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Learn about the Black Hills of South Dakota by reading Black Hills, South Dakota - Badlands and Good Touring by Charlie Spence, IFA Member and Aviation Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Black Hills, South Dakota - Badlands and Good Touring

by Charlie Spence, Aviation Writer and IFA Member

A visit to the South Dakota Black Hills provides awesome vistas and downright Badlands livin', partner! Start your visit at the Rapid City airport, or better yet, leave the airline airport to regular tourists and fly into Sturgis or Spearfish, both are nearer your destination.  Either way, Sturgis and Spearfish airports have rental cars available (use your IFA auto rental discounts -, and from either one take route 14A back to the wild and wooly west.

About 13 miles from Sturgis'through forests that you saw on approach but couldn't appreciate until you drive through them'you arrive at the only place in the world where the entire town is a National Historic District. Deadwood began as a lawless camp of get-rich-quick prospectors. At the time, it featured saloons, dance halls, card parlors and bodacious bawdy houses.

Today the town is almost the same. Although Deadwood might sound like an adults-only community, children enjoy being a part of this living Old West.  Historic Main Street itself is a main attraction. Structures of the 1880s along about five blocks of Main Street were rescued from the verge of extinction to become Deadwood's principle gambling district.  Choose from about 80 gambling halls'most retaining the Old West ambiance'for blackjack, slots, and poker. Even if gambling is not your thing, take the whole family into Old Style Saloon #10. Step inside and you are a part of that memorable day when Jack McCall gunned down Wild Bill Hickok as that dastardly deed is reenacted. This is the only museum in the world that has a bar. Outside on Main Street, witness the shoot-out and vigilantes hauling Wild Bill's killer off to the most rollicking trial you've ever witnessed.

You can slowly climb to 'Boot Hill''another national landmark'while imagining you are part of Hickok's funeral procession, and see where he and Calamity Jane are buried. These tombstones and others like local legends Preacher Smith, prospector Potato Creek Johnny, and Madam Dora DuFran bring to mind the dangers and tragedies of those early Dakota days.

Take a free walking tour of Deadwood or get aboard one of the mini-buses and let a rambunctious driver-guide recall the days of the Badlands, Deadwood's Chinatown, Railroad, and mining. Try your hand at mining at the Broken Boot Gold Mine. Follow the ore car rails into the tunnels blasted more than 100 years ago. The mine was reopened in 1954 after being dormant for more than a half a century. Like most prospectors, you might find the pickin's slim for gold but you can receive a souvenir stock certificate in the mine.

After soaking up the rough and tumble life of historic Deadwood, drive about four miles west to Lead (folks around there pronounce it 'Leed.') This gold rush town, founded in 1876, boasted one of the richest gold veins ever unearthed. The elegant Victorian mansions testify to the opulence that this town knew in the booming mine days. If you failed to strike it rich at the Broken Boot mine, try panning for gold at Lead's Black Hills Mining Museum.

Following highway 14A around through Sugar Mountain, Cheyenne Crossing, and Savoy to Spearfish. It takes you through some of the most beautiful forested mountains that you could ever visit. Limestone cliffs tower over Spearfish canyon. A forest of spruce, pine, aspen, birch, and oak covers the hillside.

This unique area is in the west-central part of South Dakota, north of Rapid City. (On your way in or out, fly past Mount Rushmore.) Summer months are more favorable for sightseeing. If you are a winter sports buff, this area offers two ski areas and hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails with rentals available.


How to get there

As you fly in and out of the area, keep in mind that this is a mountainous area. The Spearfish Airport (SPF) is at 3, 931 feet. Sturgis' elevation is 3,239 feet. Spearfish has a 5,498-foot runway (12-30) and three turf strips. Sturgis has a single 4,600-foot asphalt runway (11-29). Both have lights, and are pilot controlled. Spearfish provides a NDB or GPS-A approach that requires a circling approach. A GPS approach leads you to runway 29 at Sturgis. Neither airport charges landing or tie-down fees'but do appreciate fuel purchases from visitors.

Where to stay

You have a wide choice of accommodations ranging from luxury Bed and Breakfasts through modest-priced motels to Victorian hotels and kitchen suites. Take your pick from more than five dozen facilities in the towns or in the surrounding canyon. In Deadwood, the All Seasons Motel, on the trolley route has rooms from $25 to $70. At the Hickok House rates range from $50 to $100. If you want a more secluded area, travel about seven miles south toward Spearfish for the Black Hills Hideaway Bed and Breakfast where most rooms have fireplaces and private hot tubs for $89 to $169. You may also book your accommodations and rental car at IFA's Online Travel Booking Service. Deep discounts may be available.

Where to eat

In Deadwood, the Horseshoe restaurant serves a 19-oz T-bone for about eight bucks. The Franklin Hotel on Main street sports South Dakota's oldest restaurant where steaks and a full menu are served in a 1903 setting.  Big Al's Buffalo Steak House is right on Main Street.  In Spearfish you'll find Appleby's, KFC, Perkins, and B&Bs. Where ever you stop, take along a big appetite.

Notice: This information is current as of April 2002. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.

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