The Black Hills are full of wonderful hiking opportunities. The following is a sampling of the hikes that are perfect for people who prefer an easier skill level, those with young children, and those who only have an hour or two to spend enjoying the great opportunities the Hills have to offer. The list below is informational only and the order should not be construed as a quality comparison of the various trails. They are all enjoyable and you can derive hours of enjoyment from the unique qualities of each!
Spearfish Canyon (2 trails)
1. Roughlock Falls Trail
This one-mile trail (one way) is paved, handicap accessible, and has very little elevation gain. To reach it from Spearfish, take Hwy 14A (the Spearfish Canyon Byway) south to Savoy; or from Lead, take Hwy 85 west to Cheyenne Crossing, then turn right onto Hwy 14A and follow it to Savoy. Once you reach Savoy, turn west at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge onto Roughlock Falls Road (the road begins here). Turn into the 2nd parking lot on your left or continue up the gravel road one mile to reach the waterfall directly (another parking lot will be on your left).
The trail offers gorgeous views of the canyon walls and Little Spearfish Creek. Watch for ducks, birds and possibly even beavers in the creek (their dams are easy to spot). There are several prime fishing spots along the route and you may be lucky enough to spy a bald eagle soaring on the air currents overhead. The trail takes you to the base of Roughlock Falls which offers stunning views any time of the year. If you choose you can then circle around up a short hill to reach several views from the head of the falls. Some of the most scenic times to visit the canyon are in the fall when the yellow of the aspen trees contrasts with the dark green of the pines and in winter when the pristine white snow carpets the canyon floor and clings to the rocky walls.
2. Little Spearfish Falls Nature Trail
This ¾-mile trail is also in Savoy and is located directly across the road from the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. It is found behind the Latchstring Inn Restaurant. The trail is not paved but is fairly easy with only a few rocks/roots to contend with. It meanders through the floor of the canyon with trees towering overhead, and it’s not unusual to scare up a deer and catch it sprinting off into the forest. While it does not offer as many views of the canyon walls as other trails, the waterfall views (and prime photography opportunities) make this short trail a “must see.”
Badlands National Park (5 trails)
From I-90, the Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) can be accessed from the Wall exit (exit 110) or exit 131. One immediate point worth noting is there are few trees and little shade in the Badlands. It is also frequently windy and the climate is very arid—so be prepared for hot, dry weather. Make sure to drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and lightweight clothing/wide-brimmed hats. Also, be watchful for rattlesnakes (especially in tall grasses or in shaded spots/cracks when the weather is hot). The park is open 24-hours and these trails offer unique nocturnal experiences (though tread carefully as it can be even easier to slip in the dark). Also, the entire park is in a rural area with little light pollution, so it is ideal for star/meteor/Northern Lights viewing opportunities. Be sure to bring flashlights and warmer clothes as temperatures drop quickly in this arid environment. Also, be extra watchful for snakes after dark; they sometimes favor the well-traveled walkways at night as these areas were warmed by the sun during the heat of the day.
3. Door Trail
This 1-mile round-trip trail starts with a boardwalk from the Door/Window/Notch Trails parking lot and ends up traversing a portion of the Badlands guided by markers. This is an easy trail but be watchful, much of the Badlands looks similar and it’s easy to get off path or lose sight of the markers. The Badlands are made of loose sedimentary rock, so what appears as stable rock can quickly crumble under your feet. This is a perfect recipe for slips and falls so be sure to wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes and walk carefully.
4. Window Trail
This ¼-mile round-trip trail starts from the same area as the Door Trail. The trail is mostly boardwalk and takes you to a break (or window) in the Badland’s wall that overlooks an incredible canyon.
5. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
A ½-mile loop, this trail is directly below the “Notch” of the Notch Trail. If you look up, you may see hikers on the cliff towering far above you. It is a fairly easy loop made of stairs and a graded, gravel path. This is one of the only areas to find large amounts of low trees/shrubs in the park. You may startle a deer or other wildlife who take refuge from the heat of the day in this unusual, shaded area. The trail starts from the parking lot that is a half mile east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
6. Fossil Exhibit Trail
At ¼-mile round-trip, this full boardwalk, informational trail showcases the various fossils that have been found within the Badlands and the ancient flora/fauna that once roamed this great expanse.
7. Notch Trail
This 1.5-mile round-trip trail also starts from the Door/Window/Notch Trails parking lot (at the South End). The trail climbs a steep ladder and skirts some ledges; use extreme caution in wet conditions. This trail is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. At its terminus, you are brought to a “notch” in the wall that provides expansive views of the beautiful White River Valley beyond, including the only town within the Badlands, Interior, SD.
Other trails in the local area
8. Friendship Tower in Deadwood
To reach this ½-mile trail, travel 1.5 miles on Hwy 85 North from Deadwood, turn left on Mt. Roosevelt Rd. (also the Lodge at Deadwood) and travel about 2 miles to the parking lot. Deadwood’s first Sheriff, Seth Bullock, built the tower in 1919 as a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt. The Friendship Tower (which is open to the public) is at the trail’s terminus. The top of the tower provides a commanding 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape. It is a dirt trail but is fairly smooth with few rocks/roots to negotiate.
9. Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore
A 0.6-mile loop at Mt. Rushmore, this trail can be reached from the observation deck at Mt. Rushmore (follow the path off either side of the observation deck). The trail is fairly easy though there are numerous steps. Due to this and the high altitude of the surrounding area, it can be strenuous for anyone with breathing difficulties. Fortunately, there are several rock walls/benches that offer a respite. Watch for the mountain goats that frequent these paths. Use caution—while the animals are used to the presence of people, they are still wild and can react aggressively if they feel threatened. Be sure to always stay a safe distance away.
10. Sylvan Lake Shore Trail
A 1-mile loop, this dirt trail is flat and relatively smooth, with the exception of the section directly behind the lake where there are some large steps/rocks to navigate. The trail offers incredible views of the rocks surrounding the lake. Look for schools of minnows in shallow pools where the lake water meets the rock walls. The trail is found at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and simply traverses the diameter of the lake’s shore.
11. Tower Trail at Devils Tower, Wyoming
A 1.3-mile loop at Devils Tower National Monument, this trail is entirely paved and is located across from the Visitor’s Center. It offers commanding views as it circumvents the entire tower. It takes you mainly through forest area but also offers views of the surrounding prairie landscape far below. Plaques are positioned throughout the route explaining the geology that created the tower as well as the surrounding flora/fauna of the area. Watch for climbers scaling the vertical chutes of the monolith. This is a religious/cultural icon for several of the nearby American Indian tribes so be respectful of this beautiful monument. You may see prayer clothes tied to nearby trees/bushes. Please treat these with respect as you would any other religious symbol.