Badlands and Black Hills

The unique and varied landscapes that make up this corner of South Dakota -- resonant with history and lore -- were fashioned both by the elements and by human hands.

  from The Most Scenic Drives in America

13. Hill City
So authentically Western is this old gold-rush town that the cars parked along its Historic Main Street seem truly out of place. More in keeping with the town’s character is the Black Hills Central Railroad, offering two-hour excursions to Keystone and back aboard a vintage 1880s steam train. Just a few miles north on Rte. 385, Sheridan Lake Recreation Area makes an ideal camping spot, with good swimming from its sandy shores. There’s superb hiking to be found on the Flume Trail, following an old flume bed strewn with artifacts from mining days. Hill City is a trailhead for the 109-mile George S. Mickleson biking and hiking trail with four hardrock tunnels and over 100 converted railroad bridges.

14. Pactola Reservoir Recreation Area
Embraced by a heavy growth of oaks, birches, and ponderosa pines, Pactola Reservoir is a local favorite for water sports, camping, and hiking. The reservoir is a haven for fishing; it is stocked with 200,000 rainbow-trout fingerlings each year. A state-of-the-art visitor center located on Rte. 385 is open daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

15. Deadwood
The history of white settlement in the Black Hills offers no shortage of colorful characters, and many can be found right here — six feet under. Laid to rest in the Boot Hill section of Mt. Moriah Cemetery are the mortal remains of any number of hard-living real-life legends, including Calamity Jane and James Butler Hickok, better known as Wild Bill Hickok.

Visitors to the Deadwood of today will find that the spirit of the town has changed little since gold-rush days. When gambling was legalized in South Dakota in 1989, investors were quick to capitalize on Deadwood’s notoriety, and more than 80 gaming establishments now call Deadwood home. The town is no Las Vegas, though; Deadwood is listed as a National Historic Landmark, and the casinos are housed in lavishly restored period buildings that double as museums. (At the Old Style Saloon No. 10, for example, look for the chair that Bill Hickok was sitting in when he got shot.)

The gold that enriched Deadwood actually came from a nearby town called Lead. You might not know it to look at them, but below these tilted hills lie the 8,000-foot-deep shafts of the Homestake Gold Mine, which at one time was believed to be the longest continuously operating gold dig in the world. The Black Hills Mining Museum, the Homestake visitor center, and the Adams Museum and House combine to offer visitors a complete course in the history of gold mining.

16. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
Soaring limestone palisades enclose this cozy canyon byway on Rte. 14A as it runs for some 20 miles along serpentine Spearfish Creek (named for the angling technique used long ago by the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians). Scenic in all seasons, the canyon is especially so in autumn, when the display of color in its forest rivals any in New England. Two crystal-clear cascades, Roughlock and Bridal Veil falls, punctuate the serene gorge, used as the setting for the final scenes of the film Dances With Wolves. At the end of the road is the town of Spearfish, founded in the 1876 gold rush. Tinged as Spearfish is by both history and scenic beauty, it seems an apt spot to bid farewell to the Black Hills.