It was gold that first brought visitors to the Black Hills of South Dakota in a time when names like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok were spoken with familiarity along the dusty streets of Deadwood. Things are noticeably less calamitous today. Visitors now arrive in the region not in search of earthly treasures, but rather for the real treasures that await at the Black Hills Retreat Center.
Part of the Christian Retreats Network, the Black Hills Retreat Center offers retreat packages for ministry groups for up to 250 overnight guests in a setting that celebrates God’s creation. The center sits on 60 stunning acres inside the Black Hills National Forest, where there are no less than six national parks, monuments, memorials and historic sites nearby. At the heart of the center is a driving passion for providing guests places to commune with God while deepening their faith and connecting with friends, family and peers.
The packages offered through the Black Hills Retreat Center make planning easy and affordable and include dining, one meeting space, on-site recreation and lodging options. Groups can go the bunk route in the dorm-style rooms within the 13 cluster cabins — with one bathhouse for every three cabins — or within the two inns equipped with showers and restrooms inside the buildings. The three motel-style guest cottages offer a more private retreat experience with a full bed, full bath, a fridge, a microwave and a coffee pot. The center’s four lodges can host up to 120 guests. The main level of each lodge has a living room, a full kitchen, two bathrooms and two bedrooms; most of the upper levels have a sitting area, a bathroom and two bedrooms.
Two of the lodges — Papa Bear and Lone Star — come with meeting spaces in the basement that can host up to 20 guests, great for prayer meetings and small group gatherings for guests. Larger spaces at the center include the Lakeside Amphitheater, for up to 50 guests; the dining room basement, for up to 100 guests; and the chapel, for up to 300 guests. All meeting spaces come with complimentary audiovisual equipment, Wi-Fi and room setup.
A big advantage to booking a retreat with the Black Hills Retreat Center is the access to planning and promotion materials offered through its parent company, Christian Retreats Network. All planners receive access to Planner Central, a hub of planning and promotional resources that help to streamline and simplify the planning. The hub contains downloadable templates for budget, registration, flyers and emails. Planners can access property maps well before arriving on-site and can check out audiovisual equipment lists and lodging layouts. The hub also offers resources such as marketing to-do lists and event health and safety guidelines.
Once the group arrives, members will be well cared for by the team at Black Hills — and well fed, too. The center includes buffet dining in all retreat packages. Groups enjoy all-you-can-eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Hot side dishes, fresh fruit, a salad bar and multiple entree options for all dietary requirements are standard fare.
All basic recreation activities are included in group retreat packages. Indoor recreation activities are housed in the dining room basement and include billiards, air hockey, foosball and carpetball. Groups arriving during the warmer months can take advantage of all the lake activities: swimming, waterslides, paddleboats, kayaking and more. More competitive teams can go head-to-head with rounds of disc golf and four-way volleyball or test their skills at the fan favorite: gaga ball.
Summer camp groups prefer to plan evening activities to take advantage of the remote forest scenery. Favorites include scavenger hunts, flashlight tag, hiking and, of course, bonfires with worship songs or storytelling under the stars. Groups can add premium adventure recreation activities such as rock climbing, zip lining, archery and wacky team-building activities like “larger-than-life twister,” “slip-n-slide kickball” and “foam noodle quidditch.”
Rainy days are full of adventure, too. Groups can stay indoors to laugh and play their way through games of toe tag, reverse charades and “noodles of destiny,” which involves balancing a foam disc on one hand while trying to knock off other players’ discs with a three-foot-long pool noodle.
The Black Hills Retreat Center is surrounded by national forest, where ponderosa pines provide the shade for countless hiking, all-terrain vehicle and snowmobiling trails. The wildlife is abundant, with deer and elk living in the area, and the landscape offers myriad opportunities for unplugging and enjoying fresh air and blue skies. The center is a short drive from many nationally known attractions, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Groups can walk along the original George S. Mickelson Trail or head below ground to gaze in awe at the Jewel Cave National Monument.
The center is only a 25-minute drive to the center of Deadwood, a town still bustling with the energy of the gold rush. Walking tours through the town are led by a guide dressed as one of the town’s first lawmen.
Black Hills Retreat Center
Location: Deadwood, South Dakota
Size: 60 acres