Deadwood, South Dakota, is a historical hotspot with plenty to explore, and it’s a great starting point for many local day trips.
If you thought the only thing to see here was re-enactments of the Wild West, think again. This is an enchanting part of the country often overlooked by the casual traveler.
Today, we’re exploring the Black Hills to fill you in on what you’re missing.
Let’s hit it!
If you’d like to see a quintessential frontier town, you’ll want to head to Deadwood. In 1874, settlers stumbled upon a gulch of rotting trees covering a boatload of gold. After the discovery, hopeful miners descended upon the Black Hills in droves.
The land was initially declared the property of the Lakota people. However, after striking gold, miners illegally built the town. By its very nature, Deadwood was lawless.
Unsurprisingly, this mining mecca attracted a range of infamous characters. Folks like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane lived in these hills. You can see them today, along with other significant figures such as Al Swearengen, in daily re-enactments around the town.
This once-lawless land has seen a revival in modern times. While the population is small, tourists visit to immerse themselves in history. The village hung on to celebrate its past, surviving several major fires and a threat of abandonment. Today, the entire town is a National Historic Landmark District.
While most folks visit Deadwood for a peek into the past, plenty of modern amenities will make you feel right at home. Casinos, resorts, and luxurious spas are here to cater to tourists and locals alike.
There’s plenty to experience in Deadwood, but the surrounding areas make great day trips if you want to mix it up. Here are five of our top picks.
#1 Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center
One of the most fascinating science centers in the country is only ten minutes from Deadwood, making it an excellent day trip destination.
The Homestake gold mine was the deepest in the northern hemisphere until it closed in 2002. Today, researchers have repurposed the facility into an underground laboratory. They conduct experiments in physics, biology, and engineering without interference from cosmic radiation experienced on Earth’s surface.
You can take a guided tour of the space, enjoy a virtual cage ride into the depths of the mine, or learn about the various experiments through modern exhibits. Be sure to hit the museum store on your way out!
Admission is free, and there’s something for all ages to enjoy. Just check their website before you go, as visiting hours change seasonally.
#2 Spearfish Canyon
If you want to get out into the great outdoors, a day trip to Spearfish Canyon is within 20 minutes of Deadwood. Here, ancient streams carved a gorge into the Black Hills. In fact, this natural wonder is older than the Grand Canyon.
You can take a scenic drive through colorful fall foliage or check out one of three stunning waterfalls. Bridal Veil Falls is the most accessible. An easy half-mile trek will get you to the observation deck. Hiking near Bridal Veil is prohibited, but trails around Roughlock and Spearfish Falls are a great way to get your blood pumping.
If you’re an angler, you might want to cast a line in the creek. It’s a popular spot for trout fishing due to the many species that call this area home.
#3 Badlands National Park
The Badlands are one of South Dakota’s most popular attractions. Verdant prairies offset the striking geological formations sculpted by nature over millions of years.
You can see wildlife like bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and prairie dogs. At night, the Badlands become the ultimate stargazing spot. In fact, the annual Badlands Astronomy Festival takes place here every July.
While you could make a day trip out of the Badlands, we suggest giving yourself more time to explore. With 244,000 acres of protected land, you could spend weeks hiking through this otherworldly landscape.
#4 Crazy Horse Memorial
Lakota warrior Crazy Horse advocated for indigenous rights throughout his life. He was instrumental in defeating General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn and remains an important historical figure.
Seventy-five years ago, construction began on the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski carved an image of the leader’s face into a granite cliff among the Black Hills.
The monument is constantly evolving, with additions and revisions made regularly. At the interpretive center, you can see traditional dances, performances, and artwork from Native nations.
At an hour’s drive, the memorial and surrounding cultural center are a perfect day trip from Deadwood.
#5 Bear Butte State Park
Bear Butte State Park offers awe-inspiring scenery and a chance to revere ancient spiritual practices. Lakota and Cheyenne peoples consider this geological formation sacred and use it as a place of worship.
You’ll find breathtaking vistas throughout the park’s nine miles of hiking trails. As you look out at the horizon, it’s easy to imagine early settlers making their way across the plains.
There are picnic areas, boat launches, and fishing holes so that you can enjoy the scenery however you please. In addition, the museum and visitor center can give you insight into the history of this ancient land.
Bear Butte is 30 minutes from Deadwood, and it’s an excellent day trip destination whether you visit for the sights or the cultural significance.
While you’re in Deadwood: 11 Best Things To Do In Deadwood, South Dakota.
So Many Exciting Day Trips from Deadwood
The town of Deadwood offers plenty of excitement for visitors, but it’s also a great home base for day trips around the area. Natural wonders, ancient history, and scientific discoveries are all within driving distance. So even if you’re not intrigued by the Wild West, you’ll find lots to keep you entertained.
If South Dakota wasn’t already on your bucket list, it probably should be now!
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