Top 5 Trails Within 30 Minutes of Rapid City

Michaela Mader Tully likes to consider herself something of an expert on the Black Hills and her hometown, Rapid City. She has lived across the west, but loves calling the hills home. You can often find her on an adventure- running the trails with her Alaskan Malamute, Kaya, cycling one of our winding highways, or camped out under a night sky with camera in tow.

June 28, 2021

Scroll through my Instagram feed, and you will probably notice a lot of pictures of my dog Kaya out on a scenic hike somewhere in the Hills. Now, I have to admit, while the pictures make it look like we are somewhere remote, we probably are within half an hour of my house in Rapid City. Here are some of my favorite hikes within approximately 30 minutes of Rapid City.

1. Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park Trails

City views from Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park in Rapid City
Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park @sodak_b

Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park is the” choose your own adventure” of mountain parks. I can’t pick just one trail in the park, as I rarely take the same set of trails twice, but the views of Rapid City from HLMP, or M-Hill as we locals tend to call it, make me remember why I love living in Rapid City. It’s the perfect spot for a quick workout as it is practically in the heart of downtown. Another great option without even leaving Rapid City is the trail network of Skyline Wilderness Area located next to Dinosaur Park. 

2. Little Elk Creek Trail

Almost exactly 20 minutes from Rapid City, Little Elk Creek Trail follows Little Elk Creek for three miles, almost to Dalton Lake near Nemo. The trail meanders up a gravel road, and then becomes single-track as it follows the flow of the creek. This trail is beautiful year round, but it shines when the leaves are changing in the fall. Kaya loves that it’s a well-kept trail, with swimming holes and small waterfalls to splash in. 

3. Stratobowl Rim Trail

Stratobowl Rim Trail looking over the Historic Stratobowl Launch site
Stratobowl Rim Trail

A quick out-and-back about ten minutes from Rapid City, the Stratobowl Rim Trail is an easy one mile hike that ends with views of the Stratobowl, where the highest manned flights of hot air balloons were made in the 1930’s. Historical markers at the end of the trail discuss the history, but the best part of the trail are the views of the limestone canyon and the rest of the Black Hills.  

4. Storm Mountain Trails

Miles and miles of trails form this trail network, just fifteen minutes from Rapid City. From the parking lot, you can hike the popular Flume Trail that eventually ends at Sheridan Lake, the Storm Mountain Loop, or drive further down Silver Mountain Road and find the lesser known CCC stairs and overlook. I love the trails for the unique features: old tunnels and remnants of the flume that carried water to the placer mines of Rockerville. 

5. Horse thief Lake Trails

Horse Thief Lake tucked into the Black Hills of South Dakota
Horse Thief Lake @ryanscottsheldon

I saved my favorite for last! It only takes about a half hour to drive from Rapid City to Horse Thief Lake. After you pass Mount Rushmore, the lake will be a few more miles down the road and to the left. Most of our favorite trails in the Black Hills are in Black Elk Wilderness and many can be accessed from Horse Thief Lake. These trails are what hiking is all about. The trails wander through the granite spires and walls that the Black Hills are known for, enormous pine trees dwarf you, and small waterfalls lead in to pools of teal colored water. The trails here change with the seasons. In the spring, you will find our state flower, the pasque, lining the forest floor. In the summer, enormous ferns will make you feel like you’ve landed in the Pacific Northwest. Autumn means the brush and aspen trees change to vibrant golds and reds. And in the winter, the waterfalls and creeks ice over and you feel like you’ve been transported to a fairytale ice world (cue Frozen songs). I could go on, but you should definitely go explore these trails with your favorite four-legged friend to see how spectacular they are.