Looking to see Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Devils Tower National Monument without the crowded South Dakota summer experience? Head to Sundance, Wyo., just over the South Dakota-Wyoming border.
At Sundance, a tiny hamlet of 1,100 people, you can enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills without the commercialization popping up across the state line in South Dakota. Plus it’s near Devils Tower National Monument, a lesser-known park service gem and the first national monument in our country.
“If you don’t want to deal with traffic and RVs slowing down everything, Sundance is a great laidback place,” says local Dan Fairbanks who moved to town eight years ago. “We try to keep things real where it’s not Hollywood.”
And while Sundance is no Hollywood, it does have a claim to fame for housing a notorious historical figure. Infamous 1800s criminal Harry Longabaugh did his first prison stint in Sundance, which led to his widely recognized nickname “The Sundance Kid.” Longabaugh was confined to an 18-month jail stay after he stole a horse from a ranch hand that was loaded with a saddle and gun north of Sundance. The County sheriff tracked him down in Montana and brought him back to Sundance to face justice.
Unfortunately, jail time didn’t change his shifty ways. After he was released, The Sundance Kid joined Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, launching the longest crime spree in the country’s outlaw history. He died in 1908 at age 41.
Sip N Walk
Meet The Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, Sheriff Ryan who arrested The Sundance Kid, and other historical figures played by locals in costume as you stroll downtown during a Sip N Walk Historical Tour. Held two times a week in July and August, the tours are led by a narrator who will give you the backstories on the handful of characters you encounter. At the end of the tour, you’ll meet The Sundance Kid himself who will tell you what really happened before he was arrested.
The walk starts at the town gazebo in front of the courthouse where every adult received a souvenir tin cup with a choice of beer, wine or lemonade. A nod to the West’s lawless past, there is no open container law in Sundance, so you can enjoy your beer in public. Kids can choose between old-fashioned sarsaparilla, a popular drink in the 1800s, or lemonade. Call the Crook County Museum for tour prices and to sign up at 307-283-3666.
Visit Crook County Museum
Afterwards, learn more about The Sundance Kid at The Crook County Museum. See wanted posters, the courtroom furniture from his trial and the original court papers filed during the trial. There’s an exhibit on the Native Americans who inhabited what is present-day Crook County and another on Devils Tower National Monument. The nation’s first monument, it’s a sacred Native American natural formation that has become a mecca for rock climbers.
The museum also runs a geocache program, so pick up your geocaching passport there and use the app to start either of two courses. You also can opt for one of two self-driving tours and one self-guided walk, so inquire for details at the museum.
“It’s pretty cool because it takes you to unique places,” Fairbanks says. “There are stories that have stories behind them.”
Explore the Bear Lodge Mountains
Beyond, explore the Bear Lodge Mountains by foot, mountain bike or horse. Hit the trails on horseback with Seven J Outfitters. Dude ranches Kara Creek Ranch and Diamond 7 Bar Guest Ranch offer horse tours as part of a stay. Mountain bikers and hikers can head to the Reuter Trailhead to access easy-to-difficult mountain bike trails, Carson Draw being an easy 3.8 mile ride with optional spurs you can take. Interested in OHVing? Head to the Ogden Creek Trailhead. Stop at the United States Forest Service office downtown for details.
To reach the trailhead, take Hwy. 14 northwest for almost 1 mile to Crook County 63, also National Forest Service Road (NFSR) 838. Turn right (north) and stay on Warren Peak Road (NFSR 838) for 2.7 miles to the Reuter Motorized Trailhead immediately west of the Reuter Campground.
Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance
Just 6 miles east of Sundance, you’ll find the Vore Buffalo Jump, a significant Late Prehistoric Plains Indians archaeological site discovered during the 1970s when workers were constructing I-90.
Starting in 1500 through 1800, at least five tribes of Native Americans used the natural sinkhole to hunt bison, chasing them over the cliff to stock up on meat to feed their tribes, fur for clothing, hide to create teepees and more. Today, scientists are digging through 20 feet of archaeological layers, sifting through the remains of as many as 10,000 bison. Alongside bison remains are chipped stone arrow points, knives and other Native American tools.
It’s the first major attraction you’ll see if you’re driving from South Dakota. Those 13 and up cost $9 and children ages 7-12 are $5. West bound visitors should take exit 205 off I-90 and east bound should take exit 199. The facility is located on Hwy. 14.
Dining and Lodging in Sundance
For breakfast, head to the Bearlodge Bakery, a gem on 315 Main St., that serves delicious baked goods, omelettes, breakfast potatoes, breakfast skillets and more. Don’t miss the BLT if you’re in for lunch. If you need to do laundry, head to Cowgirl Pizza and Laundromat. Owner Amy Goodsen, a fifth-generation local, makes homemade dough every morning for her thin-crust pizza.
At night, head to the family friendly Longhorn Saloon + Grill for a steak, burger or salad. You can’t miss the black and white nearly life-sized longhorn cow coming out of the restaurant’s exterior. Owned by locals Joshua and Charity McLoughlin, its renovated interior is smoke-free and features 8 televisions to watch your favorite team play. To stay the night, there is one Best Western in town and the rest of the lodging options are locally owned bed and breakfasts, small hotels and guest ranches.
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