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Fort Hays: A Link to the Old West

    Fort Hays is a must-see for fans of the 1991 Academy Awards Best Picture winner “Dances With Wolves,” home of the film set from the popular period western. When owner Herman Jones moved it there from his family’s ranch in 1993 he figured it would attract people for a few years before they lost interest, but almost three decades later it still draws crowds—testament to the movie’s enduring legacy. “Kevin Costner was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven,” Herman explains. “It’s an epic film that I think will stay popular.” 

    The movie set might be the star attraction, but there’s plenty more to see. Located on Highway 16A just 15 minutes from Keystone, visitors to Fort Hays Old West Town Square can take a self-guided walking tour along the boardwalk, where you can explore a blacksmith shop, sawmill, tin shop, post office, and more. Craftsmen will demonstrate techniques like iron forging, plate spinning, and brick making. You can try your hand at rope making or pan for authentic Black Hills gold. Don’t miss the South Dakota Film Museum, where you’ll find exhibits devoted to 50+ movies that have been filmed in South Dakota. 

    Come early and take advantage of all-you-can-eat 99-cent pancakes or other breakfast options, including biscuits and gravy, sausage, cowboy coffee, hot chocolate, juice, and other beverages. The Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show is a great way to end a busy day exploring the Black Hills; the menu features BBQ beef, baked chicken, beans, chuckwagon potatoes, cowboy coffee, lemonade, and other delicious western grub served on tin plates and poured into tin cups. After you’ve had your fill, you’ll enjoy a music variety show by the Fort Hays Wranglers.  

    The Buffalo Hunt is the newest attraction at Fort Hays. This interactive chairlift ride whisks you along a track that drops into a valley, where you’ll have the opportunity to shoot at buffalo statues. Afterward, you’ll receive a score card and will have an opportunity to purchase a commemorative video that you can share on social media. Herman sees it as a great tie-in to “Dances With Wolves” and a fun option for families with young children.

    Fort Hays is open seasonally, typically from Mother’s Day weekend to October.