The south western corner of South Dakota, just past the Badlands and inhabiting the Black Hills, is the most uniquely happening place. History book towns with old western roots grow out of the forested hills. Shear amber rock walls jut upwards and cut into their fertile faces. Crusty billboards cry out their invitations to explore crystal caverns and underground waterfalls. The loneliness of a bald eagle screams out above Deadwood, the final resting place of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. In late summer the roar of biker life echoes through the forested canyons, Sturgis screaming with its annual rally, as the rocky presidential faces gaze out from Rushmore with immortalized eyes. Tourists are everywhere sharing in the universal wonder of new discovery. With so much to do, from wild life safaris, camping, scenic drives, local art, reenactments, and atmospheric dining, the Black Hills area is truly a treasure. The best part is that it all still feels so wild and tucked away. If you can, give yourself a week in the area and be sure to check about camping in Custer State Park so you can experience the large, wild herds of native Bison. If you plan on enjoying a summer vacation, look up accommodation (including RV and tent camping) availability in advanced, especially around the *Sturgis Rally as spots fill up very quickly.
On the way, heading west into the region you’ll first have to pass through the much cited Rapid City, home to Art Alley. If you have the time, it’s worth a look. The art is pretty diverse, with your classic “graffiti” and murals blanketing most of the space, the rest littered with photography, childrens’ pieces, mixed media and sculpture. No surface is sacred and you’ll be sure to find dumpsters, doors and windows painted over. Take time to explore the city if that strikes your fancy. When you feel ready to start exploring the wild nature of Rushmore and the Black Hills, know that lodging and campsites are close by and abundant throughout the region. We found campsite pricing for tenting to range between $15-$34 with RV sites about $10-$20 more.
Enter Deadwood, cradled within it’s historic, fog-hugged canyon, for a nice encounter with the Old West. Eat at Saloon 10, founded in 1876 and home to great food, dusky atmosphere, and live reenactments of Wild Bill’s assassination (Saloon 10 is actually where it happened!). There are further reenactments of the trial of his murderer a couple buildings down the street. Note: reenactments cease during the week of Sturgis. To get the full dose of Wild Bill history, check out his grave at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, climbing to the very top for a great overlook of the town. Make sure to bring cash as the cemetery charges $1 for entry.
Don’t forget, South Dakota is wild, and it really feels like the beginning of “the West”. So don’t be afraid to cut loose and get really lost in your surroundings…because in SD, you still can. Heeyah!
*2015 is the 75th anniversary of Sturgis bike rally and booking for lodging has already begun. I was told by the guy who ran our campsite that the rally predicts one million to attend next year. Keep that in mind as you plan your trip.