyresurrectiongillette@gmail.com.
- 6 Queresha Masjid, 1410 Country Club Rd (a converted house on a long private driveway off Country Club Rd.). The local mosque.
- 7 St. Matthew's Catholic Church, 900 Butler Spaeth Rd, ☎ , fax: . The Catholic church is part of the larger St. Matthew's Catholic Community.
- 8 Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1810 S Douglas Hwy (a small trailer in the north-east corner of the Flying J parking lot on Highway 59 just off of Exit 126), ☎ . The visitor's center is a great place for information.
- 9 Campbell County Public Library, 2101 S 4-J Rd, ☎ . The public library has wireless internet access, a free phone for local calls, a fax machine, photocopiers, a microfilm reader, and a 3D printer. With a library card you can access computers with wired internet, a scanner, and a black and white laser printer. A few paintings and sculptures line the east walls and a reading room north has more art, historical displays, and rare books. The library holds regular hands on events for young children and anime and gaming events for teens.
- 10 Daly Memorial Library, 300 W Sinclair St (go to the Gillette College Main Building front entrance and walk straight behind the reception desk into the commons area on the first floor; the library is on the left near the rear entrance), ☎ . The college library is open to the public and uses the same library card system as the Campbell County Public Library. It is much smaller and has less equipment available, but being part of the college gives access to an ATM and a cafe right outside the library. Unlike the county library the computers and internet can be used without a library card.
If you are headed east be sure to visit Devils Tower National Monument on your way into the Black Hills National Forest. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is over-rated, but Custer State Park, the Needles Highway, and the various caves of the Black Hills National Forest are all worth checking out.
If you are headed west take Hwy 16 on into Yellowstone National Park. Watch out for buffalo!
|Routes through Gillette|
|Billings ← Buffalo ←||W E||→ Moorcroft → Rapid City|
|Yellowstone N.P. ← Sheridan ←||W E||→ Moorcroft → Rapid City|
|Yellowstone N.P. ← Buffalo ←||W E||→ Moorcroft → Rapid City|
|Miles City ← Jct W E ← becomes ←||N S||→ Douglas → Ends at|