Top Trail Towns: Deadwood, South Dakota

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Courtesy Photo of Deadwood Chamber of Commerce

In the northern Black Hills lies a lush valley thick with conifers that holds a tightly clustered tourist village called Deadwood. Some 139 years ago, when white prospectors first entered this valley—then the territory of the Lakota Sioux Indians—it was filled with its namesake, dead wood, leftovers from a recent, sweeping forest fire. Those prospectors found enough gold to incite a multi-year gold rush. During that time, life was rough and rowdy with gambling, fighting and prostitution (anyone watch the HBO TV series “Deadwood,” based on late-1800s life in the town?).

Nowadays, while the trees have grown
 back and prostitution (but not gambling!) 
has been outlawed, arriving at the village
is akin to stepping back in time; Deadwood 
retains its original character through
 careful caretaking of its historic buildings and objects. Says Emily Wheeler, the 37-year-old race director for the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon and the President of the Black Hills Runners Club, “Gunslingers like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and other outlaws roamed here. You can see—and feel—Deadwood’s deep history when you walk its cobblestone streets.”

She continues, “And when you look beyond Deadwood and out into the hills, it still feels Wild, Wild West-like.” That’s because the region is largely protected and preserved as the enormous 1.25-million-acre Black Hills National Forest as well as other federal and state lands. “In the forest, there are literally thousands of miles of trails,” says Wheeler.

Courtesy Photo of Deadwood Chamber of Commerce


> GET THERE / An hour southeast of Deadwood, Rapid City Regional Airport is the closest airport. No mass transit companies serve Deadwood.

> BE A TOURIST/ The entire town of Deadwood is on the national register of Historic places, so visit and embrace history! Start with Tatanka, a Native American interpretive center, then tour the Adams Museum, where you can learn about Deadwood’s gold-rush days. Finally, visit the mount Moriah Cemetery to “meet” some crazy characters who spent time in Deadwood.

> TAKE NOTE / The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place the first full week of August each year in the town of Sturgis, near Deadwood. Hundreds of thousands of attendees fill the roads, hotels and other tourist establishments of the black Hills area, making unrelated tourism challenging.


1284 Number of inhabitants residing in Deadwood’s 3.83 square miles.

1874 Year gold was discovered in Deadwood gulch. Thousands of prospectors came to the valley in 1875 and 1876 in the black Hills gold rush.

326 Number of finishers at the 2013 Deadwood Mickelson Trail marathon (1927 people completed the accompanying Half marathon).

Photo Courtesy of Action Sports Images



This event happens in June on the dirt, rails-to-trails George S. Mickelson Trail. The course gradually climbs about 800 feet in the race’s first half, and then plummets around 1500 feet in the second half. The half- marathon runs the second half of the marathon course (

> BLACK HILLS TRAIL RUNNING SERIES / Races up to 50K taking place in spring, summer and fall on the area’s diverse trails (

> BLACK HILLS 100-MILE, 100K AND 50-MILE / Each of the June races is out-and-back on the centennial Trail from Sturgis, which is located about 14 miles northeast of Deadwood. The singletrack centennial Trail is always turning, curving, climbing or descending through the conifer- dominated and remote black Hills (


> GEORGE S. MICKELSON TRAIL / This 109-mile converted rail trail connects Dead- wood at the north end of the black Hills with Edgemont at the south end. The trail is hard- packed dirt, graded for trains and wide enough to run three abreast. “Begin in Deadwood, arrange a car shuttle and run point-to-point as
far as you like,” recommends wheeler. “Trail- heads are located every five to 10 miles and
each has water. You’ll see abandoned mining towns, old railroad trestles, a pretty trailside stream and monolithic rock formations.”

> CENTENNIAL  TRAIL / For a more intimate, winding, technical singletrack experience with the black Hills, try the 111-mile centennial Trail, which also travels north-to-south. a short distance east of nearby Sturgis, access the trail via the fort Meade Trailhead, 12.5 miles south of the trail’s northern terminus.

Trending on Trail Runner Magazine

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada