The Coolest Abandoned Places in South Dakota

Abandoned mining camps, agricultural towns, and railroad sites make up this list of South Dakota’s coolest abandoned places.
Written by Sarah Gray
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Updated on May 06, 2022
From a town named Mystic that mysteriously survived the Great Depression to Carbonate, the mining camp decimated by dangerous mining conditions and diphtheria,
South Dakota
is full of some of the coolest (and creepiest) abandoned places in the U.S.
It’s easy to get caught up in images of abandoned gold rush towns when thinking of South Dakota. But not all of South Dakota’s ghost towns are relics of the gold rush.
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Abandoned mining camps in South Dakota


Location: Lawrence County
Abandoned since: The 1930s
Is it legal to go in? Yes—but be cautious
Until 1910, travelers between Deadwood and Spearfish would encounter signs outside of a mostly abandoned town reading, “Keep Out: Black Diphtheria!” These signs were erected after fumes from a smelter built in 1887 killed all the cats in
Carbonate, SD
, leading to its being overrun by rats that brought disease and death to the once prosperous town.
Established in 1880, Carbonate literally boomed, drawing over 200 miners by 1881. The camp grew to include saloons, shops, restaurants, two barber shops and laundries, and a drug store. They even had their own newspaper, The Carbonate Reporter, established in 1881. By 1886, Carbonate was home to the Black Hills Hotel—the largest hotel in the Dakota Territory—as well as a school, church, bank, and post office.
Carbonate seemed destined to outstrip even Deadwood for success and prosperity, until the smelter was built in 1887. Between the lives lost to the diphtheria outbreak and those who left to seek other opportunities due to declining silver prices, the town was largely abandoned by 1891
Visitors to the camp will find a cemetery, building ruins and several mine shafts, but be warned, it is tough to get to. Located about four miles west of
, the abandoned mining camp is only accessible via 4x4 vehicle on unforgiving terrain followed by some serious, expert-level hiking through the SD wilderness.
Pro Tip If you plan to hike to Carbonate, be sure to let someone know where you’ll be—or better yet, take an experienced guide.


Location: Pennington County
Abandoned since: The 1990s 
Is it legal to go in? Yes
was founded as a mining camp in 1876. The area boomed throughout the mid- and late 1800s only to become one of South Dakota’s coolest abandoned places. Rockerville was actually revived for a short period as a tourist destination due to its proximity to Mount Rushmore, and the town boomed again as travelers visited the gift shops, theaters, motels, and a museum that lined the town’s streets. 
But increased tourism means increased traffic, and Highway 16 could no longer support the volume of visitors traveling through Rockerville. Widening the existing highway was impractical, so it was rerouted around Rockerville, drying up the town’s only real source of revenue. By the 1990s, the town was mostly deserted, and the town’s owner invited the Rockerville Volunteer Fire Department to perform a controlled burn on the remaining buildings on December 31, 2016.
All that now remains of downtown Rockerville, SD is the
Gaslight Restaurant and Saloon
, which is still open for business.


Location: Pennington County
Abandoned since:1954 
Is it legal to go in? Yes
It’s difficult to imagine a more fitting name for a ghost town than Mystic, and the fact that this town survived the Great Depression and continued thriving into the 40s means
Mystic, SD
lives up to its name. The small town, located 12 miles north of Hill City, was established in 1876 as a mining camp along Castle Creek. Originally called Sitting Bull, the town was renamed Mystic when the first post office was established in 1885.
In addition to mining, Mystic earned its place on the map when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad established a station in town, followed by the Crouch Line soon after.
 The convenience of the rail system made Mystic the perfect place for experimentation, which led to its becoming the home of a new electro-cyanide process for gold extraction, housed in the four-story Mystic Reduction Mill. Soon, locals also began using the rail lines to support their booming timber trade as they cut and shipped trees from the surrounding forest.
After supporting itself through the Great Depression, Mystic sadly fell prey to the dwindling of timber and the new focus on coal mining in the post-WWII years. The sawmill closed in 1952, and the post office followed in 1954, signaling the end of this once booming town.
But Mystic’s legacy didn’t end here. In 1986, the Mystic Townsite District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can reach the town via the Mickelson Trail, a popular hiking trail along the old railroad route.
Pro Tip If you’re taking a trip to Mystic, be sure to drive through nearby Rochford for some refreshment at the
Moonshine Gulch Saloon


Location: Custer County
Abandoned since: 1980s
Is it legal to go in? Yes—but be cautious
Located 16 miles from Custer, the mining camp of
Spokane, SD
was originally established in 1890 to extract gold, but mines proved richer in silver, copper, zinc, mica, and graphite. The town thrived throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, eventually creating enough revenue to build a dedicated school building in 1927, which still stands—albeit barely—today.
The town’s most intact remaining structure is the old mine manager’s house, a short walk up a hill from the school and other dilapidated town buildings. The town’s graveyard, located on a hill near the manager’s house, include the grave of a prospector whose tale is eerily similar to that of a man described in the classic Marshall Tucker Band Song, “Fire on the Mountain.”
Today, you can still visit this abandoned place, but be very careful. The structures are very unstable and could crumble without warning. To get to the town, take either Iron Mountain Road or Playhouse Road to Forest Service Road 330. Turn north on FS 330, and you’ll see a gated Forest Service path almost immediately on your rate. Park at the gate and walk the remaining mile up FS 300 to get to the town.

Abandoned mining towns in South Dakota


Location: Fall River County
Abandoned since:2004
Is it legal to go in? Yes—but be cautious
Unlike many of the ghost towns throughout the state,
Ardmore, SD
is not a relic of the gold rush. Ardmore was established in 1889 as a stopping point for the New Burlington Railroad to refill water tanks for steam from the nearby creek. Ironically, while the creek offered plentiful water for steam-powered trains, it was too acidic for human consumption. This, along with almost constant droughts, led the townspeople to experiment with irrigation techniques and dry farming.
The town held on strong through the Great Depression and both World Wars, but as trains relied less and less on steam for power, they no longer had a need to stop in Ardmore. Changes in the agriculture industry then caused locals to move on in search of better opportunities, leading to the complete abandonment of the town.
Located about one mile north of the South Dakota-Nebraska border along SD 71, not only is the town open to visitors, it is full of Insta-worthy abandoned buildings, farm equipment, and other vehicles that truly make it one of South Dakota's coolest abandoned places. The former residents also hold occasional reunions in Ardmore’s old fire station to catch up and reminisce about old times.
Pro Tip Be sure to brush up on Instagram filters or bring a quality digital camera for your visit. You’ll definitely want pics!


Location: Jones County
Abandoned since: technically, it’s not abandoned
Is it legal to go in? Yes, sort of
Okaton, SD
is not a ghost town, nor is it even an abandoned place. So, you’re probably wondering why it’s on our list. Though Okaton is still home to some 40 residents, most of them live in the rural areas surrounding the town, and nearly all of the town's businesses and other city buildings are abandoned. This means Okaton offers a unique opportunity to view remnants of the past without having to go too far off the beaten path.
Like Ardmore, Okaton was built to support the railroad with housing for railroad workers and businesses to support their daily needs. When the trains ceased using the tracks in the 1980s, the railroad workers moved on, and the town was virtually abandoned, leaving only those folks who continued working their farms in the surrounding hills.
Okaton is ridiculously easy to get to. Just look for exit 183 on I-90 west of Murdo, SD, and you’ll find the town. Visitors say the abandoned place is creepy even in the middle of the day, as Okaton’s five streets are lined with buildings that seem frozen in time. While visitors are encouraged to roam the streets of Okaton taking in the sites of rusting cars and farm equipment and collapsing buildings, they’re also encouraged to remember those buildings are private property. Not only is it unsafe to go inside, but it's also illegal.

Tips for exploring South Dakota’s abandoned places

Before starting your road trip through South Dakota’s abandoned places, consider these pro tips for urban exploration.
  • Find out if it’s legal to visit—and ask permission if you’re not sure. All of the locations featured on this list are legal to visit, but not all abandoned places are open to tourist traffic. 
  • Dress comfortably, and leave the flip-flops at home. These places weren’t abandoned because of their super-convenient location, so the last thing you want when visiting them is an injury that requires medical attention. Wear sturdy footwear and comfortable but protective clothing.
  • Leave it as you found it!. You’ll be tempted to take souvenirs, but the unique objects you find at these sites are what make them so fun to explore. Don’t deprive future visitors of the chance to experience these treasures.
  • Don’t go alone. Though most of these places are fairly safe to visit, it’s always a good idea to bring someone along or let someone know before you head off the beaten path.  
  • Bring water, sunblock, and maybe some protective gear. Beyond your need to stay hydrated and protected from the elements, consider bringing a mask or face cover, gloves, and other equipment if you’ll be entering a building that might be contaminated with toxic chemicals or materials.
Yes, exploring abandoned places in South Dakota is super fun, but unless you’re safe and respectful of the location, it’s super stupid. Be safe, and leave things as you found them for the next visitor.

How to find affordable car insurance in South Dakota

If you’re hoping to visit South Dakota’s coolest abandoned places, you’ll need to do some serious driving, so you need to make sure you’re prepared with the things you need to stay safe before you leave—and that includes
car insurance
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