A Home Where The Buffalo Roam: Living Like a Local in Keystone, South Dakota


I visited South Dakota to see buffalo.* So much so that every time I even thought about my impending trip, I got the song ‘Home on the Range’ stuck in my head (and now it is stuck in yours–ha!) Of course, at the time I was focusing only on the ‘buffalo’ part of the lyrics. I didn’t consider the word ‘home’. Yet that’s exactly what I found in Keystone, South Dakota.

The phrase ‘living like a local’ is thrown around a lot in travel writing. But the term is typically reserved for stories of international travel. An American can ‘live like a local’ in, say, Ecuador. But a New Yorker would be unlikely to attempt to ‘live like a local’ in, say, Tulsa–or vice versa; Tulsa residents most definitely do not travel to New York City to live like New Yorkers. They travel to New York City to eat bad pizza while standing in Times Square holding a selfie stick.

Yet I say that it is absolutely possible to live like a local on a trip within your own country. And I highly recommend it.

When planning my last-minute South Dakota trip, I knew that I wanted to stay in Keystone for the Black Hills portion of my visit. And I also had my eye on one particular lodging option: Battle Creek Lodge. Sadly, because Battle Creek Lodge is so popular, there was no last-minute availability.

Happily, the proprietor of the lodge–one absolutely lovely Tamara Gilbertson–offered to rent me one of the lodge’s newest rental properties–a renovated 1930’s ice house. I thought: sounds interesting. I also thought: Ice house? Sounds cold. (It wasn’t.) But interesting trumped cold-sounding, so I booked it.

It turned out to be the best decision of my trip.

When you rent a hotel room, you are paying for the ability to sleep in a certain location. But when you rent a vacation rental–even a small one, like the Ice House–you are paying for the ability to live in a certain location. What’s the difference between the two?

Vacation Rentals vs. Hotel Rooms

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Location. Resorts, hotels, and motels are typically located in the touristy part of town. Vacation rentals are often people’s homes. Thus, they are located in more residential areas. You’ll be surrounded by locals and local services; neighborhood bars, schools, and churches.

Convenience. Hotels might offer room service, but in a vacation rental, you can order delivery (or takeout) and you’ll actually have somewhere appropriate to eat it. Say what you will about the romanticized idea of breakfast in bed, but as a frequent traveler–if I never eat delivery pad thai in bed again it will be too soon. And in many vacation rentals, you can actually cook.

Comfort. Vacation rentals feel more homey. If you are on an extended trip–or if, like me, you are always on the road–it’s so nice to come home. Even if it isn’t your home.

Battle Creek Lodge’s Ice House rental was the most home-y home-away-from home I’ve found to date (have I said the world ‘home’ enough times yet? No? Ok–home home-y home home). And despite the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy all forms of accommodation, the Ice House might just be my favorite lodging experience to date.


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Because it is well-located. By which I mean ‘just outside of town’. All of the touristy stuff was walkable if you wanted, drivable if you were being lazy. And there was a little bar/restaurant directly next door, two different small markets right around the corner, and half of a block up from the road to Custer State Park (which is where the buffalo were roaming.) It was also across the street from a senior center (so, you know–no late night partying) and had space to park right outside of the door.

Because it is cozy. I cannot express this enough: the ice house rental felt like home (there–I said it again. Home home home.) It was also really, really clean and adorably decorated. Oh, and the light was really nice. I can’t exactly explain why this is, but I often found myself looking around the house with fondness. Please reference the photo, left. That was taken while I was walking out of the bathroom one evening. You will note my computer set up on the side table. I was watching Friends on Netflix while eating dinner. Make myself at home? Don’t mind if I do.

Because it is unique. The building really did serve as an ice house for local mining families back in the 1930s. There’s a historic plaque and everything. One evening two tourist women even stopped by to inspect the sign; they were on some kind of self-guided historical properties tour and were shocked to find someone living in one of the properties on the map. I, of course, invited them in. Because I’m me. You wouldn’t have to do that. But it was nice. They were sweet little old ladies. So it was kind of like the rental came with its own bonus grandmothers. And who doesn’t like grandmothers? (Man–my rental came with bonus grandmas and my flight home came with bonus kittens. What a great trip!)

The Ice House can be rented by contacting Battle Creek Lodge for availability. It features a full living room/dining room combination with full sized futon, a kitchen area with sink, coffee pot, microwave and mini refrigerator, bunk beds, and a loft area with a super comfortable full sized bed. The full bath is located on the first floor for easy access. It can easily sleep a family of five, though I really enjoyed having it all to myself.

I will return to Keystone in the future. Because buffalo. And I will hopefully return to the Ice House. There’s no better Home on the Range.

Thanks to Tamara at Battle Creek Lodge for offering to rent out this new property, and for being generally super awesome and helpful in the planning of my Keystone visit–even though it took me three years to finally make it out there. 

*Yes, I know the difference between buffalo and bison. And yes, I understand that what I actually did was visited South Dakota to see bison. But while science disagrees, popular culture has decided that American bison are buffalo, so that’s what I’m calling them from now on. Because after all, there are about a million places names containing the word ‘buffalo’ in the state of South Dakota alone. So: I visited South Dakota to see buffalo.

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