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10 Best Hikes in the Black Hills, South Dakota

South Dakota has been on my bucket list for quite a while, but unlike most places on my bucket list, South Dakota isn’t filled with massive peaks and alpine environments. Yet still, the wide-open spaces, lush green hillsides, and vast regions of forests to explore in the Black Hills drew me in.

To top off the beautiful nature, the sustainable, thriving small-town culture here is something you don’t see too often and we loved spending our time off the trails enjoying cities like Spearfish, Custer, and Sturgis.

So while South Dakota surely doesn’t compare to the Tetons or the Alps, there’s something so incredibly stunning, quaint, and peaceful about the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Update for 2023
From Sylvan Lake to Spearfish Canyon, the solitude and adventure you’ll find in the Black Hills will energize you, invigorate you, and keep you entertained for a very long time.
Best Hike in the Black Hills to Do with Kids?

Sunday Gulch.

Most Epic Hike to do in the Black Hills?

Black Elk Peak.

Where are the Black Hills located in South Dakota?

The Black Hills are located on the west side of South Dakota near the Wyoming border. It includes Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore National Park, and the towns of Custer, Keystone, and Deadwood. Rapid City lies just outside the Black Hills and has an airport making it easy to fly in and out of.

Best Campground in the Black Hills

We love camping in Custer State Park because the bison walk right through the campground! There isn’t much of a cell signal there though so sometimes we stay at Pactola Reservoir instead. Click here for a list of all our favorite campgrounds in the Black Hills.

Best Hotel in the Black Hills

We love staying at Spearfish Canyon Lodge. While this isn’t in the center of the Black Hills, you are nestled in the beauty of the Black Hills and there are a ton of adventures right outside your front door.

From Sylvan Lake to Spearfish Canyon, the solitude and adventure you’ll find in these forests will energize you, invigorate you, and keep you entertained for a very long time.

1 | Little Devils Tower + Black Elk Peak

Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain:  Strenuous, 1700′

Just 4 miles away from the beautiful bustling outdoor hub of Sylvan Lake, lies the highest peak between the Rockies and the Pyrenees (Yes, for real!).

Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak, sits at 7,242 feet in elevation alongside a historic fire lookout that gives expansive panoramic views of all the beauty the Black Hills has to offer.

What’s even better about this hike in the Black Hills is that not only do you get to summit South Dakota’s highest peak, but you also get to scramble up the even more beautiful, more under-the-radar summit, of Little Devils Tower.

At 6960′ and just a few miles beyond Black Elk, these two peaks can be experienced in 1 epic day hike from Sylvan Lake. And for those willing to put their legs to the test, it’s a day hike that can’t be missed.

Bonus: Truly hardcore hikers can even combine this hike with Cathedral Spires and Sunday Gulch for an ultimate Sylvan Lake exploration.

For details on how to hike Black Elk Peak and Little Devils Tower, click here and read our blog guide.

After tackling this strenuous hike, be sure to grab a delicious beer and burgers at The Custer Wolf in the nearby town of Custer.

2 | Devils Bathtub Trail

Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy, 250′

This under-the-radar gem in Spearfish Canyon is an adventure that involves more than just a walk along the river.

To reach the Devil’s Bathtub, you’ll head upstream for 2 miles but you’ll also have to cross the river about 10 times each way.

Come prepared with hiking sandals or get ready to soak your shoes (trust me, we tried hiking barefoot on the way there and it wasn’t worth the work).

The endpoint of this hike can be confusing and unclear. When you get there, you’ll first reach a small pool with a natural waterslide.

Then, just 2 minutes past this, you’ll reach what we believe is the actual Devil’s Bathtub which was a waist-deep fall flowing into a long, sloping waterfall.

This is a great place to go for a polar plunge or try the waterslide at the pool below.

Related: 15 Things to Do in the Black Hills

3 | Roughlock Falls + Spearfish Falls Loop, Spearfish Canyon

Distance: 3 mi
Difficulty + elevation gain:  Easy, 250′

Located among the stunning Spearfish Canyon, Roughlock and Spearfish Falls are local favorites easily accessed from the town of Spearfish.

From the parking lot of Spearfish Canyon Lodge, combine both small trails by first heading to Roughlock Falls directly across the Highway on the left side of the lodge.

Follow the easy path to three viewing platforms for the two-tiered waterfall. Return to the parking lot and take a short quarter-mile hike to Spearfish Falls.

Related: Why the REI Flash 22 is our absolute favorite day hiking backpack.

Spearfish Falls tops Roughlock with its majestic spray, creating a magical experience. Afterward, dine at The Latch String at Spearfish Lodge or visit Spearfish Brewery for burgers and beer in town.

Related: Spearfish Canyon Lodge: The Perfect Getaway Destination in South Dakota (COMING SOON)

4 | Crow Peak, Spearfish, Black Hills

Things to do Black Hills South Dakota Crow Peak
Summit views from South Dakota’s second-highest summit in beautiful Spearfish

Distance: 6.5 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Strenuous, 1600’

Crow Peak, second in elevation only to Black Elk Peak, is the most strenuous trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Beginning just north of Spearfish, this trail weaves its way up a steep hillside on the edge of the Black Hills. This hike is a great challenge for experienced hikers and the expansive views from the top are worthwhile.

From the summit at 5760’, you’ll have views of the prairie land to the north, Wyoming to the west, and the endless forested hillsides of the Black Forest to the east.

Related: Where to Camp in Spearfish, South Dakota

5 | Sunday Gulch Trail, Sylvan Lake

Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 800’

Sunday Gulch is a trail that surprised me with its beauty. With a name like Sunday Gulch, I expected an unspectacular trail that descends into a condensed forest and the such, but no. Sunday Gulch is epic and isn’t just a walk in the woods.

Sunday Gulch: A steep canyon with towering boulders and a river coursing through, resembling a mini rock canyon.

This towering boulder field creates fun rock features that must be descended or ascended with the help of handrails and occasional parkour moves. Overall, this may be the coolest moderate hike in the Black Hills, and it’s a hike you won’t forget.

For details on how to best hike Sunday Gulch, scroll to the bottom of our Sylvan Lake trail guide here.

6 | Cathedral Spires, Needles Highway

Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Easy, 500’

Cathedral Spires is one of the coolest natural features this region of South Dakota has to offer. These tall and iconic rock spires are a beautiful sight that can’t be missed (bonus: trad climbers will rejoice for the awesome routes that ascend these peaks).

It’s important to note that RVs will not be able to reach the Cathedral Spires trailhead due to low-clearance tunnels. Fortunately, that’s not the only way to see these awesome spires. 

You can see equally if not more, beautiful views of the Cathedral Spires from the Black Elk + Little Devils Tower hiking loop we mentioned earlier.  Read more about it here.

7 | Flume Trail + Spring Creek Loop, Sheridan Lake

Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty + elevation gain: Easy, 400’

Sheridan Lake’s Flume Trail, while not a big summit trek, offers a unique, family-friendly adventure around mile 2.

This path loops two different trails and we recommend starting on Flume Trail. Do this by staying on the high path when you reach the dam at the end of Sheridan Lake.

After a little less than an hour of total hiking, you’ll come to an awesome little mine that you get to walk through.

Explore the eerie 50-meter mining tunnel, adding a thrilling touch for both adults and kids. Continue the adventure by hiking to a trail junction and looping back down the river via the Spring Creek trail.

Related: 10 Best Campgrounds in Black Hills +Badlands

8 | Lovers Leap, Custer State Park

Distance: 3-4 mi
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 600’

Lover’s Leap in Custer State Park offers a serene viewpoint showcasing the Black Hills and distant Black Elk Peak.

The hike’s rocky ledge offers serene views, while abundant wildlife, including pronghorn sheep and buffalo, greets you at the trailhead.

Hiking Lover’s Leap offers a 3-mile round-trip out-and-back option or a 4-mile loop, potentially with river crossings in the early season.

Related: 8 Unforgettable Things to Do in Custer S.P.

Use Booking To Find The Best Hotel Deals

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Custer State Park Trail Challenge

Summer hiking in the Black Hills offers trails, especially in Custer State Park, with the Trail Challenge running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, featuring various park trails.

Signs and medallions are scattered throughout the State Park. Collect rubbings of the required trail medallions to complete the challenge. If you complete all of the trails, turn in a form and show your rubbings at a visitor center for a cool hiking pin. Learn more about the 2020 challenge here.

9 | Hippie Hole

Cliff Jumping at Hippie Hole

Distance: 1.2 or 3.2 mi (depends if you hike in from the north or south)
Difficulty + elevation gain: Moderate, 600’

We thought cliff jumping at Hippie Hole was one of the best things to do in the Black Hills. Hippie Hole is just minutes from Keystone and is a great little hike to do even if you don’t want to jump in or get wet.

Bring your swimsuit and courage. This is one hike you won’t soon forget.

10 | Mt Coolidge Lookout

Mount Collidge Lookout, Best Hikes Black Hills
Beautiful views seen from Mount Coolidge Lookout

Mount Coolidge Lookout is an almost 100-year-old fire tower built out of stone. Located in Custer State Park, the lookout offers breathtaking panoramic views. You can even see the Badlands!

In the summer months, Mount Coolidge Lookout is accessed by vehicle via a scenic 3-mile drive up a windy paved road. 

So if it’s a drive, why is it on our best hikes in the Black Hills blog?

Snow is scarce most of the year, yet the road remains closed to vehicles, making it perfect for hiking in spring, fall, or after the 5 pm closure in summer.

To hike Mount Coolidge Lookout, you simply follow the paved road to the 6,023 summit and enjoy the views.

Download our Free Adventure Resource Bundle here and get our Black Hills Travel Guide here.


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Lacy Parker

Thursday 10th of September 2020

Hi, you just planned my whole trip with this blog, so thank you from Minneapolis!

Gabi

Sunday 13th of September 2020

You're welcome! So glad to hear!

Bernard (Bernie) Osberg

Friday 31st of July 2020

Of course, Crow Peak is not the second highest peak in the hills. There are 8 peaks over 7,00o feet and Crow Peak is well down the list, Nice article anyway and Thank You.

Robyn

Thursday 4th of March 2021

Thanks for keeping me on my toes :)

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