It’s the last hurrah of summer, Labor Day Weekend. The time when we hit the lake, the campground, and enjoy our last ice cream cones before digging out the sweaters and stocking up on Halloween candy.
Of course, if you’re industrious you could clean the garage, paint the house or dust your salt-and-pepper shaker collection, but a camping trip is a much better way to savor these final days of summer. The garage will be there on a rainy day in November.
The Southern Black Hills offers a wide variety of camping options, from commercial campgrounds to camping in Custer State Park or the Black Hills National Forest. A word to the wise – don’t wait until Friday morning to make those reservations or you might be out of luck.
Custer, Hill City and Hot Springs are home to a wide variety of commercial campgrounds. The advantage of these spots are that they have nice amenities, like showers and snack shops. They offer full hookups for your camper which makes things a little less, hmmm, rustic. They offer tent sites too, which makes the above-mentioned showers a very nice perk. And most sell ice cream! For a list of area campgrounds, cabins and accommodations, click here.
Custer State Park has several campgrounds through the park, some with nearby shops like commercial campgrounds offer, such as the Game Lodge and Sylvan Lake Campgrounds. Others like Center Lake have fewer amenities, but still have showers. Center Lake is the only campground in the park with same-day reservations. To make a reservation for Custer State Park, visit www.gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/campgrounds.com. A park pass is required in order to camp in Custer State Park.
If you want your camping experience to feel a bit more remote, there are a variety of campgrounds throughout the Black Hills National Forest. While most of them having drinking water available (be sure to check first) they usually have vault toilets rather than flush and do not have showers. And no ice cream, unless you bring it of course. You might think you can just pull into a Forest Service campground and pitch your tent, but it’s advisable to make a reservation first. Start at www.fs.usda.gov/activity/blackhills/recreation/camping-cabins and then make your reservations at www.recreation.gov.
For those of you who truly want to be alone while camping, there’s always dispersed camping available in the forest. You can camp almost anywhere in the Black Hills National Forest as long as you’re not next to an established campground or reservoir, and you can’t drive your vehicle more than 300 feet from the road; you may hike in further and pitch a tent if you want. There is one important thing to remember about dispersed camping – no campfires. That’s right, in the Black Hills, you may only have a campfire in an established fire ring, which means in an established campground. So you’ll be making those s’mores over your camp stove. For more information on dispersed camping, visit the Forest Service camping page mentioned above.
One last bit of advice before you embark on your Labor Day camping excursion – don’t bring firewood from home, and don’t take any firewood from the Black Hills home with you. Pests (like pine beetles and ash borers) travel in firewood, so buy your firewood when you get to your destination. Commercial campgrounds and the stores in Custer State Park sell firewood; you can also pick up firewood at grocery stores, gas stations and even numerous roadside stands. If you have some leftover at the end of your stay, you can pay it forward and leave it for the site’s next campers or share it with a neighbor who’s staying longer.
Don’t forget the s’mores!