Black Hills National Forest

More reasons to head out to South Dakota and to explore the Black Hills! You've heard of Mount Rushmore, but the Black Hills has so much more to offer than just the four presidential faces carved into the granite walls.

My opinion might be a little biased because I was born and raised in the Hills and have been exploring them pretty much my entire life, but I still think that everyone can find something they find spectacular, exciting, and new!

As referenced in my first story of the Black Hills, there are 6 National Park sites within 100 miles of the center of the Hills. Each of these parks has something unique to offer, whether it is the four faces carved into granite, caves, rock formations, or historical sites. So a big draw for numerous visitors every year is the National Parks. Need more persuasion? I have many more reasons, but the best reason is....

Public Land!

The Black Hills are primarily comprised of National Forest, so that means more and more area to play, explore, and adventure! Check out this video to see the beauty of the area. 

I mean who doesn't love public land? Especially when it looks as inviting as this! There are fire lookout towers to observe from, both in use and retired.  There are hundreds of miles of 2-track for your ATV, Jeep, or 4WD to explore. There is no shortage of streams to swim in, fish in, or relax by. Around the hills are reservoirs and lakes to cool off on the really warm summer days, even cliffs to jump from or ice fish in the winter! There are plenty of trails to hike as well, including the centennial trail that is 111-miles long going through Wind Cave NP, Custer SP, Bear Butte SP, BH National Forest, and even through Black Elk Wilderness. 

Fly Fishing in French Creek.

Outdoor opportunities abound here. Fly fishing is one of my go-to's, but there are places to bike, camp, photograph, slackline, highline, climb, trail run, swim, and drive - you name it and it can pretty much be done in the Black Hills. There might not be a ton of adventures posted on The Outbound Collective for the Black Hills area, but that does not mean there are no options. Sometimes you do have to make your own adventure and get out and explore for yourself.  The picture below is not at a campground or even designated backcountry campsite; we discovered it by looking at a map seeing the cliff in the distance, finding the closest forest service road, parked, and started hiking. We actually did the whole thing in the dark, but we were rewarded with the most brilliant sunrise! 


Camping just outside Custer on Forest Service.

Like pretty much all mountain ranges, geology is a very important factor. When it comes to the Black Hills, geology is easy to see and even more fun to explore. There are hundreds of rock climbing routes all over the Black Hills; the two most popular zones are in the Mt. Rushmore area, and Spearfish Canyon. The Mt. Rushmore area is known for is granite spires. You can find anything from simple bouldering problems up to 300-foot multi-pitch climbs, from trad to sport. In Spearfish Canyon, you will discover limestone walls with hundreds of options, and over 500 routes are ready for sport climbing. In the winter, there are several waterfalls that freeze solid and can be climbed as well. I once talked to a guy who has climbed all over the world and is a Rope Access Instructor and he gave the canyon his stamp of approval: "Spearfish Canyon has world class climbing." 


Rock climbing in Spearfish Canyon.


Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon in the Winter.

Regardless of what kind of activity you partake in, everyone can agree the Black Hills are beautiful. I recently asked my class of 5th grade students why they love living in the Black Hills. Not one student said they hated living here, they all had a reason why they love it. Being that they are 5th graders, some had silly reasons, but most of them said something about being outside and enjoying nature. They love to get out and enjoy the woods, build forts, swim and fish in the lakes, and take their ATV's and four-wheelers out and explore. One student said, "I like how quiet it is in the hills, and I really like being out in the fresh air in the country."


Retired fire lookout on Black Elk Peak formerly known as Harney Peak.


Sunrise on the Black Hills National Forest.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Isaac Parsons

I love massive trees, sitting on the edge of a cliff, and chasing waterfalls! I reside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which I think is a hidden gem in this amazing world.