“Nomadland” has been hailed as a deep and personal look at the average American after the economic depression of 2008, and has won multiple awards. The film was shot in and around the Black Hills back in 2018 and recently released on Hulu. The main character, Fern, is played by Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand, and follows her journey as a nomad around the American West. While you stay here in Keystone, you can easily visit locations used in the film and explore them for yourself.
Perhaps the most scenic parts of “Nomadland” are shot in Badlands National Park. The gorgeous cotton candy sunsets we know and love in the Black Hills paint the perfect backdrop to the craggy peaks in the park. Fern spends a decent amount of time camped here with her fellow nomads, and even sits in her lawn chair enjoying a face mask with the Badlands visible in the background.
Visitors to Keystone are an easy drive away from the Badlands, and the park really is a national treasure you shouldn’t miss. The landscape is otherworldly and spans over 244,000 acres of wilderness. Not only can your family enjoy a day of scrambling over rocks, you’ll also have the chance to see buffalo, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep. A simple drive through the park will take at least an hour, and there is more than enough adventure to be had to fill an entire day.
In her journey, Fern stops and works at a Wall Drug kitchen for a stint. She wears the iconic paper hats you’ll still see on staff even today, and everyone in the movie except the two actors are actual Wall Drug employees.
Wall Drug is a favorite landmark for locals and tourists alike. Founded in 1931, it was a simple pit stop for travelers passing through the area on the interstate. From humble beginnings and an offer of free ice water for weary travelers, Wall Drug has since become a destination for food and family fun. Watch for their world-famous billboards along the highway — they start hundreds of miles away from the town of Wall — and grab a bumper sticker with their tongue-in-cheek slogan, “where the heck is Wall Drug?”
One of the first scenes actress Frances McDormand shot for the film was at Reptile Gardens. She and David Strathairn got to hang out with snakes, turtles, and crocodiles, and we see many in the final film.
A staple of the Rapid City community, Reptile Gardens opened in 1937 as a small tourist attraction with a handful of snakes. Today it is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest reptile zoo in the world. With exhibits like the Rattlesnake Gulch and the Prairie Dog Town, and shows that introduce you to snakes, gators, and birds, Reptile Gardens is family fun for everyone! Since the park is just a short drive from downtown up Highway 16, it’s easily accessible and a perfect addition to your vacation in Keystone.
Custer State Park
The beautiful ponderosa pines and craggy granite peaks of Custer State Park also appear in “Nomadland.” During her adventures, Fern squeezes her van through the tunnels on Needles Highway and follows a buffalo meandering along the road.
Custer State Park is the oldest and largest park in South Dakota. With over 71,000 acres and the second-largest bison herd in the country, the park has plenty for your family to explore. Take a drive around Wildlife Loop, have lunch at the State Game Lodge, and enjoy one of the most pristine wildernesses in the country. When you head back into Keystone, make sure to take Iron Mountain Road; this meandering road was specifically designed to introduce travellers to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
“Nomadland” isn’t the first to film in our beautiful backyard, but it is perhaps one of the most acclaimed since “Dances With Wolves.” Keystone is the perfect place to base your family vacation while you explore all the scenes from the movie, and also discover fun new adventures for yourself. From dining that will tease your tastebuds to lodging that feels like home, we’ll make sure your family leaves with monumental memories that will last a lifetime.