The uncrowded, natural surroundings of Western South Dakota are ideal for walking, hiking and backpacking. Black Hills National Forest and the surrounding State and National Parks offer more than 450 miles of both nature walks and bonafide hiking systems on approximately 75 different trails throughout the Black Hills. Hiking trails range in length and difficulty. Some are pay-to-play, while others are available for public use at no cost.
Among the most popular hiking trails are the gently sloping 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail, with trailheads from Dumont to Edgemont; miles of trails within Custer State Park; various trails within Badlands National Park; and the 111-mile Centennial Trail, which crosses the prairie grasslands near Bear Butte State Park and climbs into the Black Hills high country, skirting lakes and streams until it reaches Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs. Harney Peak is accessible from several directions, and trails to the 7,242 summit range from easy to difficult.
Other popular hiking destinations include Hell Canyon near Custer; Sundance Trails near Sundance, Wyo.; Deerfield Trail in the central hills; Flume Trail near Sheridan Lake and the Black Elk Wilderness area.
Also, if you are looking for some local hiking tips news and more visit or join the Black Hills Hiking Group.
There’s no shortage of hiking and backpacking destinations in the Black Hills and Badlands, with 1.2 million acres of Black Hills National Forest, nearly a quarter of a million acres of Badlands National Park and hundreds of miles of marked trails within those areas. In the Black Hills National Forest alone, there are 450 miles of marked trails.
You should pack the essentials, including lots of drinking water, clothing to layer, rain gear, hiking boots, a tent, sleeping bag, food, a cooking stove for areas where fires are prohibited, and whatever other necessities you can carry such as bug spray, sunscreen and limited toiletries. If there’s room, bring a camera and lots of film to capture the rugged backcountry beauty and wildlife most people never get to explore.
Let someone know where you’re headed and your proposed itinerary and estimated arrival and departure times. Travel with a buddy, and take along a cell phone for emergencies.
Backpacking is an endurance sport and does require a level of fitness, so check the trail or area difficulty before you head out. Trails range in intensity from easy to difficult, and completion times vary from 30 minutes to several days, depending on your abilities and itinerary.
For an otherworldly cross-country experience, try the 64,250-acre Sage Creek Wilderness in Badlands National Park. Many shorter trails throughout the Badlands offer their own challenges.
Other popular backpacking destinations include Hell Canyon near Custer; miles of trails within Custer State Park; Sundance Trails near Sundance, Wyoming; Deerfield Trail in the central Hills; and Flume Trail near Sheridan Lake.
The best and safest times to backpack are spring and fall, when the temperatures aren’t as extreme. Summertime is fine as long as you’re prepared for warmer temperatures. Plan ahead for unexpected weather year-round just in case.
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Things to See & Do
The route of choice for rambling through the Black Hills National Forest
Rhubarb, crab apples, chokecherries, buffalo berries, wild plums. The native fruits of South Dakota, along with recently developed grape varieties that thrive in our Northern Plains climate, make for some unique and delectable fine wines produced by four regional wineries.
If you are looking for scenic beauty, a bit of culture and fascinating history, make sure you take time to stroll the streets of Hill City, the second oldest town in the Black Hills.
A mythic warrior, a famed artist, his family and a canvas composed of granite are the elements that comprise the legendary past, present and future of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Stretching 109 miles from Deadwood in the north to Edgemont in the southwest, the Mickelson Trail has become known far and wide for the highquality bicycling it offers.
With a surface of primarily crushed limestone and gravel, the trail currently has 15 trailheads which all offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations, vault toilets and tables. Most of the grades are gradual and gentle, with none exceeding four percent. Portions of the trail are considered strenuous.
The Black Hills are full of monumental works of both man and nature, evident too in the world-class hiking, biking, motorized and non-motorized trail offerings one can find here. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATVing or snowmobiling, the uncrowded, natural surroundings of the Black Hills and Badlands are an outdoor mecca with over 450 miles spread across 75 different trails.