Honestly, there is no better place to explore on horseback than the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. Hundreds of miles of horse-friendly trails and many, many horse-friendly campgrounds with horse-friendly people await your arrival!
Pick any place in the Black Hills or the Badlands and you’re sure to find a place to park your rig, camp and explore. For the sake of this post, let’s start in the Badlands and work our way West. Hurley Butte Horseback can be found just outside the little town of Interior. Here you can enjoy the true “cowboy” way of life on a real working cattle ranch. Pitch in with the chores or find adventure on the trails. If you time it right you may be able to ride on a cattle drive!
Just seven miles down the road from Hurley Butte Horseback, you’ll find the Circle View Guest Ranch—where you can stay on their working cattle ranch and enjoy some of the best views in the Badlands! They offer a full breakfast, equipped guest kitchen, game room and Wi-Fi. They have private modern cabins or even an 1880 homestead cabin! Regardless, you’re sure to remember your time in the Badlands under the wide, endless expanse of a starry night!
Circle 10 Motel & Campground is also found on the edge of the Badlands, just off I-90. They offer both RV camping, a few nice motel rooms and a place for your horses. A “must” for experienced riders is Saddle Pass Trail with breath-taking views – but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll ride across the top of some peaks with steep drops on each side. Regardless, you’re sure to remember exploring the Badlands and camping under the wide, endless expanse of a starry night.
If you head to the Southern Hills, plan to stay for a spell. There are so many choices here… Broken Arrow Horse Camp is near Custer. This is the luxury model of horse campgrounds! With 100 covered stalls in multiple barns, various pens for working your horse, wheelbarrows, shavings, hay, etc., you’ll find all you need for an excellent stay. Staying here would also be a great option for a group event!
Moving on, one of my personal favorites is French Creek Horse Camp in Custer State Park. The camp has a very nice shower house, many pull-thru campsites as well as a few camping cabins. French Creek runs through the property and there’s a swimming hole for you—and your horse! The best thing about it are the countless “loop” trails that begin and end here—in addition to a wide variety of riding too. From easy to advanced, with rolling hills and water crossings, to “mountain-goat” and “bush-whacking” trails—you’ll get a little bit of everything. The trails are well marked but don’t be afraid to go off-trail either. There is one thing you must be wary of: buffalo. They are usually well mannered and used to horses and people, but for your safety, respect their space. I don’t care how fast your horse is, it canNOT out run a mad buffalo! They are wild animals—please treat them as such.
Also near Custer State Park is Elk Haven Horse Camp. They offer campsites, cabins, horse pens, and a shower house as well as a great store and café too! These trails are beautiful, especially in the fall when the Birch and Aspen trees turn the hills gold. From here it’s about a 4-hour ride to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Tie your horse and then walk across Hwy 244 to grab some ice cream and visit the Shrine of Democracy. Be mindful of the time as you have to ride back too!
Between Keystone and Hill City—in the “Heart of the Hills”—you’ll find Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch. You wouldn’t know it, but this place is like a little town in itself. They’ve got swimming pools, gift shops, the Ponderosa Restaurant, mini-golf, waterslide, and yes—horse trails and camping too! They even have five rodeos scheduled there this year. If you’re looking for a place that has it all—this is it!
A little farther into the “Hills” is High Country Guest Ranch. A wide variety of lodging is available here—everything from tent and RV sites to camping cabins and vacation homes. Located right along the Mickelson Trail, it’s an ideal place to take a relaxing trail ride then enjoy some good, old-fashioned cowboy food and fun at the Circle B Chuckwagon Dinner and Music Show.
More into the “Northern Hills”, consider a stay at the Nemo Guest Ranch. The horse camp is just a few trots past the historic General Store. The camping is a little more rustic here, but you’ll definitely enjoy the more “mountain-type” terrain and the creek that bubbles along the campsites.
If you really want to get off the beaten path, Hay Creek Ranch Horse Camp is fairly close to Deadwood and certainly off the main drag. It’s a beautiful place dedicated to serving horse-loving folks and their horses. They have miles of wooded trails, breathtaking views, high mountain creeks, pipe stalls, convenient water, partial or full hook-ups. It’s a bit of a curvy drive back in there but it’s worth it.
Farther north, a trip to the Wyoming Black Hills is a must. Just one mile across the SD state line, west of Belle Fourche, you’ll discover JC Stage Stop B&B Resort. It’s a smaller but definitely more “personal” stay. The campsites all have full hook-ups, there’s a great shower house, and the camping cabins are comfy—or stay in the Bunkhouse or Lodge B&B. Your horses will love it too. They have new covered stalls and an obstacle course to challenge both of you. As for riding, the nearby wooded trails lead to wide, sprawling views. Ride on your own or along with the owner Jeff. Then come back to relax around the fire pit and exchange stories of the day’s adventures.
Regardless of where you go or where you stay, make sure your horses are wearing shoes or you have easy-boots as many places are fairly rocky. Health papers and Coggins tests are usually required for out of state visitors as well as certified weed-free hay in some places.
Do make reservations early as places fill up quickly! I’ve trail ridden in many places across the states and am so thankful to have one of the most beautiful and friendly places right here in my backyard. I’m sure you will agree!