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Guide to Sturgis and 9 Must Sees in the Northern Black Hills

Guide to Sturgis and 9 Must Sees in the Northern Black Hills


avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 08/04/2020
Posted On 03/03/2021 09:29:09

Destinations | Camping | South Dakota | Wyoming | Black Hills | Northern Black Hills | Sturgis | Fort Meade | Deadwood | Petrified Forest | Spearfish Canyon | Termesphere Gallery | Rapid City | Belle Fourche | Fort Hays Old West Town | Chuckwagon Dinner Show | Devils Tower National Monument



The Black Hills of South Dakota are a bucket list item for many US residents as well as international tourists. If "The Hills" are on your radar, don't miss our sample itinerary for ideas to help with planning your visit to the Northern Black Hills. After several fun filled days, you'll probably leave with a yearning to return once again just as we did.

Whether your stay is part of a camping or road trip, or a vacation destination in itself, Sturgis and the nearby area is a central location to find lodging. You can easily wander around the city, home to the famous rally that officially celebrated 80 years in 2020. Day trips will have you discovering the indoor entertainment, outdoor activities, history and scenery of your surroundings. From Belle Fourche, the geographic center of the USA in the north, to Rapid City, about 60 miles south, the "Northern Hills" have something for everyone.

Get a glimpse into the "Wild West" in the town of Deadwood or at Fort Hays Old West Town where a Chuckwagon Dinner Show will have you singing along well into the evening. Explore the result of millions of years of history in the Petrified Forest and the more recent history of Fort Meade. Do something totally different by paying a visit to the Termesphere Gallery for a peek at art like you've never seen before.

Find yourself surrounded by the walls of a canyon as you drive beside a flowing river, stop for waterfall hikes and take in the amazing scenery along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. No Black Hills adventure is complete without driving further west into the neighboring state of Wyoming where you can hike around (or even climb) Devils Tower National Monument.

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The Northern and Southern Black Hills

The Black Hills is the mountain range found in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. The Lakota Sioux tribe referred to the mountains as Pahá Sápa which translates to "hills that are black". Covered predominantly by a forest of ponderosa pines, from a distance, the shadows of the trees make the stone of the mountains appear black in color.

The Black Hills area in South Dakota from Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the north down to just past Hot Springs in the south is known as the "Southern Hills". The area within the range that is north of Crazy Horse, Needles Highway and Keystone is generally considered to be the Northern Black Hills. The "Northern Hills" extend northwards a short distance beyond the city of Belle Fourche.

While the famous carvings may be two of the most well known sites in the Black Hills, you don't want to miss the history, scenery or activities that the Northern Hills has to offer. Although only 70 miles separates Custer and Sturgis, we found that making each of the cities a home base during a part of your Black Hills' adventure saves a lot of time exploring.

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A Visual of All 10 Locations on a Map

To help get your bearings, here's a quick visual of the city of Sturgis surrounded by our additional 9 must see destinations:


Northern Black Hills Must See Destinations

Northern Black Hills Must See Destinations

And now, a brief introduction to Sturgis and our favorite 9 additional Northern Black Hills destinations - all within a 1 1/2 hour drive. As we recommend making Sturgis your home base, we begin there. Our list continues based solely on each location's distance from Sturgis, not in any other preferential order.

1. Sturgis, South Dakota

Although when most people hear the name "Sturgis", they immediately envision motorcycles (and lots of them), the city was actually named after Civil War Union General Samuel D. Sturgis. What has become the most popular motorcycle rally anywhere, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally actually started in 1938 as a dirt bike racing and stunt event. Although it has grown significantly through the years, 2020 marked the 80th anniversary of the rally.

For 10 days in early August each year, more than half a million motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the world hit the road Sturgis bound. It's not just having more motorcycles in one place than most can imagine that brings people back year after year. It's the insanely souped up custom bikes plus the atmosphere - parties, live (and loud) music, eats and drinks. (We were there several days before the rally, and it's hard to believe that even more motorcycles were headed that way! It's also hard to comprehend how high prices for tent or RV campsites can skyrocket - 250+% over regular rates.)


Greetings from Sturgis

Greetings from Sturgis

While it's true that the city is best known for the rally, there's much more to Sturgis than motorcycles and the rally. (If you have no interest in being a part of the rally, suffice it to say that it's probably best to visit during the other 355 days in the year!)

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Sturgis' Main Street

The city's Main Street is similar to other downtown streets with a variety of businesses, retail shops, restaurants, bars and even museums. It's also the home of Music on Main, a free family friendly event on select Wednesday nights during the summer months.


Sturgis' Main Street

Sturgis' Main Street

Shopping for Sturgis Rally Apparel

Shopping for Sturgis Rally Apparel

Weimer's Diner and Donuts, a highly recommended small, local diner was located on Main for over 70 years. We were lucky to enjoy their donuts for breakfast as just weeks after our visit, a fire damaged much of the building. Sadly, the owners have since made the decision not to reopen.


Breakfast at Weimer's Diner and Donuts

Breakfast at Weimer's Diner and Donuts

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame

Admission to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, also on Main, starts at $10.00 plus tax for one person. For each additional person (up to a total of five), the incremental charge is only $5.00 plus tax. Even those who don't ride will enjoy devoting an hour or more to a self-guided tour of the historic memorabilia and amazing number of vintage and rare motorcycles. Both the Hall of Fame and the museum help to tell more of the story of the rally and some of the people who have made it world renown.


Vintage Harley Davidson Bikes

Vintage Harley Davidson Bikes

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum

Which Vintage Motorcycle Would You Ride?

Which Vintage Motorcycle Would You Ride?

Sturgis Coffee Company

Try the hometown Sturgis Coffee Company to fulfill your need for more energy or desire for a pick-me-up. In business since the year 2000, the team is friendly, the coffee is hard to beat and there's a nice selection of beans and other merchandise available. The shop's atmosphere is fun and having some "community" tables is perfect for meeting other patrons!


Sturgis Coffee Company

Sturgis Coffee Company

Filling Up on Caffeine in Sturgis

Filling Up on Caffeine in Sturgis

Full Throttle Saloon

Don't let the fact that the Full Throttle Saloon (FTS) has the distinction of being the world's largest biker bar dissuade you from paying a visit. Yes, the bar which opened in 2000 does attract a large number of partygoers during the rally. Heck, there was even a reality TV series, "Full Throttle Saloon", based on the bar that aired for five seasons. But, you are probably not visiting Sturgis during rally week if you have no plans to be a part of it.

Unfortunately the building and everything inside was destroyed in a 2015 fire. The good news is that the owner did rebuild. The new location is just five miles away from the original and is on a parcel of land twenty times larger.


Full Throttle Saloon

Full Throttle Saloon

Approaching the FTS Entrance

Approaching the FTS Entrance

It's worth a visit just to stand in awe at the sheer size of FTS. There are multiple bars (some inside and some out), a variety of dining options, numerous stages, a tattoo parlor and a retail apparel store. The decor, including the unique indoor and outdoor metal artwork, is another reason to visit. Just driving into the parking lot gives you a taste of the unique metal sculptures, but there's even more inside! Don't miss getting a closer look at the bars, the barstools, the tables - all have amazing details. Just as the former location did, the new FTS has plans to expand year after year.


Unique Outdoor Metal Artwork at FTS

Unique Outdoor Metal Artwork at FTS

Indoor Beer Bar at Full Throttle Saloon

Indoor Beer Bar at Full Throttle Saloon

Outdoor Bar, Stages & More Metal Artwork

Outdoor Bar, Stages & More Metal Artwork

Let's Sit and Have a Beer!

Let's Sit and Have a Beer!

Lots of Apparel Available!

Lots of Apparel Available!

The new property includes a huge campground named after the founder of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The Pappy Hoel Campground has a variety of campsite options plus an Olympic size swimming pool, hot tubs, a restaurant and, most importantly, daily entertainment and Harley-Davidson demo rides.

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Buffalo Chip Field of Flags

If you'll be in Sturgis anytime between early July and mid August, plan some time to see the Buffalo Chip Field of Flags. Close to 1,000 American flags spaced about 10 feet apart surround a granite memorial stone. The free patriotic display, arranged each year by volunteers, honors both men and women who are serving or have served in any branch of the military.


Buffalo Chip Field of Flags

Buffalo Chip Field of Flags

Beginning in 1981, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip was billed as "The Best Party Anywhere". Dates mirror those of the annual rally and tent and RV camping spots are available. For those who prefer not to bring their accommodations along, reservable RVs and cabins are also offered. All who camp at Buffalo Chip are treated to free concerts with their paid camping site.

2. Old Fort Meade Museum

Just 5 miles from Sturgis, the Old Fort Meade Museum celebrates the 60+ years that Fort Meade served the United States as an Army post. Built in 1878, the original goal of Fort Meade was to protect miners and settlers in the Lead-Deadwood area.


Old Fort Meade Museum

Old Fort Meade Museum

Beginning in 1892, the "Star Spangled Banner" was played at Fort Meade military ceremonies, parades and concerts. Although it wasn't until 1931 that the song officially became the country's national anthem, it's journey started right here.


Parade Grounds at Fort Meade

Parade Grounds at Fort Meade

During the Great Depression, Fort Meade was used as a base camp for members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Beginning in 1944 and continuing through the present, the fort has operated as a Veterans Administration Hospital.

Open May through September, admission to tour the museum is $5.00 per adult. In addition to a self-guided tour of the three-story museum, the entrance fee includes an 8 1/2 minute historical video plus information and a route map to help you drive past the additional historic buildings of the fort.

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The Fort Meade Back Country Byway, a 4 1/2 mile gravel road suitable for most vehicles, winds through the nearby Fort Meade Recreation Area. Found about two mile east on the byway is the Fort Meade National Cemetery. This old post cemetery is the country's only Cavalry Post Cemetery that has not been moved from its original location. The southern access to the byway is near the newer Black Hills National Cemetery.


Marker within Fort Meade National Cemetery

Marker within Fort Meade National Cemetery

Black Hills National Cemetery

Black Hills National Cemetery

3. Deadwood

The Wild West town of Deadwood is a mere 15 miles from Sturgis. Founded in 1876 by gold prospectors, the city is said to have been named after the large number of dead trees found in the gulch. As Deadwood is known for its lawless past, we'll start with a brief background on a few of the legends who helped the city earn its designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Charlie Utter organized a wagon load of prospectors headed to the Black Hills from Colorado and Wyoming. Wild Bill Hickok joined the group in Wyoming with a goal of winning away the gold found by miners in nightly poker games. Calamity Jane was often found with the poker-playing miners / gamblers and was said to have fallen in love with Hickok. Less than two months after his arrival, Wild Bill was shot by Jack McCall. Townsfolk demanded law and order after the shooting, and Seth Bullock was named the city's first sheriff!

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Mt. Roosevelt Friendship Tower & Picnic Area

It was a 35 year long friendship that was the inspiration for the construction of Mt. Roosevelt Friendship Tower. Before becoming the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt met Seth Bullock during one of his many trips out west. Bullock, a famous sheriff in the city of Deadwood, led the project to build the tower in 1919, the year that Roosevelt died.


Friendship Tower

Friendship Tower

Located just 2.5 miles north of historic Deadwood, an hour long stop at Mount Roosevelt is plenty of time for a hike, a climb, photos from the viewpoints and even a picnic. A round-trip hike on a gravel loop trail is about 0.6 miles long. The 32-foot-tall stone tower is near the trail's midpoint. The trail does have a slight incline, and getting to the top of the tower requires climbing a narrow spiral staircase. It is said that, from the viewpoint, you can see the area where Bullock and Roosevelt first met, thereby starting their decades long friendship.


Mount Roosevelt Hiking Trail

Mount Roosevelt Hiking Trail

View from Friendship Tower

View from Friendship Tower

Walking Down the Friendship Tower Stains

Walking Down the Friendship Tower Stains

Mt. Moriah Cemetery

Many of the legendary characters who made the city of Deadwood famous are buried 200+ feet above the city. Although their notoriety also made Mt. Moriah Cemetery popular, there's more to this Victorian-style cemetery established in the late 1870s.


Mt. Moriah Cemetery Entrance

Mt. Moriah Cemetery Entrance

A self-guided walking tour map is provided to visitors upon payment of the $2.00 per person fee to enter the cemetery. (The minimum charge for credit card transactions is $8.00.) Although not shown during our visit due to the pandemic, there is typically a 15-minute historical video included in the price of admission.

The walking tour includes 23 stops plus the Brown Rockies Overlook. Panoramic shots taken from the viewpoint above the city have become one of the most iconic views of the Deadwood Gulch.


View of Deadwood from the Brown Rockies Overlook

View of Deadwood from the Brown Rockies Overlook

The cemetery's paved roads make the walk to all but the grave of Seth Bullock relatively easy. Bullock had requested to be buried above the city of Deadwood, so his grave sits about 750 feet higher than the main cemetery.

Both the young and not so young are buried at Mt. Moriah. Of the over 3,600 burial plots in the cemetery, approximately 1,200 are in three Potter's Fields along with other unknown settlers. The burial sites with the biggest crowds during our visit were those of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. The two graves are in close proximity per her dying request.


Gravesite of James Butler ("Wild Bill") Hickok

Gravesite of James Butler ("Wild Bill") Hickok

Martha Jane Burke's (Calamity Jane) Burial Site

Martha Jane Burke's (Calamity Jane) Burial Site

It's interesting to know that, unlike at most other places, the U.S. flag atop Mt. Moriah flies 24/7. This exception was granted by congress during World War I to honor all veterans who have served our nation.

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Main Street and Deadwood's Core Business District

Many people associate Deadwood with the city's Core Business District and Historic Main Street. It is here where most of the big name casinos, concerts and parties, resort hotels, spas, shopping and dining are found. An ongoing revitalization and beautification project is underway aimed at filling vacancies with relevant businesses and reopening hotels.


Entering Historic Deadwood

Entering Historic Deadwood

Wandering Historic Main Street

Wandering Historic Main Street

As you explore the core business district, you'll surely notice a resounding western theme. Deadwood continues to be able to capitalize on its long-standing Wild West image. In fact, as you wander about, make sure to keep your eyes open. You just might see the likes of Wild Bill or one of the other gunslingers that gave Deadwood its notoriety!

Plan your visit so that you can catch one of several reenactments including free daily shootouts. During peak tourist season, members of the local theater group, Deadwood Alive, often masquerade throughout the city. You might see these characters out and about on the streets or corralling guests for an upcoming Trial of Jack McCall.


Main Street Shootout

Main Street Shootout

Don't just spend your time on the city streets - make your way inside some of the local businesses. Witness The Shooting of Wild Bill at the Old Style Saloon No. 10 played out multiple times each day during the summer season. (If you are traveling with young ones, they may even get to be a part of the show!) You'll find many a places where you can enjoy an adult beverage, a tasty meal or have an old time photo taken with your traveling companions.


The Shooting of Wild Bill at Old Style Saloon No. 10

The Shooting of Wild Bill at Old Style Saloon No. 10

A relatively new addition to the city, Outlaw Square, is located on the grounds of the former Deadwood City Hall at the intersection of Main and Deadwood Streets. The venue, which opened in late 2019, is now the home for year-round entertainment for all ages - concerts, ice skating, movie nights, parties and holiday events. There's even the free Summer Concert Series presented each Wednesday!

If you're willing to do some walking, both the cemetery and the historic area can be visited from the same parking spot.

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4. Petrified Forest of the Black Hills

Did you know that the Latin root word "petra" means "stone"? The word "petrify", therefore, means "to change into stone". Rather than decaying, a tree that falls (i.e. dies) and becomes buried (and thereby lacking oxygen) will actually keep its shape. Over millions of years, minerals that are found in water will seep into the pores of the dead tree and crystallize. This process, known as "petrification", changes the wood into stone without changing the original tree shape.

Take a nature walk along a sandstone path through the 25 acre Petrified Forest of the Black Hills. The forest is located on the grounds of Elk Creek Resort in Piedmont, SD, just over 15 miles from Sturgis. Open to visitors for more than 90 years, today's forest is home to the remnants of cypress trees that are estimated to have lived 120 million years ago.

A tour (priced at $7.00 per adult) typically begins with a video explaining the history of the forest followed by a visit to the onsite museum. After a basic understanding of how the petrified forest was created, guests then can walk through the forest. (Due to COVID closures, only a self-guided tour through the forest accompanied by a trail map was offered during our visit.)


Tallest Standing Section Found in the Forest

Tallest Standing Section Found in the Forest

Weighing in at 4.5 Tons, the Heaviest Piece Found in the Forest

Weighing in at 4.5 Tons, the Heaviest Piece Found in the Forest

View Across the Valley at 3600 Feet Above Sea Level

View Across the Valley at 3600 Feet Above Sea Level

Man-made Xylophone - Each Rock Makes a Unique Tone!

Man-made Xylophone - Each Rock Makes a Unique Tone!

If you are looking for lodging in the northern Black Hills, Elk Creek Resort offers tent sites and an RV Park as well as cottages, log cabins and vacation homes. Amenities include a heated outdoor swimming pool, a hot tub, horseshoes, a playground and even a wedding chapel!

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5. The Termesphere Gallery

Located at 1920 Christensen Dr. in Spearfish, SD (just over 20 miles from Sturgis) is The Termesphere Gallery. Immediately upon stepping inside the dome shaped building, you'll be mesmerized by the largest collection of Termespheres.


Termesphere Gallery

Termesphere Gallery

The artist, Dick Termes, is known around the world as being the mastermind of this extremely unique spherical art form. Each Termesphere is hand painted and often requires several months to complete.

Termes has been creating revolving, three dimensional spherical art since 1968. The end result is truly mind blowing! If you could crawl inside a completed Termesphere, what you would see is a perfect depiction of the scene all around you. But trying to actually paint that scene on a sphere just seems impossible.


A Sampling of the Termespheres created by Dick Termes

A Sampling of the Termespheres created by Dick Termes

Admission to the gallery is free, so don't miss making a quick stop. Be prepared, however, for it to turn into an extended visit to see and learn more about this truly unusual art form unlike anything you've seen before. You may even want to purchase a Termesphere as a reminder of your visit to the Black Hills!

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6. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway begins about 20 miles from Sturgis and continues for 19 miles to Cheyenne Crossing. Also known as U.S. Highway 14A, the byway twists and turns as it follows the meandering Spearfish Creek, all the while abounding with natural beauty at its finest. The sheer size of the towering limestone canyon cliffs straddling the byway put the height of even the tallest of humans into perspective.


Inside Spearfish Canyon

Inside Spearfish Canyon

With stunning scenery on both sides of the road, it's hard to know where to focus your attention (and when you should stop to take a closer look). The good news is that you won't be disappointed no matter where you choose to pause your journey.

Before pointing out our favorites, a reminder to be on the lookout for those that you're sharing the road with is in order. It's not just people utilizing the same mode of transit as you. Not to mention wildlife in the canyon, you'll likely encounter bikers, climbers, hikers, runners plus, of course, cars and motorcycles. With campgrounds, picnic areas, pull-outs and trails plus blind curves along the entire distance, it's imperative to watch your speed so that you don't miss any important warnings on the way.

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Traveling from Spearfish, Bridal Veil Falls is the first of three waterfalls in the canyon. Water cascades down about 60 feet, but depending on the season of your visit, the water's force varies with the spring months typically being the most intense.


Bridal Veil Falls in Summertime

Bridal Veil Falls in Summertime

The arched windows and red brick exterior make the now vacant Homestake Mining Company building unmistakeable. Upon it's opening in 1917, the hydroelectric plant produced electricity using water from Spearfish Creek for the company's gold mine operations in Lead.


Homestake Mining Company Hydroplant No. 2

Homestake Mining Company Hydroplant No. 2

From this point, we limited our stopping so that we had time to hike the two additional waterfall trails. Before driving all of the way to the Roughlock Falls Recreation Area, we only made one additional stop near the creek.


Spearfish Creek

Spearfish Creek

Although it seems that most people park near the Savoy Trailhead, we drove further and found a spot in the parking area at the Roughlock Falls Trailhead. From there, it's just a short hike along a boardwalk to both the Upper Observation Point and Lower Observation Loop - both with views of the multi-tiered Roughlock Falls.


Roughlock Falls

Roughlock Falls

Continuing down the trail takes you alongside Little Spearfish Creek toward the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It's hard to believe that long before our time, it was the force of the waters of the creek that actually formed the limestone cliffs.


Limestone Cliffs, the Walls of the Canyon

Limestone Cliffs, the Walls of the Canyon

The trail weaves between the many aspen, birch, pine and spruce trees - some uprooted from the devastating tornado several weeks before our visit. In addition to close-ups of the limestone cliffs, as you hike, you'll pass fields of grass and wildflowers (depending on when you visit) and even some ponds (hopefully with feeding wildlife).


Fields of Grass and Wildflower in Spearfish Canyon

Fields of Grass and Wildflower in Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon Pond

Spearfish Canyon Pond

If you still have some hiking in you once you reach the lodge, the best of the waterfalls is still to come. It will, however, require a commitment of a 1.5 mile moderately difficult round trip hike (plus the distance back to your parking spot).

It's downhill on a pathway lined with tall trees to reach Spearfish Falls. There's benches along the way plus a viewing platform where you can rest as you admire the falls.


Spearfish Falls Trail

Spearfish Falls Trail

Spearfish Falls

Spearfish Falls

Returning to the lodge is an uphill "wet the underneath of your hair" kind of hike. The final hike from the lodge to your parked car can actually be completed in about 20 minutes with no stops. Remember - only one person in your group has to do the hike to pick up the car for your travel group!

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Getting back to the city of Spearfish is just as beautiful on your return drive. You'll also have a better idea of how much time that you have before sunset allowing you to better plan how many additional stops you can make.


One Final Look at the Walls Forming the Walls of the Gorge

One Final Look at the Walls Forming the Walls of the Gorge

I can only imagine how beautiful Spearfish Canyon would look with the colors of fall on the trees. Or, what about watching fellow visitors snow shoeing or cross country skiing on the white powder that winter brings.

7. The Geographic Center of the United States

Do you wonder how the geographic center of the United States can be so far north? It was the admittance of the 49th and 50th states (Alaska and Hawaii) that moved the center of the country away from a small Kansas town.

With the 50 states currently in the union, the geographic center of the nation moved about 550 miles northwest. The actual location is on private land about 20 miles north of Belle Fourche (pronounced "bell foosh"). There's reportedly a flag and a survey marker, but not much pomp and circumstance.

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The Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce took it upon itself to raise funds for a "proper" monument to commemorate the country's geographic center point. Crafted of granite native to South Dakota, the monument is in the shape of an 8-wind compass rose. Engraved in a large circle between the compass points is a map of the nation's 50 states. A small circular pedestal is placed at the midpoint of the country - perfect for allowing visitors to pose in the geographic center of the United States!


Standing in the Geographic Center of the United States of America

Standing in the Geographic Center of the United States of America

Pedestal at the Geographic Center of the Nation

Pedestal at the Geographic Center of the Nation

Surrounding the compass rose is a paved walkway flanked with 52 flagpoles. Flying at the top of each pole is either a flag from one of the 50 states within the country or the flag of Canada or the United States.


Flags Flanking the Walkway in Belle Fourche

Flags Flanking the Walkway in Belle Fourche

If you arrive early enough (unfortunately, we did not), the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center share the land on which the monument sits. The "Buckskin Johnny" Spaulding Cabin, a two-story cabin built between 1876 and 1877 also stands on the property. Spaulding, a local pioneer, lived in the house (originally located just over 2 miles from its current site) for 20 years.


"Buckskin Johnny" Spaulding Cabin

"Buckskin Johnny" Spaulding Cabin

The museum, visitor center, monument and log cabin are all located less than 30 miles from Sturgis on the Belle Fourche River Walk Trail. Admission to the four sites within the complex is free. A walk along the 5-mile trail network also passes the county courthouse, historic rodeo grounds and more.

8. Rapid City

Just 30 minutes from Sturgis, visitors can easily spend days exploring all that Rapid City has to offer. If, like us, your time is more limited, you can get a taste of the city in 2 - 3 hours:

City of Presidents Walking Tour

Downtown Rapid City is home to a free walking tour known as the City of Presidents. Visitors can walk the entire route to see all of the country's past presidents, or choose their favorites and seek them out.

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The first statues were placed on the street corners in the Rapid City Historic District in the year 2000. New statues are added after the completion of a president's term in office. Some presidents are standing and others are seated; some are alone and others have pets, children or someone else with them. What is the same is that each bronze statue depicts a recognizable pose or symbolizes an achievement from the president's years of service.


Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Harry S Truman

Harry S Truman

Fun fact: All but one of the statues are life-size replicas. The statue of William Henry Harrison is a "lighter version" of the president. It was determined that creating a full-size bronze replica would be too expensive!


William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

Art Alley

While the bronzes of each president remain static, the artwork of Art Alley is just the opposite. The walls of a block long alleyway between 6th and 7th Streets in downtown Rapid City are filled with multiple colors sprayed straight out of the cans of spray paint.


Flying Grogu

Flying Grogu

Prior to leaving their mark, each artist must obtain a permit for the specific site that they wish to paint. Some artists choose to support causes, others share personal or political beliefs. Ranging from verbiage to cartoons and abstract to landscapes, each mural is truly unique. Since the art changes regularly (sometimes even multiple times in a day), it is highly unlikely that any of the artwork that you see here will still be on display!


Riders on the Storm

Riders on the Storm

Samurai Sue

Samurai Sue

Chapel in the Hills

Only open from May to September, Chapel in the Hills is about 15 minutes away from the downtown area of Rapid City. The chapel is an exact replica of a famous stave church ("Borgund Stavkirke") built in Norway in the 12th century.


Chapel in the Hills

Chapel in the Hills

What started as a goal of expanding the audience of a radio ministry, coupled with a lavish donation by a local, made the chapel a reality. The stavkirke design was chosen to honor the heritage of the many radio ministry listeners who were Norwegian Lutherans. Completed in 1969, the Chapel in the Hills was home to the radio program for over five years.


Interior of Chapel in the Hills

Interior of Chapel in the Hills

Close-up of Exterior Wood Carvings

Close-up of Exterior Wood Carvings

The grounds include the stavkirke, a Prayer Walk, log cabin museum and authentic grass-roofed Stabbur (a storehouse which today serves as a gift shop).


Grass-Roofed Stabbur

Grass-Roofed Stabbur

9. Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show

A Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show is the perfect complement for any vacation in the Black Hills. Start your evening with a visit to the South Dakota Film Museum and the Fort Hays Old West Town Square. The museum is home to a scene set of Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner. (Originally located near Caputa, SD, about 16 miles east, the set was relocated to Fort Hays in 1993.)


Dances with Wolves Fort Hays Film Site

Dances with Wolves Fort Hays Film Site

Fort Hays Old West Town Square

Fort Hays Old West Town Square

A chuckwagon dinner of sliced beef or baked chicken accompanied by potatoes, baked beans, apple sauce and biscuits with honey is served on tin plates. Tin cups filled with cold lemonade or hot coffee and spice cake round out the meal served in a staffed buffet line.


Chuckwagon Dinner is Served!

Chuckwagon Dinner is Served!

Evening entertainment is provided by the Fort Hays Wranglers. The western music and humor of the variety show are sure to put a smile on the faces of all who attend!


The Fort Hays Wranglers

The Fort Hays Wranglers

"Willie Nelson" Performs

"Willie Nelson" Performs

Wrapping Up the Evening ... American Style!

Wrapping Up the Evening ... American Style!

Located about 35 miles from Sturgis, the family friendly Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show is open from mid-May through mid-October. Tickets are $34.00 plus tax for adults and, as seating is limited, reservations are recommended.

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10. Devils Tower National Monument

About 80 miles west of Sturgis, America's first national monument rises above the earth in the northeast corner of Wyoming. While scaling to the summit of Devils Tower National Monument is popular among climbers, just peering up from the base is amazing as well.


Approaching Devils Tower National Monument

Approaching Devils Tower National Monument

Sometimes still referred to as Bear Lodge, the name Devils Tower was adopted in 1875. It has been said that a U.S. Army Colonel heard Native Americans refer to the geological formation as "Bad God's Tower". He modified the name and, although some wanted it replaced, it has (so far) remained unchanged. Nearly 150 years later, the name is still controversial.

The Tower is a sacred place to local Native American tribes as it is where their ancestors gathered and worshipped thousands of years ago. Even today, visitors to Devils Tower will often notice prayer cloths tied to trees throughout the monument. Each of these colorful symbols should be left untouched, treated with respect and not photographed.

Hiking along the Tower Trail, the most popular in the park, is perfect for seeing all sides of the tower. Although just past the trailhead and in a few sections along the way you'll come upon noticeable rises or drops, overall it's a relatively easy paved trail. Along the 1.3 mile loop, there's a number of viewpoints with great photo opportunities. Be it unique views of the formation, the field of boulders, forest of ponderosa pines, wildlife or the surrounding landscape, there will be something different to see with each step you take!


Ponderosa Pine Forest at Devils Tower

Ponderosa Pine Forest at Devils Tower

Brothers Taking a Photo Break while Hiking Tower Trail

Brothers Taking a Photo Break while Hiking Tower Trail

Standing on Field of Boulders at Devils Tower

Standing on Field of Boulders at Devils Tower

Looking Down at Belle Fourche River

Looking Down at Belle Fourche River

There are four additional trails ranging in length and difficulty from the easy 0.6 mile Valley View Trail to the more difficult 2.8 mile Red Beds Trail.

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Even if you are not a climber, it is fascinating to watch others as they make their 867 foot ascent up the colossal columns all of the way to the top. At 10 - 20 feet wide and hundreds of feet tall, the distinctive columns are the largest in the world. Climbers must register and obtain a free permit prior to beginning their upward journey. (A voluntary climbing closure is in place each June in an effort to show respect to Native Americans. The month of the summer solstice is traditionally a time when an increased number of ceremonies are performed.)


Scaling Devils Tower

Scaling Devils Tower

Wonder what it's like on top of the Tower? It is reportedly dome shaped and covered in plants. Believe it or not, there's animal life at the top as well. Climbers have recounted seeing chipmunks, mice, rats and even snakes during their time at the top.

Before leaving the monument, make a creative photo stop at The Circle of Sacred Smoke. This sculpture of a puff of smoke from a Native American ceremonial pipe was created by Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto. It is placed at the spot where the Lakota are said to have received their first sacred pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman.


The Circle of Sacred Smoke Framing Devils Tower

The Circle of Sacred Smoke Framing Devils Tower

Although the rock formation was not exposed above ground until 5 - 10 million years ago, it is estimated that the Tower was formed about 50 million years ago. Entrance into Devils Tower National Monument for up to 7 days comes at a cost of $25.00 per personal vehicle. Subject to the standard rules of the pass, the admission fee is waived for those with a National Parks Pass. In order to find a parking space, it is recommended that visitors arrive either before 11:00 AM or after 3:00 PM during summer months.

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Located near the exit to Devils Tower, the Devils Tower Trading Post has an impressive collection of merchandise for sale. In addition to souvenirs to help you remember your visit, the snack bar offers food, drinks and treats to help replenish the energy that you used while hiking inside America's first national monument.

Daily Itinerary

That wraps up our list of the 10 not to be missed destinations in the Northern Hills. To help you plan your time, here's a sample itinerary. Although there is no right or wrong order to see the area, this three day itinerary worked well for us:

Day 1: Petrified Forest, Termesphere Gallery, Spearfish Canyon and Belle Fourche

As we were staying in Piedmont, the Petrified Forest of the Black Hills was nearby. After our self-guided exploration of the forest, we headed toward the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway. To ensure that we would arrive before it closed, we made a stop at Termesphere Gallery before driving the byway. Prior to returning to our RV, we made a brief visit to the Geographic Center of the United States.

Day 2: Sturgis, Fort Meade, Rapid City and Chuckwagon Dinner

After starting our morning with breakfast in Sturgis, we set out on foot to see more of the city most famous for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Before heading to Fort Meade, we hit the Sturgis sights that we couldn't reach on foot. Next up was about 2 1/2 hours in Rapid City followed by the Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show.

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Day 3: Devils Tower and Deadwood

Our longest drive during our three days was out to Devils Tower National Monument. Our goal was to get to the Tower no later than 10:00 AM where we'd spend about 4 hours. From there, we headed to the city of Deadwood. We had planned our timing in the historic city around the free western themed shows and Wednesday summer concert.


Ryan Chris and The Rough Cuts Free Performance in Deadwood

Ryan Chris and The Rough Cuts Free Performance in Deadwood

Southern Black Hills

To make the most of a visit to South Dakota, you have to spend time in both the Northern and Southern Black Hills. A memorial, monuments, a museum, mammoths plus a train and parks can all be seen within a one hour drive of Custer, South Dakota. Don't miss "8 Must Sees Within 1 Hour of Custer, SD" for help planning your visit to the Southern Hills!

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Favorites in the Black Hills

If you were to recommend your favorite 2 - 3 sites in the Black Hills, what would be on your list?



Guide to Sturgis and 9 Must Sees in the Northern Black Hills







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