South Dakota Highway 385 and Highway 16

SD Highway 385 & 16 are not border to border highways but during the summer months these two popular highways attract millions of visitors with their natural treasures offered within such short distances.  These South Dakota national treasures include Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, plus the two greatest man-made monument – Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial – each standing today as America’s symbols of democracy.

S.D. State Highway 385 actually starts at the Nebraska border with the first hint of the beautiful Ponderosa Pine laden Black Hills.  Our first stop will be the Native American town of Oelrichs, South Dakota  It may be small but the town is rich in history. Arrowheads and other artifacts found in the  area are evidence of the migration of the early Native American tribes as far back as the 1700’s.  The next migration was the miners in route to the Black Hills, followed by the cattle herds to feed the miners. The cattle ranchers started settling in the Oelrichs area around 1879 and the town was founded in 1885 and named in honor of Harry Oelrich, cattle baron.

Following SD Hwy. 385 north will bring us into Hot Springs.   According to legend, the Sioux Indians first discovered the warm mineral springs which would mark the site of Hot Springs. Early growth of Hot Springswas attributed to these hot mineral springs. In the late 1800’s the population more than doubled and by 1900 there were two railroads, a college, five public bath houses and ten hotels.  Even today in Hot Springsthe warm water river continues to flow year around and people still collect and drink the healing mineral waters.  A visit to the Mammoth Site Museum is an experience like none other.  Here you can witness the unearthing of prehistoric mammoths by actual archeologists. Be sure to check the website (  for the many attractions, antique shops, museums and eateries available in Hot Springs.

As we wind our way north on Hwy. 385 the next town will be Pringle.  Today Pringle is a small but beautiful town nestled in the heart of the Black Hills. Pringle’s main income is from tourist trade and the ranchers in the area. The old west look still clings to the town, adding to its beauty and mystique.

Our next town will be Custer.  Now we are getting into some serious tourist towns along this highway.   Custer is the oldest town in the Black Hills and the county seat of Custer County. The town was built  on French Creek near the place where gold was first discovered on July 27, 1874, by a prospector with General Custer’s expedition into the Hills. Custer can probably rival Deadwood with a colorful past in the days of gold rushes and wide open towns. Today, Custer, SD is a tourist town with a beautiful backdrop of scenery and history. Be sure to add several of the fascinating museums in Custer to your itinerary, they are more than worth the time.  Nearby Custer State Park is a must visit to see herds of buffalo, wild mustangs,burros and large prairie dog towns as you drive through the park.  There is even jeep safari’s available to ride among the area wildlife.

We are now deep into the Black Hills and climbing as we wind our way into Hill City.   Discovery of tin, gold, and copper brought Hill City’s first settlers in 1876.   Today, Hill City is the “Heart of the Hills” recreational area;  a tourist town located near Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and several National Parks. Hill City also has a year round population that serves numerous residents in the Black Hills area. Because of the growing artist population and numerous art galleries, comments have been written that Hill City, SD could become the “Santa Fe” of the Black Hills.

Continuing the climb up SD Hwy. 385/16

As we leave Hill City heading North on Hwy. 385 there will be a quick jaunt off this highway and onto Highway 16.  This short highway is easily the most traveled Highway in South Dakota as it winds around the granite mountainside that holds the world-famous Mount Rushmore National Monuments.  Just two miles before reaching Mount Rushmore is  the tiny town of Keystone.  Keystone was  another gold rush town in the Black Hills that was founded and named from a near-by gold mine.  When the mines closed the town almost died until another treasure was created – Mount Rushmore.

Today, the older part of Keystone follows the creek, with residential houses on one side and store fronts  on the other side. Keystone is definitely a tourist town with it being in such close proximity to  Mount Rushmore National Park. Yes, there are more souvenir shops per square inch than anywhere else in the Black Hills  but don’t bypass the Borglum Historical Center in your rush to see the “Faces”.  Here you can learn how a man with a dream at the age of 60 carved a world-wide renown monument as a symbol to democracy and freedom.  

Drive slow and enjoy the scenery and the “wild west” ambiance of the area as you wind around back up to Highway 385.  Before you reach 385, you might want to take a quick detour to Rockerville.  Rockerville was a gold rush town in the Black Hills that was founded in 1876 and died in 1878 when the gold ran out. The name Rockerville, came from the rocker system used in gold mining.  Rockerville is a ghost town that is still listed on the map.  Today the tiny town only  consists of several old buildings that have been preserved and some are open to the public. There is a great restaurant and western style bar still doing business year round.  Rockerville is well worth the short detour and stop to wander around an authentic old west gold rush town and have a drink in what looks and feels like a 1800′s bar.

During the summer months Highway 385 attracts literally millions of visitors with the breathtaking beauty of the northern Black Hills as we ramble through the Black Hills National Forest. On this route we find ourselves in dense Ponderosa pines and suddenly winding around scenic mountain lakes as we travel  northward through the heart of the Black Hills.  Our destination on this route is Deadwood.   Like all of the other towns on this highway, Deadwood was a  booming gold strike town. The name was derived from the gold rich gulch that the town is situated on.  Deadwood sits high up in the Black Hills mountains of South Dakota, and is a small town with a big past.  Deadwood has a world-wide fame and is a magnet for every tourist who enters the Black Hills. In fact you will be greatly disappointed to leave the Black Hills area without seeing historic Deadwood. And lastly, Deadwood has the reputation all through the local region of being a more or less “wide open” town. This reputation has been held from the very beginning and still holds today. If slot machines, poker tables, and blackjack are your passion then you are in the right place.  The continuous line of Casinos on the main drag through Deadwood might make you think you are in “Little Las Vegas”, and you are! So pull on your boots, strap on your six shooters (not really) and walk the same streets as Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, Preacher Smith, Poker Alice and Deadwood Dick.  While you are in Deadwood be sure to visit the many historic museums, Wild West reenactments, and the old historic cemetery where most of the Wild West characters are buried. 

We kind of intertwine with Highway 14 as we go north into Central City.  Don’t blink as Central City is hard to recognize as it lies between Deadwood and Lead but is definitely listed on the map. During the gold rush in 1877  Central City was a bustling community that was centrally located between the two larger cities.  Today Central City is basically a residential town that houses the workers from Deadwood and Lead.

Lead, South Dakota was founded in 1876 and went through several name changes before finally settling on Lead. This is a town that is as rich in history as it is in gold. Unlike its sister city, Deadwood, this is a work town – gold mining. The Homestake Mining Company was incorporated in 1877 in San Francisco, and under the guidance of that company Lead grew into a city that lasted well into the 21st Century as a gold mining town.   Today Homestake Gold Mine has shut down mining operations but for many years this was the main income for the surrounding Black Hills towns. Tours of the mine are still given on a daily basis in the summer months and plans are underway to utilize the hundreds of tunnels for other industry. Although not quite the wide open town that Deadwood has been, Lead still has a rich Wild West history and many places of interest to the history buffs.

The friendly town of Lead has locally owned restaurants and bars, lodging and motels for the traveler looking for a rest stop along South Dakota’s highway 385/14.  Unlike so many of the other towns along Highway 385, Deadwood and Lead are year around tourist towns due to the high altitude.  You are standing in a “Mile High City” as the altitude is exactly 5,320 feet – great skiing country. The Casinos and Ski Resorts keep Deadwood and Lead going year around. 

I sincerely hope that you have found the narratives on all of the towns on South Dakota Highway 385 and 16 informative and helpful in planning your next trip to the South Dakota  Black Hills area.   There is so much more to see and do than just see Mount Rushmore for an hour or so and then drive on past all the other wonderful sights not knowing they are even there.  Our website, has all the many attractions for every member of the party.  I hope this has interested you enough that you will visit the website and purchase our book on this highway with many beautiful pictures and an indept description of each of the towns with what to see and where to go.  Now you know – once you have seen Mount Rushmore there is a lot more to do and see. 


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