- South Dakota
As I exited the airplane in Rapid City, I was greeted with the summer heat (but a refreshing lack of humidity) of western South Dakota.
I’d been looking forward to this trip and couldn’t wait to witness first hand this incredible destination. The iconic Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park and Custer State Park are all set within the stunning Black Hills and Badlands region of the state, and the towns of Deadwood and Rapid City would be great base camps for my stay.
Historic Deadwood, Yesterday and Today
Set in a canyon, surrounded by evergreens, Deadwood, South Dakota is known for many things, most notably the gunslingers and gamblers who were drawn here by the gold rush of 1876.
I woke up early the next morning to explore Mt. Moriah Cemetery above Deadwood, where there’s a scenic view over the town. This is where gambler Wild Bill Hickok and frontierswoman Calamity Jane are buried. Jane’s dying wish was to be buried next to Bill, but funnily enough, the two were only acquaintances.
The afternoon was spent on Historic Main Street, enjoying the shops and live entertainment. At the Stockade Bar, Ying Yang Yancey provided songs and jokes, and I found prime curb-side seating while watching one of the daily “shootouts.”
After having a little flutter at Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort, I stopped by the Deadwood Social Club for a Buffalo Ravioli with brown-butter-sage sauce that was to die for, and then headed downstairs to Saloon #10. Reportedly the place where Wild Bill was assassinated by Jack McCall (it was actually down the road a ways at the original Saloon #10), this is a museum of sorts, where besides drinking and gambling at the slot machines and table games, there’s the chair that Hickok is supposed to have died in.
The sheriff of the shootout spectacle along Main Street in the authentic Western town of Deadwood, South Dakota.
Year-Round Entertainment in Rapid City
En route south to Rapid City the next morning, I stopped by beautiful Pactola Lake and went for a stroll. People were jumping off the rocks and swimming in its crystal-clear waters. It was a great way to relax before enjoying vibrant Rapid City, home to a variety of lodging options and a hip downtown full of beautiful shops, street art and cool restaurants.
Upon arrival in town, I headed to Main Street Square, the heart and soul of downtown. From here, I visited The Journey Museum & Learning Center a few blocks north, to take a tour through the history of the Black Hills and to learn about the Native American cultures of the region.
I grabbed a tasty lunchtime chicken salad at Tally’s Silver Spoon, a block away from the square, and then walked another block over to Art Alley, an ever-changing alleyway that’s full of street art and graffiti. Over time, it’s evolved into a revolving gallery of sorts and is a great place to visit in the daytime.
The City of Presidents – Rapid City’s nickname – is the place to rub shoulders with all of the past U.S. commanders in chief. From Abe Lincoln to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, seeking out these life-size bronze statues dotting the downtown area is a great way to pass the time.
I ended the day at Prairie Edge Trading Company & Galleries. Here I found a huge selection of authentic Native American art, jewellery and clothing, as well as amazing headdresses, porcupine quillwork and intricate paper artwork.
Visiting the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota was a brilliant experience. One thing I’d have done differently? Allow a few more days to truly take it all in.
The City of Presidents statues in the historic downtown of Rapid City in South Dakota.
More experiences nearby
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5 Unexpected Adventures in South Dakota
An Insider's Guide to Mount Rushmore