We love wild west towns, especially those that are more historical than touristy. While Deadwood, South Dakota is decidedly both, there’s much to appreciate about this historic town booming in western history.
A little background: Deadwood is most famous as the home of Wild Bill Hickok and sheriff Seth Bullock (made even more famous by the HBO series Deadwood). Gold was discovered in the Black Hills at this site in 1875, and in the subsequent boom, Deadwood became one of the most notorious wild west towns. Families can visit the saloon where Bill Hickok was shot to death, visit the graves of Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Bullock, visit museums, and see reenactments.
Note: because the entire town is on the national register of historic places and its rich history in gambling and gaming, Deadwood is still a gaming town. Casinos are present throughout the town. This surprised me, but even though I dislike gaming, it didn’t interfere with my experience too much.
Activities and historical sites:
Reenactments on street: Depending on the time of year, reenactments of shootouts are regularly occurrences on Deadwood’s main street, with characters in period garb. Crowds gather, and the scene only takes about 10 minutes to perform. Catch at least one showing during your visit.
Saloon 10: Yes, it’s a saloon, but until 8 pm each night, it’s kid-friendly. Stop in to see the chair where supposedly Wild Bill Hickok was sitting when shot to death by Jack McCall. Sometimes, reenactments of McCall’s trial are held in the saloon as well. Kids will like the sawdust floor and fun setting with a true wild west bar, and the menu is quite good. Wonderful historic photos line the walls of the saloon, and of course, there’s a small gift shop.
Days of 76 Museum: This museum is located just outside downtown at #18 Seventy-Six Drive. It’s massive, so allow a few hours to explore the exhibits of covered wagons, coaches, carriages, firearms, and native american artifacts. Admission is very affordable at $5.50 for adults and $2.50 for kids.
Historic Adams House and Museum: This historic home and museum at 22 Van Buren near downtown offers house tours and scavenger hunts for kids. It’s fun for everyone to see the inside of Victorian life in Deadwood.
Mt. Mariah Cemetery: There is an admission charge for this cemetery of a few dollars, but it’s well worth it to see graves of Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and Potato Creek Johnny. On a walkway further up, you can also see Seth Bullock’s grave. It’s also worth walking along the other grave sites, to note the deep history in the area and a glimpse at the hardships of pioneering life.
If you need more ideas, stop by the History and Information Center one block south of Historic Main Street and pick up a walking tour guidebook. 17 stops are described in detail, marked by plaques, and the brochure does a good job walking families through the sites and history.
Note: the historic ghost tour advertised in Deadwood is very entertaining and interesting, but it is NOT for children, due to graphic details about the town’s history of prostitution (which, interestingly enough, was banned as late as the 1980s.
There are a few great area hikes in the Black Hills right outside Deadwood. Our favorites, due to accessibility:
Mt. Roosevelt to Friendship Tower: Seth Bullock was actually a friend of President Teddy Roosevelt, serving in his Rough Riders. Upon Roosevelt’s death, Bullock built the Friendship Tower to commemorate him. The hike up Mt. Roosevelt is short and easy, and ends at the tower, which you can climb up. The views are great! Find the trailhead on Forest Service Road 133. Take US Highway 85 north out of Deadwood a few miles to the turnoff.
Little Spearfish and Rimrock Trails: Located adjacent to Deadwood in the Spearfish area (near Lead), these trails offer a nice overview of the Black Hills. The Spearfish trail is a six mile loop that’s easy to moderate, and the Rimrock Trail is 4.7 mile, but a bit harder. From Spearfish, take Highway 14A to Savoy, then travel west on Forest Service Road 222 for almost five miles to the trailhead. Biking is allowed.
Deadwood is home to the Mickelson Trail, a fantastic rail trail that runs through the Black Hills over 100 miles. It’s easy to access right in town, and bike rentals are available at the Pump House at Mind Blown Studio (which is a great place to visit for lunch and to watch glass blowing, too!). Bike long distance to the town of Rockford, then Hill City if you’re very ambitious, or do what we did, and pedal about five miles out and back for a nice ride. As an alternative, it’s very easy to ride from one side of town to the other in just a few miles, and the entire path through Deadwood is well lighted at night.
How to get around:
Parking is available on the street and in public lots, but in summer, it gets very busy. We recommend taking the town trolley, which is only $1 per ride.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Deadwood Gulch Resort, which is located on the far end of town right on Whitewood Creek. This location is quieter, and still easily accessible to downtown via the trolley. Rooms were simple but clean, and while there’s gaming in the lobby, which I dislike, gaming is unavoidable in this town.
Photo credit: Amy Whitley and Flickr/AaronVowels