One of America’s most famous gold rushes was in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
This region has quite an amazing history. The rough and rowdy towns of Deadwood and Lead were as dangerous as any mining town in the West. During their peaks there were thousands of men seeking to make their fortunes in the surrounding hills.
In the early days, miners tunneled deep underground chasing the rich gold ores. In later years, open pit mining was used to extract these very same ores. From a mining perspective, the biggest claim-to-fame for South Dakota is the world’s deepest mine. The Homestake Mine produced over 40 million ounces of gold during active operations! It ended operation in 2002.
There is still mining here, but now it is tourism that brings most visitors to this area. If you want to learn more about the amazing history of this region, here are 6 places you must explore while you are here!
1. Black Hills Mining Museum
Right in the heart of downtown Lead is this exceptional mining museum. This is a great place to learn about the early history of this region, back when gold was king! The museum is full of artifacts from the past centuries. You can tour the museum for just $6, or for a few dollars more you can take a simulated mine tour to get a feel for what it was like to go underground in search of the yellow metal. Gold panning is also available here.
2. Big Thunder Gold Mine
This is a fun recreation of a mining mill located in Keystone, SD. This is a great place for people who want to do a little gold panning when they visit. There are two options… you can pan on-site and simply pay by the pan. Or for the more serious prospector, you can take a day trip out to one of their active mining claims. This will let you run a pan or sluice right in the creek. They guarantee that you will find gold with either option. You can’t beat that!
3. Wade’s Gold Mill
This is another really neat gold mining experience in the Black Hills. Wade’s Gold Mill is located in Hill City. This is a modern placer gold mill, capable of recovering gold out of gravel. There is also a mining museum on-site with a variety of old equipment. You can do some gold panning here as well.
4. Broken Boot Gold Mine
This might be the best underground mine tour in the Black Hills. This is an authentic experience where you get to go down into the tunnels that the early miners build as they searched for that precious yellow metal. The mine is located just outside of Deadwood, and dates back to 1878. The mine produced about 15,000 ounces of gold in total. Active mining stopped decades ago, but now tourists can walk in the steps of those early miners and get a feel for the life of an early Black Hills miner.
5. The Homestake Mine
Gold in the Black Hills might not be as famous as it is today without the development of the Homestake Mine, which is situated just north of Lead. By the late 1870s, miners were pulling out tons and tons of gold ore. The ore here is actually considered “low grade,” but the ore body was massive and was more than enough for mining to continue in earnest for over a century. It would eventually become the deepest mine on Earth! Go to the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center. You won’t regret it!
6. Downtown in the Old Mining Towns
If you want to take in some of the mining history of South Dakota, then be sure to take a walk down any Main Street of the old mining towns. After all, places like Lead and Deadwood exist today because of gold mining. As such, the towns themselves are a part of the early mining history.
These are now booming tourist towns. Spend a few days. Buy a piece of Black Hills jewelry, stop off at a brewery for a tall frosty, and even do a little gambling at a casino. This is an awesome place to visit and a cool piece of American history.