This Wild West town in the Black Hills is the ultimate summer road trip

Most American road trips are to destinations like the Grand Canyon or Disney World, but tucked away in the Black Hills of South Dakota is an equally interesting but underrated spot that’s rich in true Wilderness wilderness kitsch. West. The next time your summer vacation takes you to the Badlands or the Crazy Horse Memorial, consider a trip to Deadwood, a nearby small town filled with saloons, defunct brothels, rowdy casinos, and fake re-enactments of gunfights. dressed in period clothing. All it takes is a quick stroll down historic Main Street—past cigar lounges, chainsaw art galleries, and coffin photo ops—to discover a slice of Americana you never would have had. need.

Located in northwest South Dakota, about an hour north of Custer State Park, Deadwood is an authentic blast from the past, with all the dusty saloons you could dream of, each sporting different superlatives and claims to fame, like “Oldest Bar in Deadwood” and “Site where Wild Bill was shot”. A frequent haunt for miners, madams and infamous gunslingers like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, both of whom flocked here as part of the gold rush in the 1870s, the whole place is like Dollywood to renegades.With its frontier landscape, anchored by a downtown corridor lined with Colonial Revival and Queen Anne architecture, and its myriad vices at every turn, Deadwood feels like a thematic mix of Disney World and Las Vegas – an oddly family-friendly mix of whimsy, well-mannered debauchery, a reasonable amount of sin, and goofy fun like nothing else. other in the Black Hills.

Historic buildings in Deadwood

Historic buildings in Deadwood

Matt Kirouac

Where to stay

Nestled in the northern Black Hills, sandwiched between busy towns like Spearfish and Sturgis, Deadwood is the stuff of road trip dreams, an off-road oasis accessible via winding roads through a sea of ​​ponderosa pines. After a day of traversing the Black Hills (might we suggest crossing Needles Highway and doing a round of beer at Miner Brewing Co. in Hill City), you’ll want to hide somewhere close to all the action of yesteryear. Luckily, Main Street in Deadwood is lined with cozy kitsch, including the Historic Bullock Hotel (allegedly still haunted by the town’s first sheriff, Seth Bullock), the ornate Silverado Franklin Historic Hotel & Gaming Complex, and Hickok’s Hotel & Gaming, a former department store that now houses suites, a fancy casino and pizzeria.

While much of the accommodation and dining in Deadwood is heavily themed and unapologetically ostentatious, one refreshing exception – in case you feel more comfortable staying somewhere that feels more this century – is the Four Points by Sheraton Deadwood, a sleek and stylish alternative that trades in the gimmicks for craft beer, rooftop terraces and some of the best food in town. Located at the edge of historic Main Street, the contemporary and comfortable property is far enough from the calamity that the fake shootings won’t rattle you, but close enough that you can easily grab dinner and a drink. Plus, there’s a tamer playground, plush beds, an impressive array of local beers on tap at the lobby bar, and a swanky steakhouse called Snitches, where spikes of beef tenderloin are whiskey-glazed.

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Mount Moriah Cemetery

Mount Moriah Cemetery

Matt Kirouac

What to do

With so much history to uncover in this gold rush town, many experiences feel like stepping back in time to the 19th century. Start at Mount Moriah Cemetery, a wooded resting place with graves of ‘celebrities’ like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock. Perched atop Mount Moriah, overlooking Deadwood Gulch, the cemetery also offers sweeping views of the entire city. It’s $2 to enter, and it’s an eerily serene setting – even at Hickok’s Tombstone, where visitors leave everything from dollar bills to bullets.

To find out what drew these gold-hungry rebels to Deadwood in the first place, take a trip to the Broken Boot Gold Mine, where visitors venture underground through old mining tunnels to see where prospectors looted gold with dynamite and a pickaxe. Originally established in 1878, the mine became the epicenter of one of America’s last gold rushes and remained so until it closed in 1918. Reopened as a tourist attraction in the 1950s Broken Boot (so named after a tattered boot found in a dingy room during renovations) now takes tourists through tunnels and on candlelit ghost tours, with the chance to try their hand at gold panning – and whatever gold you find, you keep.



Brittany Schoenfelder

Deadwood’s main attraction, however, is historic Main Street, the main thoroughfare lined with most of the city’s saloons, restaurants, museums, casinos, and re-enactments. The latter is a real crowd-pleaser, as armed crossers in vintage attire regularly tangle in the middle of the brick-lined road, arguing over games of cards and threatening to hang each other – it’s eerily picturesque. The hoopla comes courtesy of a company called Deadwood Alive, which hosts historically accurate re-enactments several times a day, six days a week (“no murder on Sundays,” they say). The same company also offers stagecoach rides, walking tours, and hosts a long-running play called The Trial of Jack McCall, about the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, who was shot in the back of the head while he was playing poker in Saloon No. 10 on August 2, 1876.

Brothels played a big part in Deadwood’s heyday, and while these low-key brothels have long been banned, their history is on full display in museums like The Brothel Deadwood. Located at the top of a nondescript set of stairs on Main Street, the museum offers an insightful – and sassy – tour of the old Shasta rooms, where madams ruled as kingpins and prostitutes played an important role in the local economy for more than a century. Guided tours toured the bedrooms and back office where the money was stored, ultimately shedding light on the reputed role of sex work in Deadwood in history. For obvious reasons, guests must be at least 16 years old to attend a tour.

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Another big part of Deadwood lore is gambling. Like a mini Vegas, the town is packed with intimate casinos, many of which are open 24 hours a day and packed with roulette tables, craps, slot machines and betting sportsmen. Befitting Deadwood’s Wild West aesthetic, each casino feels vintage and luxurious, from the grand staircases and glittering chandeliers to the world’s largest slot machine, a wheel-of-fortune-sized contraption at the Bodega. Casino.

The brothel museum

The brothel museum

Matt Kirouac

Where to eat and drink

For a town that straddles antiquated history and new-fangled tourism, Deadwood’s small-but-mighty food scene scratches that road-trip-worthy itch.

In the morning, start with Pump House at Mind Blown Studio, a café that doubles as a glassblowing studio in a former gas station, where you can eat a bagel sandwich and sip a cold tonic while browsing the kaleidoscopic glass art.

Just down the block, Jacobs Brewhouse & Grocer is a boutique pub with a plethora of house beers and guest taps, and eclectic dishes like tater tot poutine, smoked buffalo sausages, smoked pork steak and fish & chips. The restaurant also has a bodega-style central shop stocked with sundries and snacks, perfect for stocking up on dried fruit, designer beanies and souvenirs for your road trip.

Back on Main Street, Deadwood Social Club is a former brothel-turned-restaurant nestled above Saloon No. 10, with an impressive cocktail program (get the pecan-infused smoky Old Fashioned) and a meaty menu of buffalo sausage ravioli, lamb burgers, wild boar bolognese and tender sirloin with black truffle butter.

Downstairs, and all along Main Street, the saloons are to Deadwood what two cafes are to Portland, each suitably dusty, boozy and stuffed with old photographs and taxidermy. Take your pick: Saloon No. 10 serves craft beer and whiskey in a barn-like space that features “Wild Bill’s Death Chair” as the backdrop, while the Wild Bill Bar across the street – the original location of Saloon No. 10 – is where the town’s most infamous resident was shot. The Nugget, meanwhile, is known for its saddle bar stools and Bloody Marys.

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