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Hiking in South Dakota

South Dakota

Where South Dakotans Go to Hike

By: Joel Welin

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  • States:
    South Dakota

Hiking just may be the most popular pastime in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The many trails offer different rewards for people of all skill levels. From paths that lead you to waterfalls and swimming holes to breathtaking vistas and spectacular photo opportunities, South Dakotans have their favorites – and often more than a few. Here are some favorites that locals frequent.

Community Caves

Located along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, this one is just under a kilometer straight up a rocky trail. Go to marker 13 and park on the pullout on the side of the road. Cross the road and look up to locate the waterfalls, which is where you’re going.

After an invigorating climb to Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon, hikers can cool off in the waterfall.

After an invigorating climb to Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon, hikers can cool off in the waterfall.
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Crow Peak Trail

Overlooking Spearfish Canyon, this trail – also open to bicycles and horses – is about five kilometers long, plus an eight-kilometer spur to Beaver Ridge. With a .5-kilometer elevation gain, it’s an uphill trek. The Forest Service rates the trail as difficult, but hikers rate the views as well worth the effort. 

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Devil’s Bathtub

Travel past Bridal Veil Falls to Cleopatra Place to get to the trailhead, then it’s back and forth across Sunshine Creek for about 1.6 kilometers. Make sure you set aside time for a refreshing dip in the cool, waist-deep swimming hole that awaits you.

Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon is a favorite hike along Sunshine Creek to a swimming hole.

Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon is a favorite hike along Sunshine Creek to a swimming hole.
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Black Elk Peak

The 5.6-kilometer ascent to the highest point (at 2,208 meters) in the USA east of the Rocky Mountains passes through the Black Elk Wilderness Area of Custer State Park. A state park pass is required at certain trailheads, and although the change in elevation is noticeable, it’s only toward the end that the trail becomes difficult.

A hike up Black Elk Peak leads you to the fire lookout at the top of the Black Hills.

A hike up Black Elk Peak leads you to the fire lookout at the top of the Black Hills.
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Hippie Hole

To get to this Black Hills swimming hole, it’s a relatively short, easy hike down Battle Creek from the parking area off South Rockerville Road, or a more-strenuous trek up from Highway 40. Either way, bliss awaits as your reward: The swimming, diving and sunbathing are sublime.

Two routes – one easier, one more strenuous – lead hikers to the refreshing waters of Hippie Hole.

Two routes – one easier, one more strenuous – lead hikers to the refreshing waters of Hippie Hole.
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Roughlock Falls

Also in Spearfish Canyon, the 1.6-kilometer Roughlock Falls Trail is especially beautiful in autumn, when the aspen and paper birch are in their full glory. This is the area where the farewell scenes of the film “Dances with Wolves” were shot.

The Roughlock Falls hike in Spearfish Canyon is a scenic favorite of local photographers.

The Roughlock Falls hike in Spearfish Canyon is a scenic favorite of local photographers.
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’76 Trail

Also beginning at the Roughlock Falls trailhead, the ’76 Trail is part of the old gold miner’s pathway through Spearfish Canyon. You’ll continue up 1.3 kilometers past Buzzard’s Roost. The hike can be steep in parts, but panoramic vistas throughout allow you to see every angle of the canyon.

The ’76 Trail leads hikers to an overlook and scenic views of Spearfish Canyon.

The ’76 Trail leads hikers to an overlook and scenic views of Spearfish Canyon.
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Southern Badlands National Park

Although the North Unit of Badlands National Park has its noted trails, the Stronghold Unit to the southwest offers more rugged adventures with sweeping views of the prairie and canyons, broken by the solitary splendor of Red Shirt Table, Sheep Mountain Table and Stronghold Table.

Hiking and camping trips in Southern Badlands National Park lead to sweeping views of the vast landscape.

Hiking and camping trips in Southern Badlands National Park lead to sweeping views of the vast landscape.
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Getting There

Getting to South Dakota is easy and convenient via connecting flights from many international gateway airports, including: Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota, Denver in Colorado, Chicago O’Hare in Illinois, Salt Lake City in Utah, Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Georgia.

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