Take a Hike: Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park

Rapid City has long been known as “the gateway to the Black Hills,” but you don’t even have to travel outside the city limits to find hiking opportunities. Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park—referred to as “M Hill” by locals, in deference to the giant M representing the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology that has been a prominent feature since 1912—offers over 20 miles of trails popular with both hikers and mountain bikers.

The Lowdown

Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park (HLMP) is a non-profit, privately-funded 300-acre wilderness area in the heart of Rapid City. A local resident named Edna Marie “Eddie” Larson conceived of the park as a way to honor the memory of her parents. She created a trust to set aside the land for public recreation. Edna passed away in 2004, but her legacy lives on.

HLMP is located at 1015 West Omaha Street, adjacent to Founders Park. Cross the bridge spanning Rapid Creek and turn left to find the trailhead. There’s an alternate north trailhead on Thrush Drive off West Boulevard, but most people access the network of trails from Founders Park.

From the south trailhead, you’ll begin a gradual ascent. Regardless of which route you take, the climb will grow steeper; you can choose to climb up Cowboy Hill Road (this provides the most direct access to the giant M) or opt for one of the many other trails. There are more than 50 in all, so it’s impossible to give you definitive directions or recommendations; just know that you will end up traversing a series of switchbacks regardless of which path you choose. Sections of the trail are narrow in places, and loose gravel or mud can add to the challenge. Pay attention to the signs; some trails are designated for bikers (or hikers) only. Occasional trail closures occur; for your own safety, don’t hike closed sections.

PROS: Minutes from downtown Rapid City; spectacular 360-degree views from the top; 50+ trails provide an endless variety of options.
The ascent is steep; with so many trails, it’s easy to lose track of where you have been when heading back; HLMP is very popular with mountain bikers, requiring you to keep an eye out.

Insider’s tip: Time your hike to catch a sunrise (follow the Sunrise Loop) or sunset (look for the Sunset North or Sunset South trails).

The Wow Factor

The beauty of this hike is the endless variety of options available. Great views are a given, no matter which trail you choose. In addition to Rapid City from various angles, you might spot Bear Butte, Black Elk Peak, and maybe even the Badlands on a clear day. Other natural features include rock gardens and a variety of flora and fauna (wild turkeys are commonly found here). Each year’s graduating class from SDSM&T erects a plaque with student names and majors.

Odds & Ends

  • Rattlesnakes can sometimes be found throughout HLMP. Pay special attention when traversing rocky areas.
  • Bikers must verbally warn hikers when they are approaching.
  • Dogs are allowed, but must be kept on leashes.
  • Look for traces of signs from early city businesses, some of which are still visible.

Don’t forget these essentials: Sturdy hiking boots or closed-toe shoes, water, and mosquito repellant!