Soon the air will be crisp, the leaves will change color and animals will start to prepare for the winter ahead. When that time comes, be ready to pull out your sweater and hiking boots and take a fall hike in the Black Hills.
Whether you’re a novice hiker wishing to spend a few hours in nature, or a veteran hiker looking for a pleasant daylong excursion, we have several hiking recommendations for you. Here are a few of our fall favorites:
1. Roughlock Falls Trail – Grade: Easy, Distance: 2 miles (round-trip)
This trail is handicap-accessible and winds its way slowly to Roughlock Falls, a breathtaking waterfall that flows into Spearfish Canyon from Little Spearfish Creek. Spearfish Canyon highlights an outdoor wonder that is impressive and unique to the Black Hills. From Spearfish, take 14A (Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway) to Savoy. The trail begins near Spearfish Canyon Lodge and is signed and accessible from the lodge parking lot.
Roughlock Falls is spectacular to view and photograph. Designated walking paths and hiking trails provide the opportunity to explore the area. Bird watching, wildlife viewing, fishing and picnicking can all be enjoyed in the nature area. When visiting the area in mid-Sept through early-October, be prepared for breathtaking fall foliage!
2. The Centennial Trail – Grade: Easy to Moderately Difficult, Distance: As desired
The Centennial Trail begins at Bear Butte National Monument and ends at Wind Cave National Park at the Norbeck Trailhead. The total length of the trail is 111 miles - the longest trail in the Black Hills. Since the trail covers such an immense distance, the geography throughout the trail varies greatly. There are over two dozen trailheads and access points to this hike, so consider hiking a section of the trail, turning around and heading back to your starting point for a picnic or snack.
The majority of the trail is a fairly easy hike, though pieces can become more difficult, and a portion of the trail goes within a mile of the famous Mount Rushmore National Monument. Whether you are looking for a day hike, an overnight camping trip, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, or simply sightseeing, you will find what you are looking for at some point on the Centennial Trail.
3. Harney Peak – Grade: Moderately Difficult, Distance: 6.5 miles (round-trip)
This granite 7,242-foot mountain lies in the heart of the beautiful Black Hills. Harney Peak is accessible from several trails traversing Black Elk Wilderness in the Black Hills National Forest. The most popular Harney Peak hiking trail begins near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.
The trail begins as an easy stroll through the pine forest and becomes more strenuous closer to the summit of Harney Peak, including several switchbacks for the final push to the high point. Along this four-mile trail, there is a 1,100-foot elevation gain from Sylvan Lake to the summit of Harney Peak. In the fall, the vantage point from the summit allows siteseers a 360-degree view of fall foliage woven within the pine forest.
4. Old Baldy Trail – Grade: Moderate, Distance: 5.7 miles (loop)
The Old Baldy Trail is a loop that is almost six miles in length. There is a 0.7 mile spur trail to the summit of Old Baldy Mountain, located roughly half way through the loop trail. The trail meanders through stands of quaking aspen, paper birch, and ponderosa pine – creating a beautiful array of colors during the fall season.
The difficulty level of the trail is moderate throughout, with an elevation change no more than 300 feet. The view from the summit is breathtaking year-round. The trailhead to Old Baldy Trail is located on Tinton Road or FSR 134. The parking lot is a large dirt parking area. From Spearfish take FSR 134 for approximately 13 miles to the trailhead, or from Savory take FSR 222 for 6 miles to the intersection with FSR 134. Travel north on FSR 134 for approximately 1.1 miles to the trailhead.
5. Crazy Horse Volksmarch | September 28 & 29, 2014 – Grade: Easy to moderate throughout, with a more difficult ascent to the summit, Distance: 6.2 miles (loop)
This is only the second opportunity of the year for the public to come face to face with a legend. The Crazy Horse Volksmarch is considered one of the most popular organized hikes in the United States. The journey through the Black Hills woodlands beneath the shadow of this gigantic masterpiece doesn’t have a pace. The point of this hike is to make it to the top at your own pace, because at the top is the true experience. Waiting at the top of the hike is the massive 87-foot face of Crazy Horse, carved from the Black Hills granite. You also get to share his view of the surrounding lands; sacred to the Lakota leader’s people.
Everyone – from Boy Scouts, to church groups, to grandparents, to families with toddlers and even babies in backpacks – can experience the wonder of walking up and down the outstretched arm-in-progress on the world’s largest mountain carving. For more information on the fees and times, click here.
So if you're able, take some time to explore the Black Hills through a hike this fall. Truly allow yourself to stop and absorb the Black Hills – you’ll see that there is something special about this place. It's difficult to put into words, but if you come visit and take the time to just soak in the natural beauty of the region, you'll begin to understand.