21 Hikes in the Southern Black Hills to Do in 2021
Written by Darian Block
April 2, 2021

Getting out, even if just for a short walk, is very important and beneficial to the body. And what better time to get out and away from the world than right now! Social distance outside and on the trails in 2021!

These are not in any specific order; there is not “best” or “worst” hike, just a variety that has their own pros and cons

  1. Starting off our list is the classic Custer Skywalk Trail located at the south end of 6th Street in Custer. The Sky Walk Trail is an easy-moderate trail that’s about a ½ mile roundtrip. The trail does come with a bit of stairs to climb and it reaches about 5,400 feet.

  2. The Sunday Gulch Trail at Sylvan Lake is a beautiful hike, but it can get a little crowded at times. It is ranked difficult due to the rough terrain with rocks and creeks and is pretty steep. Some parts are somewhat shady but the ending is quite open and hot (bring lots of water!) The trail is about a 3 ½ loop that reaches about 6,300 feet. (seen above)

  3. A great trail on the moderate-intermediate list is the Lover’s Leap Trail located near the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park. It is a fairly steep path mostly through forest that is about a 4 mile loop. Although steep at points, it reaches only about 4,600 feet.

  4. The French Creek Trail is rated from an intermediate to a strenuous hike because there is no officially marked trail; hikers must follow other paths and creeks. It is 12 miles one-way but you can turn around at any point easily. This trail starts near the French Creek Natural Area, otherwise the camping scene.

  5. The Cathedral Spires is another intermediate-difficult trail which is about 2 miles out and back full of beautiful sights and views. This trail is located about 2 ½ miles from Sylvan Lake on Highway 87 and can be somewhat busy on certain days. It reaches about 6,600 feet.

  6. Another favorite trail, or set of trails, in Custer is Black Elk Peak. There are multiple locations where you can start including Sylvan Lake #9, Norbeck Trail #3, Willow Creek Trail #9, and many more. This trail is quite a difficult one, especially on a hot and busy day with it being mostly uphill and steep. It is over 8 miles up and back and reaches about 7,100 feet when reaching the stone fire tower at the top. (seen below)

  7. A great hike with a more difficult rank is Horsethief Lake Trail near Keystone on Highway 244, past Mount Rushmore. It’s an 11.1 mile loop full of beautiful greenery and constant shade, but you can turn around at any point for a shorter hike. This trail reaches about 5,600 feet.

  8. Another great hike on the easy- moderate side is the Grace Coolidge trail in Custer State Park near Center Lake and Playhouse Rd. Lasting about 6 miles out and back, you’ll come across some creeks to cross and some rocks to hang out on. This is a fairly flat trail that brings you to only about 3,000 feet.

  9. For a more historic hike and experience, check out the Lost Trails around Center Lake in Custer State Park. This is a moderate- intermediate trail that is about 3 mile one-way through beautiful terrain with rocks and creeks to cross. This hike will have you reaching about 3,000 feet.

  10. Willow Creek Trail is a great choice for a more relaxed hike. It’s an easy to intermediate trail that is about a 2.6 mile loop. This trail can be longer and a bit more strenuous if you want to take it to Black Elk Peak on Trail #4 (look for signs and markings on the trail). Without extending it to Black Elk Peak, you’ll reach about 5,300 feet.

  11. An easy and scenic trail good for mostly everyone in the family is the Badger Clark Trail located behind Badger Hole in Custer State Park. It’s a 1 mile loop on a trail with amazing pine and rocky views. The Badger Clark Trail reaches about 5,000 feet.

  12. The Little Devil’s Tower Trail, also known as the Spur Trail, is another great option for the more adventurous of hikers. The moderate-strenuous hike is about 3 miles out and back. This is another trail that can be longer if taken all the way to Black Elk Peak. This trail starts at Sylvan Lake and you will have great views of many things including Cathedral Spires and Black Elk Peak. When you reach the top, you will be about 6,900 feet.

  13. If you’re looking for a trail to cool off with, try out the Devil’s Bathtub! It is located on Spearfish Canyon Rd near the Homestake Hydro Electric Plant No. 2 building. This is an intermediate trail with creek crossing that will get you wet. It is about 2.7 miles out and back that reaches about 4,200 feet.

  14. If you’re looking for an easy hike/walk for all ages of the family, check out Veterans Point near the Pactola Reservoir on Highway 385. It is a 1.3 mile walk that’s paved and has benches along the way next to the water. This trail brings you to about 4,500 feet.

  15. Spring Creek Loop is another hike on the intermediate list but is still fun for almost everyone in the family. It is about a 4 mile loop that stays relatively flat but there are parts where you must cross creeks (you’ll probably get wet!) This is a more unknown hike that is located about 16 miles southwest on Sheridan Lake Road.

  16. Custer Peak is a bit more difficult but still definitely worth the view. This trail is an intermediate-difficult one located on the way to Deadwood on Custer Peak Rd. It’s about 8 miles up and back with not a lot of shade. It also can get somewhat steep reaching about 6,700 feet.

  17. The Bear Butte Trail, also known as the Summit Trail, is a great trail for the more adventurous hikers in the family. It’s an intermediate trail that’s fairly rocky and is where multiple rattlesnake sightings have been. It is 3.2 mile hike out and back that is located near Sturgis on Highway 79 and reaches about 4,400 feet.

  18. A series of trails that consist of very interesting trails full of sights are the Badlands trails. These trails plus gorgeous drives are located outside of Rapid City on SD-44. There are trails ranking from easy to difficult depending on the season and temperature and can be anywhere from 1 to 11 miles. Hiking in the badlands can bring you to be at most at 3,300 feet.

  19. Out for a day at Wind Cave? Then try out the Wind Cave Canyon Trail near the visitor center on Highway 385. Lasting only about 2 miles out and back, this is an easy to moderate trail with amazing sights, but not a lot of shade. This trail reaches about 4,000 feet.

  20. Although it’s an easy- intermediate trail, the Cold Brook Canyon can be a more daring trail to take. There can be buffalo close (DO NOT APPROACH OR TOUCH) and, depending on weather, it is an easy place to get caught in a flash flood. This trail is about 3 miles out and back, located near the west side of Hot Springs on Highway 385. This trail takes you to about 4,200 feet. (seen below)

  21. Finally, another classic trail, is any section of the Mickelson Trail. You decide how long you’ll hike due to it being 113.3 miles and you can start and stop just about anywhere on it! Some parts are easier with a flat, paved road but there are some hills with a gravel or dirt road you can experience, as well. This trail extends from the southern area to the northern areas of the Black Hills (come say hi to us at the chamber on Trail #10!). The highest point on the trail reaches about 6,200 feet.

Note: Trails in Custer State Park require a pass. There are week-long or annual passes that you can purchase at the park entrances.

Please check weather before attempting these hikes!

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