My favorite activity in the Black Hills of South Dakota was hiking. I was really surprised by all the hikes in the Black Hills. I visited Rapid City, located in the heart of the Black Hills in the month of July, which is a HOT month in South Dakota (their only hot month). The best time to get on the trails in the summer is early morning. It allowed me to have the trails to myself for most of my hike before it got too hot. I love a good hike to free my mind, open my heart and see this beautiful country God has created for us.
Best short hikes in the Black Hills
Upper Spring Creek – 3.1-mile loop with lovely views of the creek. Make sure you have the Alltrails app because it is easy to get off on other trails in the area. It’s mostly easy with a couple of rock scrambles. I loved this little hike with views of the creek, a lake, and a tunnel! I ran into a couple of other hikers but Tink and I mostly had the trail to ourselves.
Custer State Park hikes
Prairie Trail – 3-mile loop (even though Alltrails app says 2). This trail is located in Custer State Park and the description is spot on. You are hiking through a prairie. I had stunning views of Custer State Park as I walked through the prairie. It is one of the best hikes in the Black Hills because it is super easy and it’s a wonderful way to see the park and the wildlife.
Sylvan Lake – 1-mile loop, located just outside Custer State Park. There are typically a TON of people on this trail and around the lake. It is super easy, mostly flat and quick. The lake is lovely which makes it one of the best hikes in the Black Hills. There are 2 trails that fork off Sylvan Lake. Sunday Gulch and Black Elk Peak. If you want a longer hike to a summit, check out one of these 2 hikes. There is also a campground and general store on Sylvan Lake so you can make a pit stop for a clean bathroom, water and snacks!
Spearfish Canyon Hikes
Spearfish Falls – less than one mile from the parking lot. The hike is all shaded with tons of wildflowers. Spearfish falls is beautiful and easily accessible. We parked in the lot designated for Roughlock falls and we were able to access Spearfish falls near the same trail.
Roughlock Falls – about 1 ½ miles, extremely busy hike and very easy. The falls were a bit disappointing but it’s a nice little hike with lots of picture opportunities along the way. Since it is so popular, we got there early and found a great parking spot.
Other Black Hills Hikes
Creek Caves Trail – 2.2 miles out and back trail along an old logging road. I ran into some cows on my hike, but other than that I had the trail to myself. There is a pretty big creek to cross and my feet got wet but the caves and the creek at the end of the trail were just beautiful. It was an easy, peaceful hike.
Falling Rock Trail – .3 mile hike, literally like walking a football field. This short hike is also on Hwy 44. The views are spectacular with wide, flat rocks at the observation point. I took about 30 minutes to just sit still in the beauty that surrounded me.
Dinosaur Park – super easy hike right in the middle of downtown Rapid City. I did this short, easy hike around the dinosaurs and had a great view of the city below. It is less than 2 miles around the mountain and very close to civilization, it was kind of a novelty that the trail included dinosaurs, which was neat. There are a lot of families who visit the dinosaurs, but I didn’t actually run into anyone else on the trail. You can see the dinosaur when driving through town since it’s on top of a mountain in the middle of town.
Favorite Long Hikes
Lover’s Leap – 4.5-mile hike to a summit where there is an overlook of Custer State Park. There are multiple times that we crossed a creek and met some wildlife along the way. This hike was not technical and it was easy to follow. It is close to the Lodge at Custer State Park, so it is not remote. It was super quiet the entire hike with just the birds chiming into our conversation. I took this trail with my best friend and I’m glad I did because a thunderstorm came up as we were heading back, so it was nice to have a companion on the trail.
Little Elk Creek – 5 miles right along the creek, it’s so beautiful. This was probably my favorite hike near Rapid City. It is located right outside of Rapid City and follows Little Elk Creek. It was wonderful to be near the creek for my entire hike. The sound of the water and the beauty of the wildflowers and birds made for a perfect hike. This is an out-and-back hike so, at the end of the hike, I took off my shoes and sat on a flat rock to soak up the sun and quiet. It was also a great place to have a snack.
Buzzard’s Roost Loop – 3-mile loop near Hwy 44, near Canyon Lake Park. This hike has beautiful views of the Black Hills at the summit and the trail is well marked. I got on the trail in the late afternoon during the week and Tink and I had the loop to ourselves.
Iron Creek Trail is located in Spearfish Canyon. My dog and I got on the trail by 7 am. It is an out-and-back trail. The trail is 5 miles and runs along Iron Creek. It is a very easy trail in Spearfish Canyon and it’s a great trail to walk with your pup.
Bear Butte is located near Sturgis. This is a tough hike. Dogs are not allowed on the trail because it’s so narrow. Trust me when I say it’s narrow. This hike is about 3 miles with over 1,000 ft elevation gain. The views are completely stunning and the summit is spectacular. Make no mistake this hike is HARD! I did this hike late in the afternoon and enjoyed the nice breezes and wildlife that came out at dusk on my way down the mountain. I also ran straight up on a rattlesnake which nearly scared me to DEATH! But I lived to tell about it:)
Little Devils Tower to Black Elk Peak is located in Custer State Park near Needles Highway. The trail is about 7 miles out and back with a 1200 ft elevation gain, so it’s a workout. My fiance and I were on the trail before 7 am so we could avoid the throng of people. We had most of the trail on the way up the mountain to ourselves. When were returning down the mountain at around 10, we ran into dozens and dozens of people. The views at the top are worth every drop of sweat. Black Elk Peak is the highest mountain in S. Dakota.
There is a tower at the top of the climb that used to be the fire tower for the black hills. Now, it functions as a fun place for pics! We took healthy snacks for ourselves and our pup so once we got to the top we had a little picnic on the rocks and enjoyed the views. After all, isn’t that what hiking is all about? You work hard to get to the views and then you take the time to enjoy the effort before moving on to the next thing.
For more ideas on things to do in the Black Hills, check out this post.
Unique Hike in the Black Hills
Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary is located 1 hour from Rapid City. I absolutely loved my walk through the Sanctuary. I can’t really describe how wonderful this place is. The path is about 2 miles through beautiful fields with gorgeous views. Benches located throughout the sanctuary have boxes where they have placed journals, paper, pencils, and colored pencils. The benches and writing materials are meant to encourage reflection as you journey through the sanctuary.
At several of the reflection stops there are spiritual insights posted. It is also home to the biggest wind chimes I have ever seen. I spent several moments on a bench near the wind chimes just listening to the beautiful sounds they make. The beauty and ease of this trail make it one of the best hikes in the Black Hills.
There is a section designated for meditation which I found to be truly meditative because of its seclusion and the ability to sit on the ground to be one with nature. I spent over 2 hours exploring the pathways, reading all the markers, and visiting all the beautiful spots. I felt completely at peace there and can honestly recommend taking an afternoon to visit Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. They are open mid-may through October from 8 am-dusk. It is dog-friendly, as long as pups are quiet and behave.