There are so many interesting places to visit in South Dakota, from the national monuments like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, to the rugged beauty of Badlands National Park it is a surprising destination. What we didn’t expect to enjoy was historic Deadwood. This Gold Rush town was made for tourists with cowboys and gunslingers walking the streets and where the ghosts of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane still haunt the music halls. It was a rip roaring good time and these are all the things to do in Deadwood that made it so much fun!
Best Things to do in Deadwood
Note: Things are constantly changing due to COVID-19 Restrictions, please check the City of Deadwood for closures and restrictions.
We just love old west towns. One of our favourites is Dawson City, Yukon here in Canada or even the town of ghost town of Wayne, Alberta, but when visiting South Dakota, Deadwood capitalized on that wild west nostalgia better than anyone. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, Deadwood was made to be a tourist town. There are so many shows and attractions it can be overwhelming deciding what to see. So we are going to round up all the fun historic attractions, re-enactments and things to do when you spend a day or two exploring the town.
History of Deadwood
The discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota set off one of the greatest gold rushes in America. From that grew the town of Deadwood attracting prospectors, outlaws and gunslingers. Wild Bill Hickok was one of those gunslingers forever putting Deadwood in the history books after being gunned down in Saloon No. 10. With all the colourful characters that lived in Deadwood during the Gold Rush, it is no wonder the interactive extravaganza “Deadwood Alive” was created. This live show has frozen the streets of Deadwood in time with actors creating major historic events in front of 19th century facades. Besides all the daily shows that seem to happen hourly, there are plenty of other things to do in Deadwood to make the most of your time.
1. See the Graves of Wild West Icons
Definitely at the top of our favorite things to do in Deadwood is to stroll through Mount Moriah Cemetery to see the gravesites of legendary wild west icons like Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Wild Bill is easily identifiable with his bust sitting atop his grave. Calamity Jane is buried beside Wild Bill and other interesting characters found throughout the cemetery are Potato Creek Johnny, Preacher Smith, and Madam Dora DuFran.
2. Try Your Luck at the Tables
It was the draw of the casinos that brought Deadwood back to life in 1989, and with gambling at its center, people soon followed. While Deadwood is a popular gambling mecca, it is also family friendly. But if you do want to try your hand at the slots or tables, there are plenty of casinos and resorts located Historic Main Street and just off the cobblestone strip.
3. Tour the Historic Main Street
Most of the action takes place on the Historic Main Street of Deadwood. Remember, back in the day, there really was only one street! From the casinos to hotels, shootouts to reinactments it’s all here. There are 21 historic plaques are scattered along the sidewalks depicting memorable events. Make sure to stop into the old depot and visit Deadwood’s History and Information Center for details and then take this easy walk that is about a mile long. Once you know the history, you are ready to watch the action.
4. Trial of Jack McCall
This is a fun play follows the Shooting of Wild Bill Hickock who was shot while playing poker by Jack McCall. Wild Bill was holding a hand of Aces and Eights (Dead Man’s Hand). This reinactment is one of the longest running stage plays in America dating back to the 1920s. The trial of Jack McCall takes place at The Wild Bill Theatre, 624 Main Street.
5. Re-enactment of Wild Bill’s Death
The shooting of Wild Bill (aka James Butler Hickok) has three shows daily inside Saloon No.10. See how Jack McCall shot Wild Bill during a poker game. McCall wasn’t in on the game but instead killed Wild Bill by shooting him in the back of the head. Showtimes are three times daily at 1:00 PM, 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM.
- Hot Tip arrive early to get front row seats. You can order a drink while you wait.
6. Watch the Wild West Shootouts
A unique set of attractions in Deadwood are the many re-inactments of shootouts and historic moments from the 1800s. There are shows that take place on the street and in saloons, you can get a full schedule of attractions at the website of historic main street shootouts.
Some of the most notable shootouts on the streets of Deadwood are, The Boone May/Prescott Webb Altercation” – In front of the Silverado-Franklin Hotel and the The Historic “Capture of Jack McCall” – In front of the Saloon No. 10 on historic main street.
7. Franklin Hotel
No trip to Deadwood would be complete without stopping at the Franklin Hotel. The centerpiece of historic main street and has been operating since 1902. We watched some of the shootouts from the second floor veranda following in the footsteps of John Wayne, Theadore Roosevelt and Babe Ruth! (do any modern day celebrities go to places anymore?) We always seem to find out that people have been to historic destinations decades ago. Anyway, the Silverado Franklin Historic Hotel is a great place to grab a beverage and soak in the atmosphere.
- You can stay at the Silverado Franklin Historic Hotel & Gaming Complex – Check out TripAdvisor for details
8. Ghost Tour of the Bullock Hotel
We said above that the spirits of Deadwood still walk the streets, well if you want to get into the paranormal, head to the historic Bullock Hotel. Seth Bullock was the first sheriff of Deadwood which was not an easy task for this lawless town. But he commanded respect and ran a hardware store and after surviving two fires of Deadwood opened the finest hotel in town. He died of cancer, (no it wasn’t some shootout in the street) but it is said that he still walks the halls of the Bullock Hotel keeping watch on the staff and making sure they are giving the best service.
9. Historic Adams House
This lovely historic house was built in 1892 and was state of the art. It had running water, electricity and even running water. The Queen Anne style home was restored as a house museum in 2000 with everything intact right down to cookies in the cookie jar.
10. Adams Museum
Adams Museum is the oldest history museum in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s an interesting display of strange possessions and oddities from Deadwood residents. There is Potato Creek Johnny’s original 7.346 troy ounce gold nugget, a sketch of Wild Bill Hickok, a stuffed two headed calf and meat cleaver of Isadore Cavanaugh along with the noose that was used to hang Cavanaugh for killing his landlady with said meat cleaver.
11. Pan for Gold at Broken Boot Gold Mine
Since Deadwood was built on gold, it is only natural to go panning for gold yourself. The Broken Boot Gold Mine takes you underground through old mining shafts. It is crazy what people put themselves through to find gold. Can you imagine going underground in pitch darkness without the use of modern amenities of today? It really puts you in the shoes of what early settlers and miners went through.
12. Days of 76 Museum
The Days of ’76 Museum pays tribute to the prospectors who first settled in Deadwood in 1876. It all began with a celebration in 1924 to honour the first settlers and grew into an annual event. The museum was first used to house the stage coaches and carriages from the celebrations. Today there are 50 historic wagons, stage coaches and carriages on display in the 1000 square foot museum.
13. The Deadwood Brothel
You can’t visit a wild west town without going to a brothel. And in Deadwood, brothels were a staple of Deadwood until 1980! Tour the rooms of the Shasta Rooms brothel located at 610 Main Street. A Brothel tour costs $15 and visitors must be 16 years or older.
14. Ride the Deadwood Stage Coach
When people visit places like New York or Montreal, a quiet horse carriage ride is on the itinerary, in Deadwood, you can hop aboard the stage coach. The half hour tour takes people down the historic main street of Deadwood showing historic sites and sharing stories.
15. George S. Mickelson Trail
Looking for something different? If you want to get out in nature, you’ve come to the right place. Take this private bike tour as you cruise through the Black Hills on the Mickelson Trail. The George S. Mickelson Trail spans 109 (175 km) miles along the old Burlington Northern Railroad line from Edgemont, South Dakota to Deadwood. This ride takes you through a 20-mile (32 km) portion through two tunnels and over a historic railroad bridge.
Where to Stay in Deadwood
The Hotel by Gold Dust – We stayed at this hotel and it was walking distance to all amenities and Deadwood attractions. It is also just around the corner from the Gold Dust Casino.
DoubleTree by Hilton at Cadillac Jack’s – You can’t go wrong with a Hilton and when in doubt, we always book a higher end chain hotel. This Double Tree by Hilton has a casino complete with black jack, craps, poker, and roulette.
There are plenty of hotels in Deadwood. Many have historic significance and have been restored with that old west feel. Check out the complete list here.
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And these are some of the best things to do in Deadwood, South Dakota. If you plan a road trip this summer, you have plenty of ideas for visiting South Dakota. Check out our full list of things to do in South Dakota and follow the links below for more in-depth information.