Saturday, September 30, 2023


The long, long RV trip, Week 20: SD RVing – Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood

This week’s South Dakota stops:

  • Mt. Rushmore
  • Deadwood

Hello again! When last we left off I was exploring South Dakota tourist attractions. This week includes visiting two more classic South Dakota destinations: RVing to Mt. Rushmore and exploring Old West history in Deadwood.

As I have said many times previously, I am not good at planning far in advance because I never know how long I am going to want to or need to stay in any given area. Likewise, the national park campgrounds were filled.

Also, a lot of businesses in this area close down after Labor Day. This includes many public as well as privately owned campgrounds. Not all do, however, and I ended up with two good places to stay that had half-price deals for members of Passport America.

Situated in the heart of the Black Hills, the Heartland RV Park in Hermosa made a terrific home base for exploring Mt. Rushmore, only 20 minutes away. And even though I did not get to a lot of the other nearby attractions, it’s also just 30 minutes from the Crazy Horse Memorial, and 10 minutes from Custer State Park.

The park was well-maintained and quiet, with good showers and an on-site store and laundromat. My Verizon hotspot also delivered a strong connection here. I stayed a few days and caught up on work and laundry in addition to hiking and sightseeing.

Shortly after I arrived we had a brief rainstorm that left behind a spectacular rainbow over the campground (photo above).

The Verizon connection was nonexistent at the Steel Wheel Campground in Deadwood, but the campground Wi-Fi was passable.

Also part of Passport America, this scenic spot is surrounded by mountains and forests and about 15 minutes from downtown Deadwood. It made a necessary home base, as parking in Deadwood was challenging, even when NOT taking along the trailer or driving a large motorhome.

Visiting Mt. Rushmore

mt rushmoreThose traveling through will find day-use parking for their RVs at Mt. Rushmore. Admission to the attraction is free even without a national park pass, although a private concession charges everyone for parking (but take note, seniors pay half price).

The giant heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the side of a mountain is indeed an awe-inspiring site. The vision of artist Gutzon Borglum, what’s even more awe-inspiring are the exhibits, historical photographs, and films that show what it took to build this marvel that marries engineering and art.

Mt. Rushmore designer Gutzon Borglum

As grand as Mt. Rushmore currently is, Borglum’s visions for it were actually much larger.  More about this is covered in the video at this post.

Take the interpretive loop trail, which is a great way to get in a workout while enjoying different views of the monument and its forested mountain surroundings. The trail goes up closer to the base of the carvings, winds through the woods, and ends close to Gutzon Borglum’s original studio.

The first half of this gorgeous trail is ADA accessible. However, if you opt to continue the entire loop, be prepared for a significant stair climb during the second half, especially to get from the studio back to the visitor’s center.

Regardless of whether you do half or the entire trail, you’ll be treated to new angles and views of Mt. Rushmore not typically seen in classic photos, and you’ll get to do some calming “forest bathing” too.

Visiting Deadwood, SD

deadwood, sd

From the beginning of this trip, Deadwood was on my list of places I wanted to visit. That’s because I love Old West history. And also because the HBO series Deadwood is perhaps my all-time favorite series.

Fans of the show may or may not realize that many of the characters in the show are based on real-life people. Perhaps they knew that Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane were real, but so were Seth Bullock, Sol Starr, Charlie Utter, Al Swearingen, and George Hearst.

Wild Bill Hickok grave, deadwood, sd

Wild Bill and Martha Jane Burke aka Calamity Jane rest near each other for eternity in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery, fulfilling one of her last requests. William Butler Hickok was shot and killed by the assassin Jack McCall while playing poker. Mount Moriah, more than any other Deadwood attraction, can connect visitors to the authentic history of the town. Legend says he was holding eights and aces, which has since come to be known as the “dead man’s hand.”

Seth Bullock is also interred at Mt. Moriah. Although, if you want to pay your respects to Deadwood’s first sheriff, be prepared for a relatively short but steep climb as his grave sits way up at the top of the mountainous cemetery. It’s a good way to get in a short workout while exploring history.

seth bullock grave, deadwood, sd

Deadwood was quite the melting pot in its day, and the cemetery displays and celebrates that history. The Mt. Zion section commemorates the fact that Deadwood was home to South Dakota’s first Jewish community. Another section of the graveyard houses the final remains of the Chinese immigrants who called Deadwood home.

Mt. Moriah will also give you a panoramic view of the historic and picturesque town of Deadwood below (see picture at the top of this section).

welcome to deadwood, sd

Today, downtown Deadwood still retains some of its original buildings, although from a period a bit later than the TV show. But it is a VERY touristy-type atmosphere with a large mixture of casinos and souvenir and T-shirt shops.

Still, it was fun to wander the streets and imagine what it would have been like back then.  Historical markers and photos around help keep it interesting, too.

Next week:
RVing through Montana; Harvest Hosts and Army Corps of Engineers Camping in Washington

Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:


Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicard is the author 8 published books on topics as diverse as US Citizenship to Cannabis Cooking. Cheri grew up in a circus family and has been RVing on and off her entire life.


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9 months ago

I remember going to Deadwood 50+ years ago with my parents. It wasn’t nearly as commercialized and “modernized” as it is now. It felt like an old western town then. Not so much now.

11 months ago

I am with Judy. I stayed at Echo Valley Park Campground while in South Dakota. I had won a ticket thru in 2020 to see the fireworks at Mt Rushmore. Echo Valley Park sits in the shadow of Crazy Horse, and borders Crazy Horse Memorial property and the Black Hill. It is convenient to almost everything in the area. It is a beautiful Mom and Pop campground with wonderful owners. Custer State Park is probably the most impressive state park I have ever seen. The wildlife viewing at Custer State park is unparalleled. And the Crazy Horse Memorial is unbelievable. Most people don’t realize that the carving at Mt Rushmore would fit on the side of Crazy Horse’s face, and that it is funded thru donations only, unlike government funded Mt Rushmore, which is also unfinished (government funding ran out in October 1941.
So, when you ask, “When will Crazy Horse be finished?”, It will take time, but it will be finished. Never forget your dreams.

Judy G
11 months ago

Too bad you missed two of my favorite places – Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park. Heritage Village at Crazy Horse was my home base for 12 years and hikes/wildlife viewing at the Park filled many wonderful days.

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