RV Sidetrip: Deadwood, SD

If you like gambling, you’ll probably love Deadwood.

If not, probably not so much.

After years of passing by on the way to the Badlands or Yellowstone and seeing the signs, Jennifer and I made an RV sidetrip to this town on the edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The entire city is listed on the National Historic Register. The city aggressively promotes itself as having done a careful, accurate restoration of a historically significant western city so we figured it was worth checking out.

The Victorian architecture is indeed attractive.

Great Victorian restoration
Great Victorian restoration

And the turnaround of the town itself is a a great come back story.

Deadwood was truly a wild west boom town, thanks to the God Rush of 1876 that brought the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Gambling places lined the main street. There were real gun battles and many of the west’s most colorful characters passed through.

Deadwood had its share of "fancyladies," as they wre called, and these mannequins along a downtown building depict
Deadwood had its share of “fancy ladies,” as they were called, and these mannequins along a downtown building depict

And then it was passed by and a long, slow decline took place. According to the town’s official website, by the mid-1980’s, many of the city’s historic buildings were dilapidated.  In 1986, Deadwood citizens formed the “Deadwood U Bet” organization and advocated legalized limited stakes gaming to increase tourism and generate historic preservation funds.  Legalized gaming in Deadwood began on November 1, 1989.

I counted 25 casinos and gambling halls
I counted 25 casinos and gambling halls

Gaming over the past fifteen years has revitalized Deadwood’s tourism industry and provided lots of revenue for city government activities and historic preservation.  Today Deadwood, with a year round population of about 1,300, is the largest historic restoration project in the United States.

Which takes us back to gambling. I counted no less than 25 casinos and gambling halls, some open 24/7. We’re not talking Vegas glitz, we’re talking penny slots, $1,000 limits, lots of Blackjack and, on the sidewalks outside, lots of seniors puffing cigarettes.

Calamity Jane entertains the tourists
Calamity Jane entertains the tourists

The town’s most famous resident, Wild Bill Hickok, was not a long-time Deadwood citizen. Just a few short weeks after arriving, he was gunned down while holding a poker hand of aces and eights – forever after known as the Dead Man’s Hand.. He is buried in Deadwood’s  Mount Moriah Cemetery, along with such notables as Calamity Jane and Potato Creek Johnny, Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen. The cemetery offers a a self-guided tour.

The town Marshall deputizes the kids
The town Marshall deputizes the kids

A couple of times a day, traffic is stopped and there are staged gunfights downtown, with a local actress dressed up like Calamity Jane entertaining the camera toting tourists before the bad guys and the Marshall take the streets.

Several times a day staged gunfights depict the towns wild west days
Several times a day staged gunfights depict the towns wild west days

We spent a couple of hours walking around Deadwood. It’s interesting and fun to photograph.


The town is very friendly to RVers. While there’s little or no parking along main street, parallel streets offer lots of lots where, for $5, you can park all day.

35 thoughts on “RV Sidetrip: Deadwood, SD”

  1. Was in deadwood in Aug. enjoyed our time there. Left a day early because I didn’t know how we would be able to get out of the site we were in with anyone else there. It was beautiful but NOT a site for a 27 foot.

  2. I grew up going here. . Before the gaming went in. My aunt and uncle used to own the China Doll and the Bandito restaurants at the Bullock Hotel. I loved visiting summers. Have great pics of the motorcycles lining all of main street before they moved them to out of town parking. Can’t wait to go back!

  3. I lived in Deadwood when they raided those lady of the night houses. My aunt & uncle owned the Bullock hotel and I lived in their first reno of the rooms upstairs. My apartment faced main street and I watched the paddy wagons take the girls. I also witnessed a sighting of Seth Bullock wandering down the hall. I have to say Deadwood is my favorite vacation spot.

  4. Got to Deadwood in time to make the last guided tour of the Deadwood Museum approx 35 years ago with my sister Vickie Gunstrom-Maiers. Celebrated when Deadwood was a thriving metropolis. Great trip but we learned to stay off of any roads preceded with A
    . They could have warned us that that stood for altitude not alternative.

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