The Black Hills are known for their rugged beauty, from craggy granite spires to pristine lakes lined with Ponderosa pines. If you’re concerned about fully enjoying them because of accessibility needs, don’t be! We’ve scoped out the best trails, lookouts, and parks that are all accessible and easy to navigate, so you can explore some of the best parts of our area without worry.
Things we looked for
When we started this search, we looked for a few things:
- Trails that are relatively flat, or have only gentle slopes inline with the ADA recommendation of a max 1:12 incline
- Wide paths and lookout platforms that allow for easy maneuvering
- Paved, smooth, or otherwise compact surfaces that will not cause the wheels of a scooter, wheelchair, or other mobility device to become stuck
We don’t have this down to an exact science, but we have done our best to consider all variables. If you have concerns or spot something we’ve missed, please let us know!
With the formalities out of the way, let’s get exploring!
Badlands National Park
This park lies just to the east of the Black Hills, but it’s totally worth the effort. This other-worldly landscape is home to an incredible variety of wildlife, and has been featured in several movies. The asteroid scenes in Armageddon were filmed here, as well as How the West Was Won, Nomadland, Starship Troopers, and of course, Dances with Wolves. We promise your journey to this national gem will be every bit as epic as these films and more.
Badlands National Park is expansive, so depending how much time you spend, it can take the better part of a day. You will also have to pay a fee to access the park, which is currently $30 for a private vehicle. Here are a few of our favorite accessible spots:
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Here you can enjoy informative exhibits about the geology and history of the park and pick up maps to plan the rest of your visit. The center includes reserved parking, accessible restrooms, and the film shown in the theater has both captions and listening devices available.
Fossil Exhibit Trail
You’ll find the best of both worlds here: incredible natural scenery coupled with informative displays on geology and wildlife. During the summer, you’ll also often see ranger talks held here. If you only have time for a few stops, we highly recommend the Fossil Exhibit trail.
This trail has an accessible boardwalk that takes you amid the spires and views that Badlands is known for. With ample parking (including reserved spaces) and a short trail to incredible views, this is a perfect spot to visit. Door Trail is nearby as well and offers another boardwalk with superb views.
Big Badlands Overlook
All the overlooks are accessible, but if you really want the wow factor, make sure to stop here. You’ll get a commanding view over the Badlands, and can even see the Black Hills in the distance on a clear day.
Custer State Park
If you’re visiting the Black Hills, Custer State Park should be at the top of your list. While many of the trails are only compact gravel that can be tricky after rain, you can enjoy most of this park from the comfort of your car. And considering bison are not friendly and should not be approached, we recommend you stay in your car anyway!
You will need to pay a fee to enter the park, starting at $8 for a daily pass. Top sites to see while you’re here:
This 18-mile loop through the park will take you through stunning scenery, but also give you a chance to see the nation’s second-largest bison herd in their natural habitat. Expect to take at least an hour to drive and stop at the lookouts. The brand new Bison Center is also on the loop, but we haven’t evaluated it. Let us know if you visit!
Learn all about the park, including its many residents and geology. The wide open floor plan of the Visitor Center is easy to navigate, as are the entrance, restrooms, and parking lot.
Black Hills Playhouse
This theater is a favorite with locals and visitors alike, and who can blame them? There’s nothing quite like catching a live show in a setting like Custer State Park. Their parking lot and facilities are accessible, including seating for the shows.
It may be one of the few fully paved trails in the park, but it packs a punch! You’ll mosey along the Grace Coolidge Creek and pass by the State Game Lodge on this 2-mile trail while enjoying the pristine nature the park is known for.
Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway
Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway are both winding roads that will take you past (and through!) incredible rock formations unlike anything you’ve seen. They’re both within Custer State Park and are a great segue to get you to nearby Mount Rushmore.
Other parks and trails
There are plenty of parks, trails, and greenways around the hills you can explore too. While there are certainly some we’ll miss (let us know if we do!) these are some of our favorites.
Veterans Point Trail
This half-mile trail at Pactola Lake is a well-loved spot in the hills, and it’s easy to see why. Constructed specifically in honor of American veterans who have been disabled during their service to our nation, this trail is paved and easy to navigate. At the end, you’ll find a small lookout over the lake where you can relax and take in the view.
To get to the trail from Rapid City, head west out of town on Highway 44 to the junction with Highway 385. Turn left onto 385 and in about a mile, the parking lot will be on your right. If you cross over the dam, you’ve gone too far (but the Pactola Visitor Center is a great spot to turn around).
Spearfish City Park
This sprawling park along the creek is a gem in the northern Black Hills. You’ll find a pristine greenway with well-maintained sidewalks and paths, a large playground with accessible features, and plenty of spots to sit by the water. You’ll also find D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery here, whose grounds are fully accessible. Don’t miss their underwater fish viewing area, which has an elevator for easy access.
While you’re in Spearfish, also check out Jorgensen and Salem Park, both of which have a fully accessible playground with various play and sensory components.
If you’re in Rapid City, you can’t miss Storybook Island. It’s been a family favorite for generations, and you’ll see why. Their mission is to “provide a free, safe, educational environment for those young in years or young at heart to experience the power of imagination.” The grounds include whimsical displays of many nursery rhymes and cartoon characters, complete with play sets and other activities.
Recently, they added in accessible equipment, including a wheelchair accessible train car, braille plaques, and sensory boards designed for children with autism. They continue to add new features every year, with a focus on accessibility and fun for all.
Let us help you explore without worry
The Black Hills are a big and beautiful area, so we certainly haven’t covered everything here that you can (and should) explore. We will continue to add new places, but if you’re planning an outing and aren’t sure about a location, please let us know! We are happy to give you our insight, or reach out and find out more.
While you’re out and about, please tag us on social with #AccessibleBlackHills! We’d love to see your adventures and share them with our community.
Written by Ashley Johnson