Hunting for abandoned places in South Dakota? You’re in the right place. Below are 15 of my favorite abandoned places across the state!
Abandoned Places In South Dakota
1. Owanka Ghost Town
Owanka, South Dakota, is a recognized abandoned place in South Dakota and once-loved community that is now home to only one family. The town is located about 40 miles from Rapid City. Owanka, which means “excellent camping area” in English, was first occupied by Native Americans and gave access to water and protection from the wind. Despite the absence of moisture and water, Owanka continued to expand and by 1925, had approximately 200 residents.
Owanka was stained by plenty of controversy and catastrophe not long after reaching its peak, including the superintendent of the school marrying a 9th-grade student, disastrous developments, and the train no longer hauling water to the town. Residents of Owanka continued to leave as a result of these slow changes, with the town becoming a ghost town by the late twentieth century.
While Owanka is officially deserted, there are still families living just beyond the city borders, many of whom cultivate the neighboring prairie. Of all the abandoned places in South Dakota, Owanka is one of my personal favorites.
2. Queen Bee Mill Ruins
Richard F. Pettigrew, a local politician and businessman, decided in 1878 that a flour mill at the Big Sioux River’s Falls would be a successful endeavor. Pettigrew was able to secure financing for the 40 acres and construction costs, and the mill was completed in 1881. The mill building was seven floors high and made of local quartzite stone; other structures included a grain elevator, cooper’s shop, and warehouse. At the enormous mill, five railroad lines connected, bringing trains ready to ship grain in and flour out.
Unfortunately, the Big Sioux River lacked the capacity to grind the grain required, as its water levels dropped considerably every summer. The mill was destroyed by fire on January 30, 1956, leaving only an empty shell and adding it into the list of abandoned places of South Dakota.
The burnt-out shell of the structure posed a threat to visitors, so the walls were taken down to about two floors and fenced off to prevent injury from the crumbling rubble. The mill’s historical significance was recognized by the city, and it is now maintained at Falls Park for all to see.
3. Bob Ingersoll Mine
The Bob Ingersoll Mine is a fascinating site to visit in South Dakota if one is interested in abandoned places. It’s a decommissioned mill located northwest of Keystone. It was a major producer of the mineral lepidolite, which is utilized in the glass industry, in the United States.
Tons of lithia ore, mica, and beryl were extracted in the early nineteenth century. It once produced a 28-foot-long beryl crystal with a 6-foot diameter. The mill on site was completed in 1942, but like most mines at the time, Ingersoll ran empty and closed down, leaving behind the remnants that may still be seen today.
It has numerous levels, including one at the top that can only be reached by ascending a few dozen tiny wooden steps. Because the mine is unmaintained, it requires caution because the timber is ancient, and the floor structure has multiple holes. Unlike other abandoned places in South Dakota, the Bob Ingersoll Mine is fairly popular among explorers and photographers.
4. Capa Ghost Town
The tiny hamlet of Capa, a ghost town in South Dakota, provides a wealth of information about the state’s history. This ghost town, which is nearly abandoned, can only be reached through a gravel road and is nine miles from Midland. Capa was established in 1908.
Though it was always a small town, it formerly had a hotel, newspaper, and United States Post Office, which all disappeared in 1976. In this section of the state, there are far more bison than people. Capa has a total of 14 buildings left. The majority of the structures that remain are abandoned houses.
Three abandoned outhouses remain on the plains. Inside other homes, tattered furniture has been left. With its arched windows, the abandoned Catholic church stands alone against the vast South Dakota sky. On this enormous expanse of countryside, an ancient, abandoned truck sits alone. Capa’s final occupant is Philip O’Connor.
5. Black Hills Ordnance Depot
The Black Hills Ordnance Depot (BHOD) was built in 1942 to help fulfill the Army’s expanded ordnance handling needs as a result of World War II. Because of the facility’s isolated location, nearly all of the civilian employees resided in government-owned housing at the depot, which was known as Igloo. Public schools, a hospital, a post office, a church, and commerce and entertainment facilities such as a theatre, a swimming pool, and a recreation center were all part of the Igloo community.
BHOD has been used to store and test chemical weapons such as sarin and mustard gas over the years. During WWII, the facility also housed Italian prisoners of war. The Igloo settlement was abandoned once the Depot closed on June 30, 1967 deeming it to become a part of South Dakota’s ghost towns.
The Vivos firm has owned most of the former base since 2016, including 575 ordnance igloos, each measuring around 2,200 square feet. The creation of Vivos xPoint has become an international story, and a major cable network is currently filming an ongoing documentary series on the creation of the world’s greatest survival community.
6. Ardmore Ghost Town
Driving down Route 71, visitors come across a few rotting houses after a barren stretch of desolation. Because this ghost town in South Dakota looks like a photographer’s dream – bleak, frozen and sad, locked in time, there is little to no traffic here.
Ardmore, founded in 1889, was a typical 19th-century frontier town, built primarily as a stopover for the New Burlington Railroad. Drought afflicted the community, and the nearby creek was too corrosive for human consumption. While refueling with creek water, the steam locomotives would leave water for the residents. President Calvin Coolidge even paid a picnic visit to the community.
When railroads moved away from steam power, they no longer needed to stop in Ardmore, pushing residents to relocate to regions with abundant water. Over time, the town was gradually abandoned. All that is left now are a few structures and a beautiful landscape.
7. Mystic Ghost Town
In 1874, gold was discovered in the Dakota Territory’s Black Hills. That year, Col. George Armstrong Custer led a big scientific expedition to the Black Hills in search of a suitable location for a new Fort and to look into earlier ‘rumors of gold.’ This 1874 gold finding was disastrous since it prompted a stampede of hundreds of gold prospectors into the Black Hills, thus violating the Treaty. This triggered a crisis that culminated in the Black Hills War of 1876–77.
These hastily constructed gold mining ‘boom towns’, lived short and gloriously, but most eventually had to close when the gold ran out and now are enlisted in one of the most visited ghost towns in South Dakota.
Most of these villages are now only known as ‘small dots on a map.’ There is a surviving grainer from Mystic’s mining days that is estimated to be around 135 years old. There are also some ruins of what used to be a tavern. In 1930, a log edifice named McCahan Memorial Chapel was built with funds donated by a Philadelphia woman of the same name.
8. Broken Boot Gold Mine
Olaf Seim and James Nelson traveled to the Black Hills in 1878, eager to penetrate the wild frontier and strike it rich on the gold that was sure to be found there. They dug Sein’s Mine just outside of Deadwood. Crews discovered an ancient worn boot (among other long-forgotten antiquities) in a back chamber during renovations to make it safe for tourists. Sein’s daughter took advantage of the situation and renamed the mine the Broken Boot.
But soon, even the iron pyrite couldn’t keep the mine afloat. It closed in 1904 before briefly reopening in 1917. In 1954, a group of Deadwood businessmen approached Olaf Seim’s daughter with the idea of repairing the mine and reopening it as a tourist attraction and therefore has added this place in the list of frequently visited ghost towns in South Dakota.
Since then, the Broken Boot has been conducting tours to guests. In reality, the Broken Boot has been a popular tourist attraction for longer than it has been an operating mine. The charity Broken Boot Mine Committee and the Deadwood Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau currently run the Broken Boot.
9. Fort Thompson Mounds
The Fort Thompson Mounds are a series of low earthen mounds that are well known in the list of South Dakota abandoned places. They’re mostly on a terrace above the river’s bottomlands, about 50 feet (15 meters) above the river’s normal level in the 1960s. These are all thought to be burial mounds. The mounds were discovered to have traces of the first pottery-making peoples in the area and date from Plains-Woodland periods.
Prior to the 1950s, when the United States Army Corps of Engineers began planning the building of Big Bend Dam as part of a massive flood control project including numerous dams on the Missouri River, the sites were known but not studied.
Archaeologists began digging in the area in 1957 in order to better understand the sites. In addition to burials, indications of habitation were revealed in the mounds. Stone hearths, pottery shards, and stone tools are among them. One of the excavated sites yielded a radiocarbon date of around 2450 BCE.
10. Okaton Ghost Town
A frigid but attractive ghost town just off Interstate 90 was formed and died with the railroad built nearby. Along with the crumbling homes, rusted farm equipment, and overgrown train tracks that haven’t been utilized in decades, Okaton was founded in 1906 as a community for railroad workers. South Dakota’s brutal winters have driven even the hardiest residents away throughout the years.
Around that time, the Westlake family sensed potential in the deserted town. They attempted to turn it into a tourist attraction by placing advertisements on the highway and stocking a rock shop and a petting zoo alongside a general store that sold sandwiches and drinks. They, too, have left Okaton, bringing, an end to its journey and its name in South Dakota ghost towns.
Aside from the overgrown train tracks, there are several destroyed and collapsed houses. The grain elevator, which previously read “Okaton Grain Co.,” was repainted to read “Bingo Grain Co.” for the filming of a never-released film. The field is littered with rusted farm equipment and sagging fences.
11. Crystal Ghost Town
The once-thriving town of Crystal Springs, which is now a ghost town, is located along I-94 about 7.5 miles east of Tappen, North Dakota. It was named after the neighboring Crystal Springs Lakes, although it would be years before it became a town. Crystal Springs had a bank, two grain elevators, a depot, a grocery store, other mercantile establishments, a hatchery, a couple of churches, a pool hall, and a barbershop at various periods during its early years.
Crystal Springs was destroyed by two terrible fires in its early years, and the town was never rebuilt after the second. When I-94 was built through the heart of town in the late 1950s, the town was already suffering. In 1993, the post office was permanently closed and this town became a part of South Dakota ghost towns.
The Crystal Springs school is now positioned atop a hill overlooking the Interstate. The old church is across the street from the school and down the hill. A gas station and an ancient house can also be found here. Only a few residents remain in the region, which is nonetheless home to an active church.
12. Griffin Ghost Town
Griffin, now a renowned ghost town in South Dakota, is roughly seven miles west of Bowman and six miles east of Rhame, North Dakota, on Highway 12 in Bowman County. Griffin is a true ghost town, with no one living there. According to North Dakota Place Names, the post office and Milwaukee Road train station were formerly known as Atkinson until February 10, 1908, when the name was changed to Griffin in honor of Henry T. Griffin.
Griffin had a general store, lumber yard, elevators, and was growing quickly, according to the North Dakota Magazine in 1911. It may have also had a gas station at one time. It also housed a school for the local youngsters. Unfortunately, like with the one-room schools, population loss from the countryside in subsequent years endangered these combined rural schools.
Only the rapidly disintegrating old school building, a boxcar, a barn, and a few other decrepit buildings remain in Griffin today. According to legend, the town was visited by cowboys due to the stockyards, and a few gunfights purportedly occurred within the village. The historic Yellow Stone Trail, the first transcontinental vehicle highway across the upper tier states, went about two miles north of town.
13. Buffalo Ridge Ghost Town
The “town” was built in the 1960s as an addition to the Songstadt family’s gas station. It consists of a single street lined with creaking robots. A saloon, a fort, and a Chinese laundry are among the iconic structures aimed to recreate the spirit of the Old West, if not the history. From trapped miners to barmen to President Abraham Lincoln himself, mechanical characters occupy the structures.
Unfortunately, the robots’ designer, a Songstadt family friend, is only able to visit once a year to make repairs, and most of the automatons have fallen into disarray. Weather, time, and neglect, on the other hand, have left the town with dust, broken windows, and peeling paint. It now has become a robot ghost town in South Dakota.
The robots come to life at the touch of a button or the activation of a hidden floor plate, delivering lectures (in the voice of designer Dean Songstadt) about their times and performing whatever limited activity their gears would allow. The “haunted” mine and Comanche the Ghost Horse, who may be viewed via a small plexiglass window, are two of the more imaginative attractions.
14. Spokane Ghost Town
The community was founded in 1890 and was named after a silver mine in Spokane, Washington. The town’s ruins can be found 16 miles east of Custer in Custer County’s Black Hills area. Spokane’s profitability fluctuated from year to year as a working mine until the early 1940s. The money enabled for the construction of a schoolhouse, which attracted many miners to keep the operation going.
The mine was closed in 1940 as metal supplies (and consequently earnings) ran out. The mine’s buildings burned down, while the US Forest Service destroyed those that were considered hazardous. The town had a watchman until the mid-1980s, when it was declared abandoned town in South Dakota.
Little has survived to this day, although the watchman’s home, which is still intact enough to walk through the first floor, and the schoolhouse, which is on its final legs, can still be found. There are also some rusted cars, a root cellar with empty wooden shelves, and some foundations in addition to those buildings.
15. Delta-09 Minuteman Missile Silo
Minuteman 1B missile launch sites were first installed in the early 1960s in several places across the central and upper United States. Their goal was to prevent Russia from conducting a nuclear attack on the US.
There were 1,000 operational Minuteman missiles in six wings at one point. Beginning in the 1970s, the Minuteman II supplanted earlier variants. Some of the missiles even contained several warheads. The explosive yield of each Minuteman II missile was 1,200,000 tons of TNT.
There are now just 400 active Minuteman missiles in the United States as a result of nuclear armaments reduction discussions between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Delta-09 site has been decommissioned and is now open to the public as a visit-worthy abandoned ghost town in South Dakota.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in South Dakota, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.