Prairies, lakes, and mountain landscapes abound in South Dakota trekking. Even though there are many favorites ranging from routes that lead to waterfalls and swimming holes to beautiful vistas, they all lead to picture-perfect moments. So in light of that, what are some of the best trails you can find in South Dakota?
South Dakota offers a wide range of hiking opportunities, from paved, relaxed strolls to spirited multi-day hikes. The Notch Trail, Black Elk Peak Loop, and Cathedral Spire Trail are popular hikes. There are, however, lesser-known gems like Devils Bathtub Trail and the Lovers Leap Trail.
You may discover a broad choice of the best hiking trails in South Dakota to meet your desires, no matter what you’re searching for. In total, there are 146 family-friendly walks to choose from to indulge in a fantastic trail over a beautiful sunny weekend. That said, let’s explore some of the best-hiking destinations South Dakota has to offer.
The Best Places To Go Hiking In South Dakota
Despite its rather off-the-beaten-path location in the heart of the United States, South Dakota boasts a long list of exciting attractions. Several of the state’s most well-known attractions are also some of the country’s most iconic pictures.
From the sandstone buttes of Badlands National Park to the herds of bison and the spires of the Black Hills, South Dakota’s famous sights will surely reverberate.
Prairies, arable agriculture, and glacial lakes may all be found in the state. And a rising network of paths connects it all—from the Black Hills in the west to the rivers and grasslands in the east—providing fantastic access to South Dakota’s riches.
It isn’t easy to choose where to hike first, but we’ve narrowed it down to some of the best choices, starting with the Notch Trail.
Notch Trail In Badlands National Park
This hike takes you up a badlands canyon to a viewpoint with panoramic views of the Great Plains. It’s a 1.33-mile round-trip trek with a 125-foot elevation gain. Unfortunately, there is no boardwalk to follow on this climb; instead, there is a dirt trail and a steep wooden ladder.
Notch Trail also follows the cliff’s brink, making it unsuitable for hikers who are afraid of heights. However, this trek has a lot to offer those looking for a bit of excitement. Begin at the standard trailhead for Door Trail, Window Trail, and Notch Trail on the south end.
Then, the dirt route leads south through an eroded silt canyon dotted with juniper and scrub. The canyon walls narrow a third of a mile from the start, leading to a dry waterfall. Fortunately, no scaling is necessary. Instead, a wooden ladder, affixed to the right wall of the canyon, appears.
Take it up a notch! Climb over 50 rungs to the ledge that runs the canyon’s length. Then, turn left and skirt a cliff to return to the canyon floor above the dry falls once your feet are back on firm ground and feast your eyes as you trail away with magnificent views.
The Highpoint Of The Black Elk Peak Loop In South Dakota
The Black Elk Peak Loop leads hikers to South Dakota’s highest peak and provides impressive 360-degree views of the Black Hills.
This granite 7,242-foot mountain resides in the gorgeous Black Elk Wilderness. It is a favorite spot for visiting geologists due to its highly unusual geological history.
This trail begins in Custer State Park and winds its way through the Black Elk Wilderness. At the mountain’s summit, a historic stone fire tower is no longer in operation but available to view.
Mount Rushmore is only a short distance away from the top. During the spring and summer months, hikers will be able to see wildflowers and crystal rock formations near the trail’s beginning, and along the way, there are also wild raspberries and blueberries.
Along the way, there are also wild raspberries and blueberries. Black Elk Peak, previously Harney Peak, is named for Black Elk, a well-known Lakota Sioux medicine man who helped create the Wilderness Area.
The Devils Bathtub Trail
This off-the-beaten-path beauty in Spearfish Canyon is more than simply a stroll along the river.
You’ll have to go upstream for 2 miles to get to the Devils Bathtub, but you’ll also have to cross the river around ten times each way. Bring hiking sandals, or be prepared to get your shoes wet.
The hike’s endpoint can be perplexing and ambiguous, and when you arrive, the first thing you’ll notice is a little pool with a natural waterslide. Then, just 2 minutes later, you’ll arrive at what we believe is the actual Devil’s Bathtub, which was a waist-deep fall pouring into a long, sloping cascade.
Finally, this is an excellent location for a polar plunge or to experience the waterslide at the pool below.
The Cathedral Spires Trail
Cathedral Spires Trail is a 1.6 mile moderately frequented out and back trail near Custer, South Dakota that offers spectacular views. The trail is mainly utilized for hiking and is best used between April and October.
Hikers will follow tiny drainage with plenty of animal watching and rock climbing chances, whether they start at Sylvan Lake Trailhead or Little Devils Tower Trailhead. The route climbs, revealing views of granite spires and the town of Custer, and You may reach the Little Devils Tower through a side trail.
This walk takes you close to their bases rather than providing a more distant, all-encompassing view of the granite structures. Looking up at these behemoths gives you a much more incredible feeling of scale for their colossal size.
Trail 4 in the Harney Range Path System links with this trail, which is 1.5 miles one way. Cathedral Spires, rated as a challenging path by the park, may appear simple at first, but after you reach some of the short rock scrambles, you’ll realize why.
As you progressively gain height, be prepared to crawl over some rough sections of terrain. However, there is much flat terrain and no summit to reach despite these challenging areas.
The patch of flat (or what passes for level in these parts) open land near the trail’s finish, where you may enjoy a picnic amid the spires, is a beautiful feature. Just remember to take everything with you.
The Sunday Gulch Trail
Sunday Gulch Trail is a 3.9-mile, regularly used circle trail with a lake in Custer, South Dakota, classed as difficult. The trail is best utilized from June to October and is generally used for hiking and nature visits.
Due to the many attractions in the region, such as Sylvan Lake, Harney Peak, and the Needles Highway, the Sunday Gulch path is sometimes missed by visitors. Although the trailhead is concealed behind Sylvan Lake, signs are directing you in the right direction.
The views are breathtaking as the route descends through the woods and along a small brook. Don’t miss out on hiking the Sunday Gulch when visiting the Black Hills.
The trailhead for Sunday Gulch has relatively little traffic. The path runs right behind Sylvan Lake, one of the most picturesque lakes in the Black Hills, and near Harney Peak, the most famous tourist trail.
It’s a short stroll from the parking lots to the trailhead, but it provides everyone a chance to experience Sylvan Lake’s natural splendor. You’re in for an adventure after you’ve found the trailhead!
Handrails are provided at the trail’s beginning to aid with the descent. The descent may be damp and treacherous during the rainy spring and summer months.
The journey down into the gulch offers a variety of vistas that highlight the area’s natural grandeur, with spruce woods and expansive views.
The Door Trail
The Door Trail is a one-mile out-and-back trail in Interior, South Dakota, featuring magnificent wildflowers and suitable for hikers of all abilities. The trail is best utilized from April to October and is generally used for hiking and walking.
Hikers are welcomed into a rocky world through an entrance in Badlands Wall on this path. While the neighboring Window Trail allows tourists to see the wall from above, the Door Trail allows them to walk through it. In addition, hikers can access an observation platform on the other side of a natural corridor via a short boardwalk.
Following a level trail over the formidable landscape, you’ll arrive at overlooks with views into steep eroded gorges. On this 1-mile round trip journey with 50 feet of elevation gain, you’ll feel thoroughly immersed in the badlands. It’s only a quarter-mile out and back to the viewing deck at the end of the boardwalk for a wheelchair-friendly stroll.
The paved parking area off of 240 at the west end of the route has four accessible spaces. They’re all van-accessible and have striped access aisles. A wooden boardwalk with edge barriers or railings, or a natural surface, is used as the trail surface (bedrock). It usually measures at least 6 feet in width.
The boardwalk in the first 0.1 miles of the route is the most accessible part. The trail is thought to have a mild (3 percent or less) gradient throughout. When traveling south, there are steps at roughly 0.1 miles. Trail users in wheelchairs, mobility equipment, or strollers may require help or should avoid the steps for safety reasons.
All-terrain tires or motorized equipment may be required when traveling southeast due to the surface type after around 0.1 mile. The park website claims that the boardwalk segment of the path is wheelchair accessible.
The Lovers Leap Trail, South Dakota
Lovers Leap is a ridge highpoint in Custer State Park, South Dakota, with a huge granite outcropping over the Galena Creek canyon. The rock is located near the ridge’s high point and is nearly 500 feet above the creek below, and is often a heavily trafficked loop trail that runs for roughly 4.2 miles.
Because the rock protrudes from the ridge provides excellent views of this part of the Black Hills. Harney Peak, Cathedral Spires, and Mount Coolidge are among the summits that may be seen from the ground.
Climbers from the Black Hills appear to enjoy the granite here, though they are more frequently spotted on the granite wall beyond the state park headquarters, less than a mile north-northwest. Many mountains in the United States are called “Lovers’ Leap.”
Like the Black Hills’ Lover’s Leap, most have similar legends about how the name came to be. However, this Lovers Leap story tells us that two young Native Americans leaped to their deaths from the high rock outcropping of this summit many years ago.
The route to the peak is well-marked and leads through a dense forest of primarily Ponderosa pine. However, aspen trees are the most abundant trees along the route until it descends to parallel Galena Creek.
Thanks to the rich ground cover and aspen trees along the creek, this trek is top-rated when the fall colors are at their optimum. In addition, hikers will frequently spot deer along the creek and elk and buffalo on rare occasions.
Mount Rushmore And Presidential Trail Loop
This popular, paved, family-friendly route leads to the boulder pile at Mount Rushmore’s foot and offers spectacular vistas. This path has a total of 422 steps. At the same time, most visitors come to Mount Rushmore to see the massive sculpted faces of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt.
However, there are various other ways to enjoy this site and immerse yourself in the Black Hills’ human history and natural surroundings in South Dakota.
At the trail’s southeast terminus, there are numerous designated accessible places in the paved parking garage off of SD-244. They’re all van-accessible and have striped access aisles. In addition, paved concrete or a wooden boardwalk with rails make up the trail surface.
The first 0.3 miles of the route are the most easily accessible. After that, when traveling clockwise, the bulk of the path is judged to be in the mostly-easy (5 percent or less) grade category, with the steepest parts occurring at roughly 0.3-0.7 miles. Between 0.3 and 0.7 miles, there are several stairwells.
Users of wheelchairs, mobility equipment, or strollers may require help at the stairs and in the steeper areas or choose to avoid them for safety reasons. Therefore, a waypoint has been placed on the stairwell.
There is never a bad time to visit this gorgeous state with all of its magnificent wonders! While driving is an option, we recommend lacing up your hiking boots and hitting the trails. In South Dakota, there are hikes for everyone, from wheelchair-accessible paths to trails for more experienced hikers.