Stretching over one million acres, the Black Hills National Forest encompasses many of our area’s well-known destinations like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial®, Wind Cave National Park and more. And while each of those locations deserve their own visit, we highly recommend giving at least a day for the beauty of the Black Hills National Forest to really shine.

How ever you choose to explore, be sure to do so responsibly and leave no trace


Scenic drive through the canyon walls of spearfish canyon in the northern black hills


1.    Relaxing Ways to Explore


You don’t have to scale strenuous mountains or drive for hours to spend a day surrounded by the stunning features of the Black Hills National Forest. If you’re looking for a way to relax and get grounded during vacation – this is it. 


Little Elk Creek Trail

Grab your coffee to go and greet the morning with a beautiful walk along the creek. Just past Rapid’s neighboring community of Piedmont, Little Elk Creek Trail will kick off your day with the sights and sounds of the Black Hills National Forest. The trail is a moderately rated, 5.4-mile out and back. Wander as far as you like to get your body up and moving with the morning.

Scenic Drive through Spearfish Canyon

Pack a picnic lunch from Deadwood before you settle in for a scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon. This 19-mile drive is all breathtaking black hills views and wildlife viewing between towering limestone walls. Make a pit stop at each of the three waterfalls found along this drive: Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. 

Long Valley Picnic Area 

Claim one of the tables waiting at the Long Valley Picnic Area. Located at a scenic spot along Spearfish Canyon Highway, it’s the perfect pit-stop for a picnic. Brimming with beauty, this accessible picnic area also offers pedestal grills, fishing pier, walking trails, and a wading area in the creek protected from the current. Want to learn more about the canyon's past? Just follow the trails lined with interpretive signs. They speak volumes about the geological wonders and rich history of Spearfish Canyon. Of course, we do remember that nature's call isn't always metaphorical, which is why restroom facilities are also available.


biker exiting the tunnel found along the mickelson trail in the black hills of south dakota


2.    Uncover History in the Hills


There’s a lot of unique history hidden in plain sight throughout the Black Hills. Before heading out to find it, we highly recommend a visit to the Journey Museum and Learning Center so you can learn more about the Black Hills Gold Rush, how it impacted the area, and then go see some iconic locations for yourself!


Explore the Last Standing Black Hills Gold Mine

Gold Mountain Mine is the only mine site left in the Black Hills National Forest with a standing mill frame. The mine was constructed in the 1920s and operated until 1940. Deemed a public safety hazard in 2007, volunteers worked to restored the failing mill frame and make the site safe to explore. Today, visitors can hike to the mine and learn about the history of mining in the Black Hills through the interpretive plaques along the trail.

Walk or Ride the Mickelson Trail

The Burlington train route served as a pivotal lifeline connecting towns, carrying people, goods, mail, and livestock. Its wheels started rolling in 1888 in Deadwood and within ten months, the tracks had extended all the way to Edgemont, SD. The train ceased in the mid-1980s, its tracks abandoned and dismantled. It was left untouched until 1991, when a group of passionate outdoor individuals saw potential in the deserted lines. With the backing of Governor George S. Mickelson, these enthusiasts gave life to South Dakota’s first “Rails to Trails” project, preserving history while promoting outdoor enjoyment. The trail runs for 109 miles connecting Deadwood to Edgemont, there are 15 trailheads which all offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations ($4 daily or $15 annual), vault toilets, and tables. 

The Gordon Stockade

Today’s fortress is a replica of the one that once stood. The Gordon Stockade, built in 1874 by gold seekers for protection, was later used by the Army unit and even General George Crook’s cavalry after the battle of 'Slim Buttes' in 1876. The present-day structure you can tour was built in 2004, after the original fell into disrepair and needed to be torn down. 


Paddle boarder on horsethief lake in the black hills national forest


3.    The Best Eye Candy


There’s no denying that the Black Hills look good from all angles. But if you want to focus a day truly ogling its beauty, this is how we would spend it. 


A Peaceful Paddle at Horsethief Lake

Just around the bend from Mount Rushmore (peep the side profile of George on the drive) sits a scenic mountain lake worth tipping your toes in. Pair up with Black Hills Paddle Sports and they’ll meet you there with your choice of water transportation: Kayak, Paddleboard, or Canoe. When it comes to spending a morning on the crystal-clear waters of a small lake in the Black Hills, well – we’re not sure it gets much better than this. 

Scenic Route to the Crown Jewel of Custer State Park

Two of the most iconic drives in the area are Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway. Each is a portion of the stunning Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. The twists, turns and sights found along each is the definition of eye candy. You’ll connect the two with Playhouse Road to get to another drool worthy destination – Sylvan Lake. Considered the crown jewel of Custer State Park, it’s beauty will stick with you for years to come.

Hike Little Devils Tower Trailhead

To end this day and cement that South Dakota might just be the most stunning place out there, we’re sending you scale the granite formations of Black Elk Wilderness. A spur trail of the well-known Black Elk Peak, Little Devils Tower allows you feast your eyes for miles and miles. Spot the fire tower on the summit of Black Elk Peak, snap a photo with the best back drop of the Needles, and reveal in the vast view. 


drone shot looking over the ledge of stratobowl rim trail in the black hills of south dakota


4.    Feed Your Adventure Spirit


For those who hear the call of the wild, the Black Hills is a treasure trove of untamed adventure. Fill your day with heart racing experiences, tracing the trail of history, and so much more. This is not just sightseeing; it's about becoming a part of the story, and creating memories that will last long after the journey home.


Take Flight with Black Hills Balloons

Did you know that the country’s longest standing balloon company calls the Black Hills home? Black Hills Balloons has soared over the Southern Black Hills for over 70 years now. While there are many ways to explore the Black Hills: trains, trails, scenic drives. There’s nothing that quite measures up the panoramic views from the basket of a hot air balloon. Floating about the untamed landscapes of our area, you’ll be mesmerized by the brilliant South Dakota sky and the stillness of the Black Hills National Forest.

ATVing Through the Pines

*Due to the construction taking place on Highway 385, NFS Trail #6202 and NFS Trail #8500 will be closed from 4/24/2024 through 12/15/2024.

Rent a ride on an ATV and take the trails at your own (safe) speed. The Black Hills offer over 700 miles of roads and trails designated to motorized exploration. But remember to balance the thrill with precaution, adhere to all safety measures, and respect wildlife as you venture into their home.

Walk Where World Records Were Broken

The birthplace of the Space Age lies right outside of Rapid City, and you can view the location where past adventurers’ broke records in 1935 by walking the Stratobowl Rim Trail. Time your hike with golden hour views and stick around for a spectacular sunset as the overlook of this trail not only looks down on the Stratobowl, but also faces west towards the Black Hills. 

The Black Hills National Forest is a treasure trove of natural wonders, captivating history, and boundless adventures waiting to be explored. Whether you're seeking a peaceful retreat, a thrilling escape, or a journey through time and culture, the Black Hills offer it all. So, pack your sense of wonder and let the Black Hills inspire your next adventure. Sign up for our monthly travel tips newsletter for more great things to explore in the area, and be sure to check out the related content below!


More Good Stuff You'll Love