Think the Black Hills are best enjoyed during the warm summer months? You might just change your mind after enjoying some of the many offseason outdoor activities the region has to offer. Don’t let the colder weather keep you indoors—there’s plenty to see and do this time of year, too!
The scenery in the Black Hills National Forest is stunning year-round. There are more than 450 miles of hiking trails in the region offering spectacular views. Favorite spots include Black Elk Peak, Cathedral Spires, Little Devils Tower, and the Mickelson Trail, which stretches 109 miles from Deadwood to Edgemont. You’ll marvel over majestic granite peaks and frozen lakes. Beautiful Spearfish Canyon features prime fall foliage viewing and, when the leaves are gone, awe-inspiring frozen waterfalls at Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Community Caves. Don’t miss Bear Butte, a breathtaking geological formation just outside Sturgis. A hike to the summit will reward you with views of four states on a clear day.
Fishing is a year-round sport in the Black Hills, and all lakes within the Black Hills National Forest are open to ice fishing as soon as they freeze over and the ice is safe (typically mid-December). Prime spots include Sheridan Lake, Deerfield Reservoir, and Pactola Reservoir in the Central Hills; Roubaix Lake in the Northern Hills; and Stockade Lake in the Southern Hills. If you’ve never tried it before, look for shallow water, where fish are close to the surface, and never take the ice depth for granted—always test the location before driving onto or drilling into the ice. If you don’t want to spring for an annual license you can purchase a one-day or three-day license at participating sporting goods and hardware stores, county courthouses, or South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks offices.
Skiing & Snowboarding
South Dakota isn’t a prime skiing destination, making Terry Peak Ski Resort one of the region’s best-kept secrets. With plenty of fresh powder (snowfall averages 150” annually), freshly-groomed slopes designed for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, and the highest vertical drops east of the Rockies, Terry Peak is a popular winter getaway for locals and visitors alike. The 7,100-foot summit features 29 trails and a Terrain Park complete with half-pipes, quarter-pipes, rails, and more. Three high-speed quad chair lifts and a triple lift whisk skiers and snowboarders to the peak. Ski season usually begins Thanksgiving weekend or shortly thereafter and runs through late March or early April; in years where Mother Nature fails to deliver the goods, Terry Peak has snowmaking equipment to ensure excellent conditions all season long.
Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing
For a more leisurely (but no less exciting) experience, strap on a pair of snowshoes or skis and explore nearly 60 miles of trails throughout the Black Hills National Forest. Abundant winter snowfall and breathtaking scenery make it the perfect excuse to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, not to mention an invigorating cardio workout. Area sporting goods shops have a large selection of gear; if you’re a novice, consider renting from a ski shop or winter recreation outlet first. Popular trails include the Deerfield Reservoir Complex in the Central Hills; Beaver Creek Ski System in the Southern Hills; Eagle Cliff Trailheads in the Northern Hills; and Carson Draw Trail System near Crook County, Wyoming.
With 350 miles of marked, mapped, and groomed snowmobile trails, the Black Hills have garnered national attention as a premier snowmobiling destination for enthusiasts of this adrenaline-fueled winter sport. The network of trails meanders through Ponderosa pine forests, canyons, and open meadows, and includes pit stops for gas and warming shelters. Trails are usually open from December 15 to March 31, but dates might change based on snow conditions. Rentals and guides are available if you’re new to the experience. Locals flock to Spearfish in the Northern Hills, where the Big Hill, Buckhorn, Custer Peak, and Dumont Trailheads are especially popular.
Not all wintertime rides in the Black Hills require an engine. The Centennial Trail, stretching from Bear Butte State Park to Wind Cave National Park, offers 111 miles of single-track riding options for mountain bikers and fat tire enthusiasts, with trailheads throughout the Hills that make great starting or stopping points. Other popular biking trails include the 109-mile Mickelson Trail, Storm Mountain, the Buzzards Roost trail system, Alkali Creek in Sturgis, Victoria Lake Lollipop in Rapid City, and the ominously-named (but actually quite rideable) Bone Collector in Hisega.
For a free adventure that doubles as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt, the Black Hills area offers thousands of hidden caches throughout the region. Some are easy to find, while others require quite a bit of searching. This is a great family-friendly adventure perfect for anybody with a smartphone or GPS device. If you’re into the thrill of the hunt visit geocaching.com for a list of cache coordinates and treasure location information.
If it’s simply too cold out or you want to give your feet a rest, the beauty of the Black Hills can be enjoyed from the comfort of your automobile. Scenic drives abound, giving you an opportunity to explore the many highways and byways that wind throughout the area. Spearfish Canyon is a must-see in September and early October, when autumn colors paint the surrounding hillsides vibrant shades of gold and crimson. Take the 22-mile Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (Route 14A) and allow yourself plenty of time to pull over and take pictures. Don’t miss out on the canyon’s picturesque waterfalls, either! The Needles Highway (US Hwy. 87), with its world-renowned granite spires and Ponderosa pine forests, is another fantastic fall drive – be sure to complete it before snow closes it for the season (typically in mid-October). The 70-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway features majestic “pigtail” bridges, granite tunnels, tight curves, and prime wildlife viewing. Other awe-inspiring drives include the 31-mile Badlands Loop and the SD Hwy 34 to WY Hwy 24 (Belle Fourche to Devils Tower).