When our family decided to take a road trip to South Dakota for a week in the summer, we only had a few vague ideas about what we wanted to see and do.
We knew we’d be making a trip to Mount Rushmore, of course. We planned to spend a day in Rapid City as well. And we’d heard from a few friends that Deadwood was a must-visit spot, too.
After checking out the distances between attractions, we decided to make Deadwood our home base. I expected it would be a pleasant spot to spend a day or so exploring. But I certainly didn’t expect that my whole family would fall in love with the tiny Old West city.
Deadwood is one of those special destinations that has something for everyone. And after our first evening strolling down the city streets, we knew we’d be spending more time there than we had planned!
Planning your own trip and looking for things to do in Deadwood, SD? This itinerary will help you see the best the city has to offer!
Learn About Mining and Pan For Gold at Broken Boot Gold Mine
For an experience that kids and adults will both love, start the day at the Broken Boot Gold Mine just outside Deadwood! When I saw the quaint building set in the site of the hills, I knew I wanted to take a tour. And of course, the boys were thrilled about the chance to pan for real gold!
The mining tour was fun and fascinating from start to finish. We put on our hard hats and set out into the mines, where we learned about how the mine had once operated.
We learned about hand steeling, the process in which one miner would hold a drill bit to the rock while the other swung a hammer to hit the end of it. Hand steeling would eventually drill the holes miners could fill with dynamite. A good partner was one that wouldn’t miss when swinging the hammer and accidentally flatten your thumbs!
One of my favourite moments on the tour was the moment when the guide put out the flashlight, leaving us all in total darkness. I’ve never realized before just how dark the complete absence of light is, and it was fascinating and a little frightening to be able to see absolutely nothing at all.
When the tour was over, we all knew a lot more about the mining process and had a lot of respect for the miners that had once done so much work without any kind of machinery to help. Then it was time to let the boys try a little mining of their own by panning for gold!
The process of panning for gold was more difficult than I had expected it to be. It involved swirling around a bag of gravel in water and then allowing the bits of gold to catch on the edge of the pan. After a little practice, Zackary was soon filling his keepsake bottle with gold flakes.
Ben needed a bit of help, which meant I got the chance to try the technique too. To my surprise, I had a knack for gold panning and soon had him finding his own gold flakes!
Broken Boot Mine has tours every thirty minutes and also offers some special experiences including a candlelight tour and a Miner’s Morning Experience. Tours are just $6 for adults, $4 for kids between 6-17 and free for children under five. It’s definitely one of the must-try things to do in Deadwood, SD!
See the Re-enactment of Wild Bill Hickok’s Death
Even people that don’t know much about America’s Wild West tend to know the name Wild Bill. Born in Illinois, he quickly gained fame as a gunslinger after facing down and shooting three men that were trying to kill him.
His legend came to an end one night when he was playing poker in the No. 10 Saloon in Deadwood. A young gunslinger named Jack McCall entered the tavern and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head.
Deadwood is a city that embraces its past history and every summer, the Deadwood Alive troupe perform re-enactments of some of Deadwood’s most famous moments. If there’s one that’s a must, it’s Wild Bill’s death.
The performance takes place in the No. 10 Saloon, a quaint and comfortable spot that’s a great place to grab a cold drink on a hot day. We ventured into the saloon about 45 minutes before the late afternoon show, one of four different daily showtimes.
Shortly after entering, a few of the Deadwood Alive performers preparing for the show invited the two boys to play a game of cards. Zack and Ben were delighted to dress up in real Old West gear and take part in a few rounds of Go Fish with Colorado Charlie before the performance.
When the showtime arrived, we had seats front and center. One of the best things about the show was that the audience had the chance to participate. A few volunteers joined in as fellow poker players, and their impromptu performances added to the entertainment.
The performance was fun, family-friendly and educational, as it started and ended with “Wild Bill” telling us a bit about himself and his life. And afterwards, we enjoyed looking at all the historical photographs of Deadwood and Wild Bill’s life that filled the saloon!
Grab a Meal at the Buffalo Stockade
While this outdoor cafe may not be one of the fancier places to eat, it couldn’t be more fun! The space has plenty of seating and fun themed chairs with the bottoms of animals and voluptuous ladies that my boys both found hilarious.
The atmosphere outside was comfortable, casual and kid-friendly. And as an added bonus, the Stockade features daily live performances by Yancey de Veer, a fantastic one-man band and comedy performer. Yancey has been performing at the Buffalo Stockade for almost 30 years and kept the entire family entertained while we ate.
The music alone was worth the price of our meal in my opinion, but the burgers and sandwiches we ordered were delicious as well. And eating out in the fresh air with a view of downtown Deadwood and the Black Hills in the distance was pure bliss.
Get Some Sleep at the Blackstone Lodge
Rather than stay right in Deadwood, we chose a hotel just a few minutes down the road in Lead. It was the perfect choice for getting away from the more touristy atmosphere of the city and enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
The hotel was older but had undergone a renovation to freshen it up. While the rooms were small, they were very comfortable and since we were travelling as a family, I especially appreciated the mini fridge in our room. Blackstone Lodge also offered free breakfast, which was delicious and saved us time and money each morning.
But the highlight of the hotel for our whole family was the outdoor hot tubs in the back of the hotel. Nestled at the bottom of a steep rock face, they had a spectacular view of the sun going down in the Black Hills each evening. Relaxing in the hot tub after a day of exploring the things to do in Deadwood, SD became a must for us on our vacation!
Hike the Mickelson Trail
My family loves getting out into nature, and the Black Hills surrounding Deadwood have no shortage of spots to do that. To start our second day in the city, we decided to hike the Deadwood Trailhead of the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile trail that winds through the Black Hills.
While users taking long hikes must pay for a trail pass, those that prefer a short hike can do so free of charge if they remain within the city limits. For us, hiking with children, a short hike inside the city was the perfect way to start our day.
Getting closer to the natural beauty of the Black Hills was wonderful and I had fun seeing if I could identify plants and animals we saw along the way. Looking for other hikes in the area? The Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower and Spearfish Canyon hikes are great choices for families as well.
Visit the Mount Moriah Cemetery
While Deadwood is full of history, the cemetery that overlooks the city is even more of a journey through time. Mid to late afternoon is a great time to visit, as it tends to be very quiet and peaceful in the cemetery, with beautiful views of Deadwood from atop the mountain.
The most notable attractions in the cemetery are the graves of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny. Having learned so much about Wild Bill in Deadwood itself made it especially meaningful to see the grave and monument that had been erected in his honour.
But for me, seeing the grave of Calamity Jane was even more special. The famous scout, frontierswoman, performer and one-time prostitute was the rumoured wife of Wild Bill and her dying wish was to be buried beside him. Her wish was granted and her tombstone is just beside his famous monument.
Some of the other notable spots in the cemetery included a mass grave from a mill fire that killed eleven men in Deadwood, a Jewish section and a heartbreaking children’s cemetery that contained the graves of the many babies and children that had died of typhus, cholera and smallpox before modern medicine made such diseases obsolete.
And of course, the views of the Black Hills and Deadwood from atop the mountain are simply spectacular and make the visit even more worthwhile. Admission to the cemetery is $2 per person and goes towards restoring and preserving the cemetery grounds.
Eat in a Train at the Roundhouse Restaurant
One of our personal favourite things to do in Deadwood, SD as far as food went was having a meal at the historic roundhouse in Lead. Since my husband is a train conductor, we couldn’t resist the chance to eat inside an old roundhouse, the building with a large railed turntable in the centre where trains were once repaired.
Even better, the restaurant also boasted tables inside an authentic rail car upon request! While the food was amazing, it really was the atmosphere that made this such a must-visit spot.
Sadly, the restaurant closed down about two years ago, but I’m including it in this itinerary anyways because it was very recently purchased by a new owner!
I have a feeling the Roundhouse will soon be open to business again so if you’re heading to Deadwood this summer, make sure to check and see if it’s open! Regardless of what’s on the new menu, visiting this historic building is a must.
Watch a Main Street Shootout
Deadwood was the site of many historic gun battles and during the summer, the Deadwood Alive troupe re-enacts them on the streets of the town.
In three different spots along Main Street, at three different times of day, visitors can gather on the street to watch history come alive. This was hands-down one of my boys’ favourite things to do in Deadwood, SD.
The shootouts feature real guns packed with talcum powder, which create a fantastic bang and realistic cloud of dust when fired. We watched the 6pm show outside the Franklin Hotel and seeing old-time gunslingers face off was the perfect way to end the day.
To this day, my boys still talk about their trip to Deadwood. While we made day trips to see the most famous of South Dakota’s historic monuments, coming back to the Deadwood area each night felt like coming home.
For those craving adult entertainment, Deadwood has over a dozen casinos and, just like in the olden days, plenty of saloons. But having visited with children, I was surprised and delighted by just how perfect a family destination the city is.
Use this itinerary to plan your own list of things to do in Deadwood, SD, add a couple extra days to visit Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and any other must-see spots you have, and get ready for a vacation that your whole family will remember for a lifetime.