South Dakota’s sprawling, awe-inspiring Black Hills National Forest, in combination with Custer State Park, is one of the most enticing natural landscapes in North America. When you sprinkle in historic landmarks, such as Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Deadwood, it’s easy to see why so many families roll into the region with the widest smiles imaginable. Not surprisingly, many families (as well as couples and small groups) often utilize their natural exploratory abilities on some of the prettiest Black Hills hiking trails. The various pathways that meander through South Dakota’s most beloved national forest are just a short drive from Rushmore Express—Keystone lodging at its finest.
A Black Hills Hiking Guide: 5 Breathtaking Trails
Compiling a list of the best Black Hills hiking trails wasn’t easy, as there are dozens of potential destinations for a mid-day adventure. Many of the most popular trails lie in the rugged backcountry in-between Custer and Mount Rushmore. It’s worth noting that hiking in South Dakota’s Black Hills typically requires time, patience, and experience. You’ll be met with a healthy amount of elevation gain and intermittent bouldering at most locales.
The Cathedral Spires are, without a doubt, the crown jewel of the Black Hills hiking scene. To be honest, we have mixed feelings about labeling it as the premier hike near Rushmore Express because it sees much less foot traffic than other trails. Alas, the towering metamorphic rock monoliths, the sheer quiet of the landscape, and the faraway valley vistas are genuinely jaw-dropping and soul-soothing.
2. Sylvan Lake
The easy, 1.1-mile shoreline walk around mirroring Sylvan Lake can be added to any number of adventures, as this particularly sublime lake lies in the heart of the Black Hill hiking mecca. Sylvan Lake is perhaps the best photo op in the region, mainly because of the smooth rock wall along the water’s northwest edge.
Several paths lead to Black Elk Peak, many of which require a great deal of strenuous hiking. That being said, this peak remains the most frequented trail in South Dakota. Black Elk is the highest peak in the state at 7,242 feet of elevation. In fact, no point east of Black Elk Peak rests at a higher elevation.
Roughlock Falls remains one of the area’s most underrated hidden gems, primarily because it’s not your typical hike. Most Black Hills hiking trails climb toward a peak and meander back down to a trailhead. The journey to and from Roughlock is mostly flat, less mountainous than most neighboring paths, and is often utilized as a picnic location. Don’t be afraid to get wet; the water beneath the falls is delightfully shallow.
While Little Devil’s Tower cannot match the awe-inspiring, thought-provoking nature of Wyoming’s most beautiful geological landmark, there’s still plenty to love about this 3.6-mile, out-and-back expedition. The primary reason that this path caps off the list is that it provides a unique vantage point of the aforementioned Cathedral Spires. And it can be easily combined with a journey to Sylvan Lake, Black Elk Peak, and, yes, the Cathedral Spires.
The Finest Hotels near Mount Rushmore
Don’t forget to read about the area’s 10 best attractions and Mount Rushmore itself. We also want to show some love for the Hippie Hole, Bear Butte, Osprey Trail, and Lover’s Leap. Before we let you go, we want to remind you that Rushmore Express boasts the most charming, affordable lodging near Mount Rushmore. We’re conveniently located near the national monument, many of the best hikes in the Black Hills, Custer State Park’s wildlife loop, and the area’s top-rated restaurants. Please give us a call today at 800-323-6476 to book a well-deserved escape into the Black Hills (or check availability online).