11 Best Black Hills Hiking Trails For Exploring South Dakota
Are you looking for some incredible Black Hills hiking trails?
Western South Dakota is home to towering rock spires, roaming wildlife, and beautiful views. While it’s lesser known for hiking than its neighboring states to the west or the badlands to the east, the Black Hills region promises mountaintop experiences you won’t get in any other part of the country.
We’ve turned to our friend Kassidy from The Hiking Helper to show us the best hiking trails in the Black Hills, so you can experience all the beauty South Dakota has to offer.
Easy Hiking Trails In The Black Hills For Families
If you’ve got littles or are just interested in a leisurely stroll but still want to see some great views, then you’ll be pleased to know that there are a few great trails for this!
Below are a few of the best easy trails for hiking in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
1. Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls
Distance: 2.1 miles
There aren’t too many waterfalls found in South Dakota, but you’re in luck, because one of the few in this area can be reached by a pretty easy trail.
You’ll find Roughlock Falls on a short 2-mile roundtrip trail that leads you along the Little Spearfish Creek.
This is a smaller waterfall that drops over a mossy rock wall.
To reach Spearfish Falls, you can simply follow the trail a bit further back towards Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
Spearfish Falls is a surprisingly large waterfall for being found in the “desert-ish” area of South Dakota, so it’s highly worth visiting!
During this easy Black Hills hike, you’ll also get to enjoy some views of the rocky cliffs that South Dakota is so well-known for.
2. Sylvan Lake Shore Trail
Distance: 1.1 miles
Whether you’re hiking the Black Hills with little kiddos or just looking for an easy trail, the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is a great place to start.
Found in Custer State Park, this easy 1-mile trail loops the popular Sylvan Lake, offering a scenic hike for people of all ages.
Many people enjoy this lake for swimming, kayaking, or just soaking up the mountain air.
You’ll see some of South Dakota’s classic rocky spires sticking out from the shore of the lake, giving you those views without having to go very far.
Sylvan Lake is a very picturesque lake, and this easy Black Hills hike offers nice views of what is sometimes considered the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Custer State Park.
Intermediate Hiking Trails In The Black Hills
Finding moderately challenging and intermediate hikes in the Black Hills is fairly easy, as there are so many of them! Below are 8 of the best intermediate trails for your trip.
3. Black Elk Peak
Distance: 7.1 miles
As the highest point in South Dakota and the tallest peak between the Rocky Mountains in the United States and the Pyrenees Mountain in France, this hike is a must-do.
Black Elk Peak stands at 7,242 feet and is located in the ever-so-popular Custer State Park in western South Dakota.
There are multiple different ways to reach the peak, but the most common is by starting at Sylvan Lake and following Trail Number 9.
The Black Elk Peak is a moderately challenging hike with a number of places where you’ll need to step over rocky cliffs and climb steep inclines.
But once you’ve reached the peak and are able to peer out at views of five different states, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, you’ll be left breathless.
At the top, you’ll also find the Harney Peak Fire Lookout, which is no longer in use but provides a nice place for hikers to eat their hiking lunch and enjoy the phenomenal views.
This scenic trail will require quite a bit of work but its claim to fame and stunning mountaintop views easily make it one of the top Black Hills hiking trails in South Dakota.
4. Lover’s Leap
Distance: 4.2 miles
Though this intermediate hiking trail doesn’t have as many panoramic viewpoints as others on this list, Lover’s Leap has a unique history and a dark legend to go along with it.
This hike takes you through the woods, starting at the State Game Lodge, and gradually bringing you uphill through the forest.
Once you’ve reached the highest point, you’ll have officially found what is known as ‘Lover’s Leap.’
Legend has it that this rocky outcropping is where two Native American lovers held hands and leaped to their death. There isn’t much else to the story, but this is where the hike’s name comes from.
Part of the trail also follows along Galena Creek, where you can see some remnants of burn scars from the 1988 Galena Fire.
5. Cathedral Spires
Distance: 1.6 miles
This short yet moderately challenging Black Hills hiking trail showcases some of South Dakota’s most prominent and well-known geological features.
It starts at the Cathedral Spires Trailhead, just off of The Needles Highway, and leads you into the beautiful rocky towers that fill the area.
While most other trails give you a distant view of these spires, this one gives you an up-close look at them, as you’ll walk right at their base.
This trail also gives you the perfect opportunity to search for wildlife, such as mountain goats, as they call Custer State Park home.
If you’re up for a bit more hiking, consider adding the Spur Trail to Little Devils Tower onto your adventure, allowing you to see fantastic 360 degree views.
This is the pinnacle of Black Hills hiking, where you’ll really be able to appreciate the incredible and underrated views South Dakota has to offer.
6. Crow Peak
Distance: 6.8 miles
Not too far from Spearfish, in Black Hills National Forest, you’ll find the trailhead for the Crow Peak Trail.
Although rated in some places as moderate, this trail could almost pass as difficult, as it covers just over 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
A majority of the hike is through the forest until you reach the 5,762 foot Crow Peak, which offers amazing panoramic views.
There’s a great view from the top, where you’ll be able to look out at the prairies and surrounding Black Hills, and even see Bear Butte State Park in the distance.
Some spots along the trail are tricky with loose rocks and steep inclines, so be sure to watch your footing.
A stop at Crow Peak Brewing Company, which shares its name with the hike itself, makes for a fun post-hike celebration.
7. Little Devil’s Tower
Distance: 3.8 miles
Also starting at the Sylvan Lake Trailhead, the trail to Little Devil’s Tower follows the same one you would take to return from the Black Elk Peak Loop.
If you were hoping to visit South Dakota’s highest point but are short on time or find that Black Elk Peak will be too strenuous, Little Devil’s Tower is a good alternative.
This is a nice moderate half-day hike to embark on at just under 4 miles in length and not quite 800 feet in elevation gain.
This hike takes you up to Little Devil’s Tower, a peak standing at 7,002 feet, just over 200 feet shorter than Black Elk Peak.
Spend some time admiring the 360 degree views of the Black Hills from the top, and add on the Spur Trail to Cathedral Spires if you’re feeling up to it.
Otherwise, follow the same trail back to the trailhead.
8. Bear Butte
Distance: 2.8 miles
Found in Bear Butte State Park, just about 15 minutes outside of Sturgis, you’ll find the popular Bear Butte hike.
Also sometimes known as Summit Trail, this is a 4,410 foot hill that allows you to see views of four states, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.
Artifacts from thousands of years ago have been found at Bear Butte, providing a glimpse into the rich history of the Black Hills. In fact, many notable Indian Tribe leaders have visited Bear Butte, including the famous Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.
Many consider the hill sacred, and you might see prayer clothes tied to trees around the trail.
The trail to the summit is just under 3 miles roundtrip, although it can be a bit steep in some places. Be sure to wear the proper hiking boots on this intermediate Black Hills trail.
9. Devil’s Bathtub
Distance: 1.6 miles
This unique trail leads you along Spearfish Creek and to a unique natural swimming pool to enjoy at the end of your hike.
There are several points along the trail where you may need to cross the river, so be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet.
The parking lot for this trail is found about a quarter-mile down the road from Cleopatra Place, the road to the trail. You’ll need to walk along Spearfish Canyon Highway for this short distance to reach the actual trail.
Hike along the river, and after about three-quarters of a mile, you’ll reach what’s known as Devil’s Bathtub.
If the water levels are high enough, you can jump into the natural swimming pool, which is perfect for cooling down when hiking in the summer.
Difficult Hikes In The Black Hills, South Dakota
There are fewer difficult hikes in the Black Hills, but if you’re looking for something a bit more challenging that provides you with some great views, these are the hikes to check out!
10. Centennial Trail
Distance: 111 miles
The 111-mile-long Centennial Trail is a popular backpacking trail that leads from Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis to Wind Cave National Park near Custer.
While you may not be interested in backpacking the entire thing, there are sections of the trail that you can check out to get a feel for what it offers.
Some parts of the trail pass through prairies and grasslands while others showcase the beauty of the Black Hills by passing spires and large rock formations.
There’s a 6-mile section of the Centennial Trail that leads right through Wind Cave National Park, and another 9-mile section that brings you right through Black Elk Wilderness.
No matter which section of this long trail you choose, you will easily find incredibly beautiful views, making this challenging Black Hills hike worth the effort.
11. Sunday Gulch
Distance: 3.9 miles
This difficult hike in the Black Hills starts again at the popular trailhead near Sylvan Lake, but then heads in the opposite direction of other trails.
It’s a shorter trail, at just under 4 miles, but there are many points throughout the hike where you’ll need to traverse over large boulders that may be slippery, even using handrails to get over them.
Although Sunday Gulch can be a tricky trail, it offers some of the most beautiful and scenic views in Custer State Park.
Enjoy the towering spires and panoramic views of the mountains surrounding you on this difficult Black Hills hiking trail.
Black Hills Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you’ve got a pretty good list of the best Black Hills hikes to check out, let’s go over a few questions that you might have before you embark.
Are there any secret hikes in the Black Hills?
While most of the best hiking trails in the Black Hills are pretty well known, there are a few lesser-known trails and hidden gems that are worth checking out.
The most popular trails are found within Custer State Park, so check out trails in Wind Cave National Park and Black Hills National Forest for hikes that are less crowded and more hidden.
Are there any waterfall hikes in or near the Black Hills?
Waterfalls aren’t common in the Black Hills area since it is more desert-like, but you can still find a few waterfall trails to explore.
There are two on this list: Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls. Devil’s Bathtub also has a small waterfall to be seen.
Where To Stay When Visiting The Black Hills
After a long day of exploring, you’ll definitely need somewhere to stay and rest your head. Below are a few of the best options for accommodations in the Black Hills region.
📍Best Campground in the Black Hills
Sylvan Lake Campground in Custer State Park offers the best option for camping in the Black Hills. It’s within walking distance to the trailheads of some of the best hikes and offers beautiful views of the rock formations and Sylvan Lake.
📍Best Hotel in the Black Hills
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Custer is within a short distance of the best things to do in South Dakota. This updated and clean hotel also features a swimming pool for cooling off on hot South Dakota summer days.
The Wrap-Up: Best Black Hills Hiking
South Dakota is a highly underrated state for hiking, with a lot of beauty wrapped up in just one small area. Now that you know more about the area, we hope this guide to the best hiking in the Black Hills will help you to fill your days with epic trails and scenic views.