Looking for a little exercise on this vacation? You’ve come to the right place. The Black Hills area provides unlimited hiking, biking, camping, climbing, and horseback riding opportunities—ranging from the gentle to the extreme.
In the northern Hills, an easy trek up Mount Roosevelt near Deadwood awaits with wonderful vistas. Out on the plains in the Badlands National Park, trails ranging from one quarter-mile Fossil Exhibit paths to the six-mile Medicine Root Trail, take the hiker into another landscape altogether.
The longest, yet most accessible trail, is the George S. Mickelson Trail, providing unmatched views of Black Hills scenery over its route between Edgemont and Deadwood. Gentle grades and surfacing make it ideal for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Signage along the nearly 110-mile trail illustrates the trail’s environmental, railroad, and historic significance.
For the more adventurous, a trip along the 111-mile Centennial Trail provides an outdoor experience of more remote and scenic areas of the central Black Hills. This trail winds through the Black Hills range from Bear Butte State Park near Sturgis to Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs. Take a side “hike” up Black Elk Peak—the summit at 7,244 feet is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Alps of France and Switzerland. Warning, this is a strenuous climb!
The Black Hills National Forest offers over one million acres of public lands for your riding enjoyment. You may ride or hike anywhere on National Forest Service lands, as well as on miles of old and new logging trails. You may also camp anywhere on National Forest lands as long as you do not build an open fire and, if on horseback, you are outside the half mile restricted area around the larger lakes: Pactola Reservoir, and Sheridan, Deerfield, Horsethief, and Bismarck Lakes. Camping with horses is not permitted in campgrounds unless designated. Be a gracious guest: do not litter; tether horses to ropes strung between two trees as tying directly to trees often damages the bark; and use certified noxious weed-free pellets, cubes, or grains. Both South Dakota and Wyoming have a noxious weeds list you must respect.
If you are not up to just riding out into the woods, the Black Hills National Forest does maintain two horse camps. Both are trailheads into the Harney Peak Trail System where approximately 12 trails are well marked, numbered, and interconnected to provide any length of ride you wish. Willow Creek Horse Camp, located along Highway 244 enroute to Mt. Rushmore, is for groups and provides camping amenities. Reservations are required: 1-800-280-2267. Iron Creek Horse Camp is located northeast of Custer and is both a trailhead into the Harney Peak Trail System and the Centennial Trail. Horses are allowed on all but 10 miles of the Centennial Trail.
Custer State Park also provides 70,000 acres of outstanding horseback riding opportunities. Fees are charged and reservations required at French Creek Horse Camp, a trailhead onto the Centennial Trail and into the French Creek Natural Area, a spectacular ride between impossible-to-climb rock cliffs.