Best Hikes in Black Hills National Forest (SD)

Overview

The Black Hills, in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, consists of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains, approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The Black Hills rise from the adjacent grasslands into a ponderosa pine forest. Described as an “Island in the Plains,” the Forest has diverse wildlife and plants reaching from the eastern forests to the western plains. With several national icons nestled among the pines of the Black Hills National Forest, this Island in the Plains serves as the backdrop for these symbols of America. Many of the best hikes in Black Hills National Forest described below can be found near Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park. Official Website.

StateSouth Dakota; Wyoming
Nearest Metro AreaRapid City, SD
Area Size1,253,308 acres
EstablishedFebruary 22, 1897
Hiking Trails450 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Hikes in Black Hills National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Black Hills National Forest)

Black Elk Peak Loop*** – 7.7 mile loop

Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), at 7,242 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies. From a historic lookout tower on the summit, one has a panoramic view of parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, as well as the granite formations and cliffs of the Black Elk Wilderness. To reach this scenic vista, one must hike trail no. 9S or trail no. 9N, which can take several hours. Add on a scramble climb to Little Devil’s Tower Trail at a little less than a mile roundtrip during the loop.

Buzzards Roost Lookout Trail – 2.5 miles out and back

Buzzards Roost is a regional high point located about five miles west of Rapid City. There are dramatic 360 degree views from the rocky limestone summit of Buzzards Roost. From the trailhead, a series of stacked loop contains nearly 12 miles of trails. A combination of several trails can be made to the lookout for a quick and relatively easy out and back.

Cathedral Spires Trail – 1.8 miles out and back

This trail leads to an area of spectacular granite spires which lend the area its name. Pioneer rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn were the first to climb many of the spires in the vicinity. Today the trail is used by rock climbers as a primary access route to many of the climbing areas. A level area near the end provides a pleasant picnic spot.

Crow Peak – 6.4 miles out and back

Crow Peak is a dominant landmark because of its geological makeup. Billions of years ago, this area was covered by an ocean. Layers of sediment were deposited on the ocean floor, eventually hardening to form limestone and other sedimentary rock layers. The trail is clearly marked along the steady climb.

Hell Canyon Trail – 5.4 mile loop

The 1/2 of mile of trail climbs at a steep pace with one switchback until you top out on the limestone crest. This trail follows a bench below limestone cliffs and provides outstanding views of Hell Canyon and the surrounding area. The last 2 miles follows a two-track road along the bottom of Hell Canyon drainage. 

Horsethief Lake Loop*** – 5.4 mile out and back

The Horsethief Lake Trail is a 2.7 mile long trail that wanders through granite peaks and twisting spires that poke through the thick forest canopy. There is a longer 11 mile loop from the trailhead for those wishing to extend their journey by coming back on the Centennial Trail.

Roughlock Falls – 2.2 miles out and back

Short and easy trail along Little Spearfish Creek with a wonderful waterfall view. Great family-friendly option for all ages.

Sunday Gulch Loop*** – 3.2 mile loop

Sunday Gulch is a popular spur loop off of the Lakeshore Trail. It winds through a ponderosa pine and spruce-fir forest, crossing a stream in several places. Hikers should be careful of the wet, slippery rocks. Winter travel on ice flows also makes passage challenging.

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