The historic Wild West town of Deadwood, South Dakota draws over 2.5 million guests every year! But the real question is; tourist trap or worth seeing for yourself?
Since I live just 35 minutes away from this rowdy little town, I can say firsthand that it is 100% worth the visit. Whether you spend an entire weekend or just half a day, you will surely see the charm that I do as I share with you many of the wonderful things you can do on and off the beaten path!
Whether you are interested in visiting or just curious about this famous Western town, read on. I’ll tell you about history, things to do, seasonal activities, how to get around, where to stay, what to eat, and some other cool things to do in the area.
In 1876, Deadwood was born when a rush of gold miners flocked to the Black Hills of South Dakota, looking for riches and a better way of life. Almost overnight the town was booming and attracted outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers. Some of them included notables like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Madam Mustache. Just a few short weeks after arriving, Wild Bill was shot in the back during a poker game. You can find him and many other characters walking around the streets of Deadwood to date. As I said, a lot of history to be shared in this town and lots of ways to experience it.
What is There to Do in Deadwood?
Starting with the visitor center on the edge of Main Street and ending with a scenic hike just outside of town, can be the perfect day spent in one of my favorite places in the hills. I’ll expand on several of the key things to do on an average summer day.
Deadwood History & Information Center
The information center, located at 3 Siever Street, is where I like to park when I go to Deadwood. It may not always have available parking, but when there is, it’s a great location to park! The building is housed in a historic train depot and has nice bathrooms attached, a large display of pamphlets of things to do, as well as information on the history of the town, and a small Deadwood replica. There is also a local expert in-house who can help you plan out your Deadwood itinerary.
If you have kids, make sure to pick up a passport here and join in the scavenger hunt-style activity. Your mission will be to collect stamps at 8 destinations throughout town. If you collect all the stamps you will get a free chubby chipmunk chocolate bar (which is amazing) or a deck of historic playing cards. This will also enable you to ride the trolley for free between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. by using the passes inside the booklet.
One of the things I enjoy most about Deadwood is walking down historic Main Street. The buildings and sidewalks transport you back in time while you browse the fun shops or stop to grab a bite to eat and maybe gamble a bit.
In the peak summer season, there will be trolleys, carriages, and stagecoaches to hop on and even some old west-style shootouts to give an even bigger glimpse into life back in the late 1800’s. Pick up a Deadwood Alive guide at the visitor center for the most up-to-date schedule of events.
Historic Adam’s House
The Historic Adams House was home to W.E. Adams, a lesser-known citizen of Deadwood, but he helped shape Deadwood in a more tangible way than some of the more notable figures in history. He started out owning a grocery store and then went on to build many more buildings and businesses as well as serve 6 terms as mayor. Since his death in 1934, his second wife, Mary, left everything intact in the Adams’ house, including the cookies in the cookie jar.
This historic home built in 1892 features many hand-painted canvases, stained glass windows, and 19th-century electricity and plumbing. If you’re looking for some historic tours, this one is open from April through October and costs $12 for adults and $5 for children.
Another legacy of W.E. Adams is the Adams Museum. This museum was created as a way to preserve and display the history of the Black Hills. There is a $5 donation fee when you enter. They say donation but it really feels like a fee and not just a suggestion.
This is a great interactive museum for families with children as it offers an augmented reality sandbox, life-size puzzles, and a nature-themed touch screen. I spent about 30 minutes here just perusing the exhibits but would recommend allowing at least an hour.
Days of ‘76 Museum
This museum is the largest in all of Deadwood and displays a plethora of antiques and memorabilia. Horse-drawn wagons, stagecoaches, antique clothing, and much more are featured in this 7,000-square-foot exhibit.
Gun enthusiasts will love the Firearms Exhibit. Almost 100 long arms and 20 handguns are displayed as you learn about guns throughout American history and in the Black Hills.
Tatanka: Story of the Bison
Before Wild Bill Hickok was around, the bison roamed the hills of South Dakota along with the Lakota people. Kevin Costner who starred in “Dances With Wolves” helps narrate the story of the bison with some storytelling and sculptures. In this museum and sculpture garden, you will see lots of period costumes and props from the movie as well. This exhibit has a wonderful gift shop with locally-made art and jewelry from some Native American-owned companies.
Deadwood is not only rich in history but has stunning scenery and wildlife. Tucked inside a steep gulch and surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest, Deadwood will make even a local feel like they are on a destination vacation. Year-round the town is refreshing and submersed in nature. You may even see a herd of big horn sheep cross the street, causing a traffic jam.
Mount Moriah Cemetery
Mount Moriah Cemetery looks as if time has stood still as it houses notable people such as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Deadwood’s first Sheriff, Seth Bullock. This cemetery sits on the top of a beautiful hillside with great views. For only $2 per person, you can tour the entire cemetery and enjoy the landscape and birdseye view of the quaint town of Deadwood.
I would allow about 1-2 hours to tour the entire place plus bring yourself a bottle of water in case it’s a hot summer day and you choose to do the hike. Don’t forget to check out the gift shop on the way out!
I’m not a gambler but have definitely strolled through the many casinos and have even lost a buck or twenty on my way through. Some of the casinos are attached to stores or restaurants which makes it all the more tempting to drop in some change as you walk by.
The best casino I’ve found, if you want to spend some time in comfort and have a large variety of machines and/or tables, is the Franklin Hotel. No children are allowed on the floors of any casinos and that includes newborn babies being carried by their parents. This happened to my daughter-in-law when she had a sleeping 6-week-old bundled up in her arms and was asked to leave. I found it funny but also strange since there’s no possible way an infant can gamble.
Main Street in Deadwood has its own old-west flare for shopping with a mixture of antiques, collectibles, locally made art or treats, and of course, traditional souvenir shops that you will find in abundance in the hills.
One of my favorites to wander through is Miss Kitty’s Mercantile. I never skip this store when I visit Deadwood. I’ve found great stickers and postcards as well as Christmas gifts. They have everything you could imagine. Don’t forget to check upstairs for some trendy western-style clothing and boots! You can even get a picture with a real, but stuffed Grizzly Bear.
I also love Sick Boy Motorcycles because of the ambiance of the store mixed with the wandering rescued cats.
A trolley ride in Deadwood is only $2 per person per ride. Since the town isn’t terribly big, it might not be needed but could be fun for the kids. Trolleys do take you to some of the campgrounds and hotels a little further out of town so that would be a great way to avoid the parking in busy seasons. You can buy a day pass for $5.
Main Street Shootouts
Shootouts in Deadwood are iconic and a lot of fun to watch with the family. Every day in the summer, except Sundays, they perform on Deadwood’s Historic Main Street. Get an ice-cold drink or an ice cream cone and show up early for a front-row (front curb) seat. The shows don’t last too long and can be very loud. Use your discretion on attending with small children who may get frightened easily.
The Trial of Jack McCall
If the shootouts are fun for you, you’ll want to witness the capture and trial of Jack McCall. You’ll want to be in front of Saloon No. 10 at 7:35 pm (except Sundays). The capture will be followed by a trial at 8:00 pm at the Wild Bill Theater. The trial does have an affordable admission price and is discounted for kids and seniors.
For more information on the shootouts and trial visit Deadwood Alive.
One of the most beautiful rails to trails is the George Mickelson Trail which starts in Deadwood and ends in Pringle. This trail covers 108.8 miles but most visiting the area just tackle portions at a time. Here you can bike, hike, horseback ride, and picnic along the scenic route that starts just 1.3 miles from the city limits.
The Mickelson Trail has some of the most unique experiences in our hills. If completed, you will experience 4 tunnels, 35 interpretive signs, which are great lessons in history, and more than 100 bridges, creeks, rock formations, meadows, and dense forests. This trail is on my bucket list. If you are up for a great adventure, you might want to check out more information here.
Fishing is one of our favorite activities in the summer in the Black Hills. With many lakes and streams throughout the hills, you can try your luck at snagging a trout or walleye. Field and Stream Magazine even said Deadwood, South Dakota is “Flyfishing’s best kept secret.” Whitewood Creek cuts right through Deadwood and is the closest fishing to that particular area.
If you are visiting make sure to grab your fishing license here!
Summer and winter are both great times for outdoor adventures. In the summer you can rent an ATV at many locations peppered throughout the hills and in Deadwood as well as snowmobile rentals in the winter. The Black Hills have miles of forestry roads that you can explore in an ATV. They are also street-legal so you can drive the highway from one end of the hills to another for a shortcut.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Just minutes from Deadwood is the town of Lead. It has the one and only ski resort in the Black Hills, Terry Peak. You can spend the day skiing or snowboarding as well as enjoying the views at the top of the mountain. My husband and daughter have been here and had a blast. It’s a smaller resort with 30 trails and one terrain park. It’s not going to compare to resorts like in Colorado or other surrounding areas but it will do in a pinch and may be great for beginners and families.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Our winters in South Dakota bring lots of cold and snow. Follow some of our most popular trails and backcountry roads for some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. This is not something I’m familiar with but plenty of locals look forward to these winter activities to keep active and if you happen to visit in the winter, just know that this is something our beautiful hills have to offer!
Hands down my favorite thing to do in the Black Hills is hike. Not only do we have the Mickelson Trail, but we have hiking everywhere in the hills. Deadwood has some really spectacular hikes with wonderful views. My favorite hike in Deadwood, thus far, is Mt Theodore Roosevelt Friendship Loop. This is a moderate trail that’s almost a mile long. The Friendship Tower and stunning views make it special. If you are visiting in the fall, the colors add a boost to your journey. It’s my favorite time to hike in the hills.
For avid hikers, I would encourage downloading the All Trails app to search trails in the area that will fit your needs. The scenery near Deadwood is breathtaking everywhere you look.
- Discover more great hikes in the Black Hills including Gorgeous Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon and The Amazing Devil’s Bathtub Swimming Hole.
Original Deadwood Tour
The Original Deadwood Tour starts on historic Main Street and runs on an old bus from mid-May through mid-October. The tour will take you back in time starting from the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 and ending with the present day. You will tour the town seeing historical landmarks as well as take a trip up to Mt. Moriah Cemetary where you’ll learn about all of the notables that helped shape Deadwood into the town it is today.
Historic Deadwood Walking Tour
You can pick up a pamphlet with a map and a self-guided walking trail that will lead you through Deadwood’s radical past. It will take you to 29 historical checkpoints with a little bit of the history of each place you visit. For history buffs who want to dive deeper, the back of the pamphlet will give you a list of books for purchase throughout Deadwood.
Pick up your self-guided walking tour pamphlet in the Information Center on 3 Siever Street!
Broken Boot Gold Mine offers affordable tours and gold panning for all ages. You can walk the paths of miners from back in the past and end your visit searching for that record-breaking gold nugget. Kids under 5 are free and don’t forget that if you are military, you get a discount just about everywhere in the Black Hills.
This place really is a “gem.” Back in the day, miners averaged about 1.5 ounces of gold per day. If you visit, they guarantee you to go home with some of the rich stuff as well as a souvenir “share” of stock!
Old Time Photos
Of course, every small town in the Black Hills seems to have a place to grab an old-time photo to commemorate your vacation. Deadwood is no exception. Just the idea of dressing up as your favorite gunslinger in an old west town may be enough to entice you to drop some fast cash and create a memory! Stop into Woody’s Wild West and let them hook your family up with a souvenir and a memory all in one!
Muley Hill Lodge
Have a hankering for a homestead dinner show outside in nature? Maybe a wagon ride or a scenic horseback ride is your jam. Muley Hill Lodge is just 6 minutes from Deadwood and has lots to do if you want to spend a few hours out on a homestead. The admission prices are pretty steep ranging from $25 per adult and $15 per child and extra activities will be additional fees. Fishing is $25 but you don’t have to have a SD fishing license. The trail rides are $75 but this includes your admission.
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Movies in Outlaw Square
Monday nights in July and August host a collection of movies out in Outlaw Square. Check online for the upcoming shows, ranging from classics to modern-day flicks. Bring your blankets, lawn chairs, and snacks, and be ready to sit under the stars and enjoy a family-friendly movie in the Black Hills.
Kool Deadwood Nights
Kool Deadwood Nights is one of the best car shows I’ve been to and I’ve been to hot August nights in Reno, NV. The entire strip of Main St. is blocked off for live concerts and the surrounding parking areas are jam-packed with impressive cars from all eras. I’m not into cars but this is an event I make sure to hit every summer!
Kool Deadwood nights go on for 5 days during the last week of August. The entire event is reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s and also features a parade and free concerts all weekend long. This usually lines up with the Central States Fair in Rapid City so you can hit two events in one week.
Halloween weekend or the weekend preceding Halloween, every year hosts the annual Deadweird festival. Costume contests for individuals and groups promise large cash prizes for the winners. More than $10,000 in cash prizes will be handed out and let me tell you, the costumes are nothing short of amazing.
They host a monster ball annually on Friday night with live music and dancing. Both the ball and the costume contest are free events. I wouldn’t really classify Deadweird as a family activity. Maybe something for just the adults to enjoy.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Every year the beginning of August the hills start to rumble for 10 days as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally kicks off and the bikes cruise our hills and scenic drives. At nighttime in the town of Sturgis and the surrounding campgrounds, live music, concerts, and parties are in full swing. I would not classify the rally as a family event but you can still travel to the hills and enjoy all of the family-friendly activities.
If you love riding motorcycles or just enjoy the sound of them rumbling through, then it’s a fantastic time to visit and maybe even do a test ride of your own on a Harley Davidson or Indian Motorcycle. Though Sturgis brings in our largest crowds, they always stay respectful and keep the rowdiness down.
Days of 76
One of the last weekends in July and lasting 5 days is one of the biggest rodeo events in the nation, the Days of 76! This annual event was started in 1924 to honor the miners, prospectors, muleskinners, and madams who flocked to the Black Hills in 1876.
The town of Deadwood is packed with fun for all ages with rodeos each night that showcase some of the best in the country. There are also reenactments of Old West stagecoach robberies during the halftime of the rodeo.
Friday and Saturday families can enjoy viewing OR participating in the parade. This would also be a great time to check out the Days of 76 museum. Make sure to get to town early for events, this is one of the most crowded times I’ve visited Deadwood.
Did you know Deadwood has Webcams? Cameras are stationed all over town. For a sneak peek of the fun, you can watch anytime you want. I mostly enjoy popping in during big events or to check on the weather.
Where to Eat?
Deadwood has plenty of places to eat and most offer a great variety of dishes but my favorite place to eat is Mustang Sallys. Plenty of seating so you can almost always get a place to sit immediately. Prices are reasonable and the menu is very basic with options such as hamburgers and chicken strips. They have some really delicious and fun flavors of milkshakes and even have a claw machine that will give kids a free milkshake if they grab and turn in a stuffed animal. For adults, they will give a free beer.
Buffalo Bodega Saloon & Steakhouse
At Buffalo Bodega Saloon & Steakhouse you can grab ribs, chicken, sandwiches, and even prime rib here. They have a kids menu and the prices are more expensive than Mustang Sallys but the menu has a lot more to offer.
FLYT Steakhouse, which is owned by the Alpine Inn in Hill City, will always be a great choice for a delicious meal. Located in Cadillac Jack’s Resort, you can order a bacon-wrapped filet mignon for only $20.95. The prices in FLYT are going to be higher than the casual dining but they are extremely reasonable for what you get and the food is seriously top-notch!
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner you can feast any time of the day, but if steak isn’t your thing then I recommend the Alpine burger, which is made with ground filet. The only other time I’ve gotten to enjoy a burger made with filet was in Lake Tahoe, California. It’s a burger you won’t forget.
Located in the Franklin Hotel, this restaurant is another winner that will knock your socks off. The prices are going to be a little higher than those over at FLYT but the food is just as good and the menu here at Legends will offer a bit more variety. Give their braised elk gnocchi a try or maybe feast on the shrimp crepes with white wine cream sauce. Are you drooling yet? I sure am!
Deadwood does offer staples like Taco John’s and Marcos pizza that are quick and family-affordable. Earl of Sandwich is also fun and is located in the Cadillac Jack’s gaming resort. In fact, a lot of these restaurants will be located inside of hotels on the strip or just outside of it a bit. You can walk or take a trolley to all of them.
Pump House Coffee and Eatery
No article would be complete without me sharing my favorite coffee stop. In Deadwood, it is hands down Pump House Coffee & Eatery. This tiny but unique coffee shop is located in an old retro Texaco station but now houses coffee, beer, wine, and other beverages. Not only can you grab a drink but you can also watch them create beautiful pieces of art with glass blowing. There is a lot of art for purchase as you walk in too!
Located on 73 Sherman Street, you can easily walk to it from your parking spot at the information center.
Where to Stay?
Deadwood has a plethora of places to stay. Whether you like to stay in hotels, motels, or cabins, or prefer to camp or RV, there are plenty to choose from to meet every need.
Cadillac Jacks Gaming Resort
One of the largest resorts in Deadwood and just down the street from Main Street is Cadillac Jacks. This resort houses 3 hotels and many restaurants ranging from fine dining to casual dining and snacks. If you like to gamble they offer sports betting, live poker, blackjack, and over 240 slot machines, craps, and roulette. This resort never shuts down and is open 24/7.
The Lodge At Deadwood Gaming Resort
The Lodge (book here) is separated from downtown by a few miles so you cannot walk to Main Street, but it does have a trolley running to and from it all day long. Everything you need is at the lodge including a sports bar, a small casino, a water playland for the kids, and a video wall to watch all the games or fights that are occurring at any given time. This resort is in a prime location for stunning views out every window and will be quieter as it’s off the Main drag.
The Historic Bullock Hotel
Seth Bullock, Deadwood’s first sheriff and a prominent staple of Deadwood is said to still be watching over this historic hotel as staff and guests proclaim to have had paranormal experiences.
The Historic Bullock Hotel (book here) sits in the heart of Main Street and the location couldn’t be better. Free parking behind the hotel and all the gaming, shopping, and food are just steps away from the front door. The Bullock also has its own casino and restaurant if you don’t feel like leaving. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this place.
Silverado Franklin Historic Hotel & Gaming Complex
Open since 1903, The Franklin Hotel (book here) has hosted guests such as Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and John Wayne. In another seemingly “haunted” hotel in the Black Hills, guests and staff have said to have sensed a presence and some even claim to have seen Mr. Harris Franklin dressed in early 1900 attire.
Just across the street from Outlaw Square and directly on Main Street, this is on the top of places to stay. You’ll pop back into the old west days as the rooms are very purposefully outdated. Also home to Legends Steakhouse and Silverado Grand Buffet.
Deadwood/Black Hills KOA Holiday
KOA campgrounds tend to be pretty great in the Black Hills and the Black Hills KOA Holiday is no exception. This one in particular has options for RVs, tents, covered wagons, and cabins. With a trolley that will pick you up and drop you off at most of the tourist attractions in town, you will be set to have an adventurous camping trip and sleep among the fragrant ponderosa pines. The Black Hills are some of the best places to camp and the prices are often more affordable than hotels.
Wild Bills Campground & Cabins
There are plenty of spacious spots for tents, RV’s, and campers as well as several cabins to rent at Wild Bills Campground. This campground is only a few short miles from downtown Deadwood and sits nestled in the trees and near some stunning meadows and babbling creeks. They have a restaurant with staples like hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and pizza and boast a great patio to sit under and enjoy your meal.
- Check out the Best Campgrounds When Visiting Mount Rushmore.
How Long Should I Visit?
I usually only spend a day at a time in Deadwood because I live close enough to visit often. Depending on the nature of your trip, the time of year, or what events are going on will depend on time spent.
If you are visiting the Black Hills and hitting all of the major attractions in our area, then I would say a day or even half a day is plenty. Most people come to walk down Main Street, take in the historic sites, and have a meal. Anything extra is a bonus but there is just so much more to do in the hills that I would recommend doing some of the other attractions over spending multiple days in Deadwood.
That all being said, when Deadwood has its big events, then staying an entire weekend could be a blast too. Daily events will keep you busy. Plus the museums and hikes in the area can round out your time.
When to Visit
Summertime is the most popular time in the Black Hills and the Deadwood area. Everything is open for business and the hills are booming. The weather is fairly nice. There are occasional thunderstorms some afternoons and even some extreme heat towards the end of summer.
November through April are off-season with extremely discounted lodging rates. Less businesses are open, but the town of Deadwood will continue to stay alive and even have some seasonal events. There are even snow activities in the winter.
What to Do Nearby
Of course, you can not come to the Black Hills without seeing our national treasure, Mount Rushmore. Do not miss this extraordinary memorial of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln! Just a little over an hour away, it is definitely worth a visit.
- Find out more information on visiting Mount Rushmore with When Is The Best Time To Visit Mount Rushmore? and How Much Time Do You Need At Mount Rushmore?
- Also, check out Can You Do Crazy Horse And Mount Rushmore In A Day? and Mount Rushmore Evening Lighting Ceremony: My Personal Experience And Helpful Tips for more help planning your trip to the Black Hills.
Devil’s Tower was America’s first national monument and was named by Theodore Roosevelt. This geological structure is still a mystery on how it formed and has prompted many theories to date. Regardless of how it formed, visiting this structure is something that you will be glad you did. From the highway, Devil’s Tower sticks up like a sore thumb and leaves many to wonder what it even is. I suggest getting out of your car and walking around it because the view up close is much more impressive and astonishing. 1 hour 15 minutes away.
The stories and legends can be read on your visit and you can spend an hour or two walking the mile loop around the base. Anyone can do this walk and the views from the trail are spectacular as well. The gift shop is really fun. Try to arrive early or after 4:00 pm because the parking lot for the tower is extremely small and fills up in the middle of the day.
Badlands National Park
Another gem to visit on a trip to South Dakota is the Badlands. The Badlands have a scenic loop that provides miles and miles of geological landscapes, canyons, views, and wildlife. Many places to hike are peppered throughout the drive providing a day of recreation. For those who love photography or stargazing, this is a prime place for both. 1 1/2 hours away.
- Find out if Badland National Park is worth visiting.
Custer State Park
One of my favorite things to do in the Black Hills is to drive through Custer State Park. The park has over 71,000 acres featuring lakes, glorious views, wildlife and so much more. Don’t miss a drive through the famous Needles Highway and take a hike around Sylvan Lake before jumping in to cool off! 1 hour 15 away.
- Read Custer State Park’s Annual Buffalo Roundup: An Honest Review and Helpful Tips from a Local.
- Don’t miss What to See While Driving the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park in South Dakota.
Rapid City is just short of an hour from Deadwood and offers tons of activities that are free or inexpensive for families and it’s also a great pit stop on your travels through the Black Hills! Don’t miss our article all about things to do in Rapid City.
Spearfish Canyon Byway
Tucked away in the most serenely beautiful canyon is the Spearfish Canyon Byway. This scenic drive will tantalize your visual senses with stunning foliage, waterfalls, streams, and often some furry white mountain goats. Make sure to check out Spearfish Falls when you get there! Just 20 minutes away.
Whether you enjoy history, gambling, shopping, or cheeky shoot-outs, there really is something for everyone in Deadwood, SD.
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