Take a tour through South Dakota and Wyoming as you visit Devils Tower.
Wyoming is a land full of mythical tales, resilient cultures, and beguiling natural beauty. From the wide-open spaces to legendary cowboy saloons to gold- and jewel-studded caves and mines, the Wild West is still very much alive and kickin’ in Wyoming. Saddle up and get ready for a rollickin’ adventure!
Start this road trip at iconic Devils Tower National Monument and follow the map at the end of this article for the rest of your adventure.
Devils Tower is a monolith of uncommon igneous rock (phonolite) protruding out of the rolling prairie that surrounds the Black Hills region. More significantly, it’s a monument, established during President Theodore Roosevelt’s years in office.
It’s been known by names as far ranging as Gray Horn Butte, Tree Rock, and The Place Where Bears Live, but now it’s Devils Tower. More than 27 Native American tribes, several expeditions of early explorers, generations of conservationists, and most recently, brave (or crazy) climbers have been drawn to this site. Steven Spielberg even filmed scenes for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” here. Most visitors arrive to hike the trails, take advantage of the various ranger programs, and gaze up at the night sky.
Travel an hour northeast to arrive at the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument. This 21-foot diameter structure is made of etched South Dakota granite, and marks Belle Fourche as the town closest to the center of the 50 states. The actual geographic center is about 15 miles away, but this is a better place to get out, stretch your legs, and think about just how big, diverse, and ever-changing this land of the free truly is.
2. Spearfish / Black Hills KOA Holiday
If you’re visiting the Black Hills, do yourself a favor and stay at the Spearfish / Black Hills KOA Holiday, if not for the proximity to and convenience of so many spectacular sites nearby, then for the nightly smoked St. Louis pork ribs, buffalo burgers, and freshly baked cinnamon buns. It’s a short walk from the campground to Spearfish Creek, where you can fish for trout, and the friendly staff will arrange Black Hills tours to Spearfish Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, or Devils Tower. It’s also the closest KOA in South Dakota to Yellowstone National Park.
Saloon No. 10 is a living museum, pulling from more than 100 years of Deadwood history. You can order a whisky (or whatever tickles your fancy) from their full bar while perusing the more than 100 western and mining-camp artifacts hanging throughout the venue. Pro tip: While the Saloon No. 10 is kid-friendly until 8:30 p.m., after dark, the live music kicks in and the adult festivities take over.
In the spring of 1876, the promise of gold brought a flood of miners, merchants, muleskinners, and madams to Deadwood Gulch. While the fortune of the Broken Boot Gold Mine had a short history, closing in 1904 only to briefly reopen in 1917 during the World War I, its story was just beginning to take shape. In 1954, a group of Deadwood business men convinced the mine’s only living heir to lease the abandoned mine and turn it into a tourist attraction. During this process, they discovered a single worn boot among the relics, which inspired them to rename the mine the Broken Boot. Today the Broken Boot has operated longer as a tourist attraction than it did as a working mine. Tours are offered every 30 minutes and cost $5.00 (or less, with discounts).
5. Deadwood / Black Hills KOA
Get a taste of life in the Wild West by staying at the Deadwood / Black Hills KOA. You can catch a free shuttle into town during the busy season or unwind among the pines and aspens of this spectacular Black Hills backdrop. Hike or bike the nearby Mickelson Trail, or drive (rental cars are available on-site) to visit Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and other popular destinations. If you need to unwind, take a dip in the heated pool, relax in the spa, or take your dog to Kamp K9. Pro tip: Kids under 12 and pets stay free!
Sure—All that glitters is not gold, but at Jewel Cave National Monument, anything that glitters might be jewels! The second-longest jewel cave in the world at more than 160 miles, this underworld wonderland features sparkling calcite crystals and other spectacular cave formations, including a maze of passages that lead into wide-open cave areas. Pro tip: The tour lasts about an hour and a half, and kids have to be over six to participate. Get there early for tickets because they sell out fast.
Since 1880, this 10-mile stretch of track has introduced travelers to the natural wonder of the Black Hills. Passengers can expect to see spectacular scenery that includes forests, meadows, and creeks, as well as wildlife such as deer and turkey. The train ride is narrated, and you can purchase a guide book for a small fee. More than 15 road crossings each way means plenty of chances to hear the nostalgic, old-timey sound of a steam whistle.
If you get hungry, snacks are available for purchase on board. Pro tip: Even if you reserve tickets online, you need to pick up the printed tickets at the store. Some things are just meant to stay a little more old-school.
In 1952, two college students were looking for the perfect spot to build a summer cabin. What they found instead destroyed the laws of physics as they knew them. The students’ discovery has become known as the Cosmos Mystery Area.
Now, the attraction is part comedy act and part museum. It will introduce you to a world in which water and objects defy gravity while helping you discover the mystery behind this phenomenon. It’s an especially great place to bring kids!
This quirky little park is another fun stop the kids will enjoy. While there are 100-mile views that look east to the Badlands and northwest to the Black Hills, it’s the seven giant concrete dinosaur structures that will really capture little ones’ imaginations. These statues were constructed during a WPA project in 1936 to capitalize on the tourists coming to the Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore. Admission is free!
10. Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake is considered the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park in theBlack Hills. It was designed with absolute relaxation in mind. Here you can picnic, rent small boats, swim, hike, or climb, or you can use the lake as a starting point for excursions to Harney Peak and the Needles. In the early twentieth century, a hotel operated on the lake’s shore, and the stunning old building is definitely worth seeing if you’re driving through Custer State Park.
It’s easy to romanticize the life of an outlaw, but in reality, Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch remained on the run almost constantly while they were pulling off the longest string of train and bank robberies in the Old West. Even though the gang was thought to have been largely nonviolent, the long arm of the law caught up with Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. He would later get his nickname, “The Sundance Kid” while serving an 18-month sentence near the Crook County Museum, where you can learn more of his story.
This KOA destination is located at the entrance to Devils Tower, and every campsite comes with a great view of the impressive landmark. The camp store is not only well supplied with trinkets and souvenirs, but it’s also stocked with basic necessities. In addition to featuring a full playground, swimming pool, carriage rides, and other amenities on-site, the campground also shows the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind almost every night, which is a surreal viewing experience. The full-service Longhorn Café provides a spacious dining room and a broad range of appetizing options.
This article appears courtesy of Roadtrippers.