Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Western experiences in the Dakotas

Courtesy North

You don’t have to search for the meaning of life or a fortune of gold to have an authentic Western experience in the Dakotas, where you can encounter the West through Native American culture, state history, Wild West grub from a chuck wagon or at a hands-on ranch camp.

Here is just a sampling of what is available.

Triple R Ranch

Keystone, S.D.
Located 28 miles from Rapid City in the 27,766-acre Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Triple R Ranch is an ideal destination for horse-lovers and outdoor-lovers alike.

“We have an outsider guide permit that allows us to go on the Black Elk Wilderness area, the only designated wilderness in the Black Hills,” said Jack Bradt, owner of Triple R Ranch. “We have the only dude ranch operation where you can see Mount Rushmore from the trails. As many times as I have seen it, it always catches my breath.”

For inexperienced riders, the first day is an orientation and safety presentation, then an introduction to a horse specifically chosen for a guest’s riding needs and level.

Groups of up to eight can choose itineraries of three, four or six nights in the off-season. Larger groups can stay off-site in nearby Keystone, but all meals are served ranch-style at a large table at the ranch. Whatever the length of the stay, there are ample chances to interact with beautiful horses in the country.

Circle B Chuckwagon and Trail Rides
Hill City, S.D.
Groups can enjoy a family-style Western experience in the Black Hills at Circle B Chuckwagon and Trail Rides. Circle B offers 45-minute horseback trail rides, gem panning, woodcarving, music and even a gunfight. The company will move this summer to the nearby High Country Guest House Ranch, which is closer to other attractions.

“We are four miles from Hill City, 15 to 20 minutes from Mount Rushmore and 15 minutes from Crazy Horse,” said Kathy Lawson, who, with her husband, Dale, owns Circle B.

Every night before the chuck wagon dinner and cowboy music show, a simulated gunfight breaks out between the sheriff, his posse and the wily Biscuit Bandit. After this bit of comic relief and action, groups can settle at a table in the chuck wagon barn for favorite Western foods like roast beef, barbecued chicken, and buffalo roast.

Although gold is a famous commodity in the Black Hills, at Circle B, guests can pan for turquoise, rose quartz, garnets, amethyst and other gems.

North Dakota Heritage Center

Bismarck, N.D.
When the first gallery of the North Dakota Heritage Center reopens in May 2013, it will be worth the wait.

Two more galleries are expected to open in 2014 before the $52 million project is completed. The renovations are bringing $40 million worth of changes to the museum building, including 97,000 square feet of new exhibit space, as well as $12 million worth of new exhibits. When construction finishes, the center, which sits on the Capitol grounds, will be one of the finest in the country.

“The center is a great place to come to get the overview of North Dakota history,” said Claudia Berg, expansion and new initiatives coordinator for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. “Our goal is to get people here and then send people across the state to see where the things actually happened.”

Exhibits in the main galleries focus on different periods of North Dakota history. The first will explore North Dakota 500 million years ago, from the earliest life to the last glacier 10,000 years ago. The second gallery looks at the first 10,000 years of human history in the state. The final will look at the last 150 years of North Dakota history and where the state is going in the future.

Each gallery will have a learning lab, with hands-on experiences and technology woven into every exhibit. The collections display the area’s real history, with items such as “Dakota,” a mummified duck-billed hadrosaur, and many other artifacts.