From the Badlands, to the Great Plains, to the Black Hills, South Dakota is world-renowned for its scenic hiking trails. Is there a better treat than getting outside for some fresh air and exercise while taking in some of the most stunning sights in the nation? Check out the 10 best trails in the Mount Rushmore State—and don’t forget your water bottle!
Poet’s Table is the Black Hills’ best hike, but you won’t find it in any guidebook. Some decades ago, a group of poets carried up a simple wooden closet, table, and chairs to a secluded spot in the hills, to serve as a quiet place where they could write and talk. It has since become the stuff of legend for locals. There are no official directions to getting to Poet’s Table. Part of the adventure is using the cryptic directions to try to locate the table. Once you get there, the view is worth it! To find Poet’s Table, start at the Little Devil’s Trailhead in Custer State Park. After walking for a few minutes, you will see a single tree leaning towards a beaten a path. Stay to the right of the highest peak, and once you reach the ridge, climb over the rocks. Poet’s Table will be on the other side.
Black Elk Peak is the highest summit in America east of the Rocky Mountains, so this hike is not for the out-of-shape. It is a sacred site for the Lakota Sioux tribe, known to them as Pahá Sápa. Trail 9 is the most popular and easiest route to the top, and is approximately six miles round trip. The trail cuts through a beautiful ponderosa pine tree forest. At the top of the peak is an old fire lookout station, built in 1939. Catch your breath and explore the old lookout before heading back down. The view is out of this world!
Devil’s Bathtub is the crown jewel of Spearfish Canyon. The hidden waterfall and swimming area make it a perfect hike to cool off on a hot summer day! The one mile round-trip hike is wet and slippery, so be cautious. The path is not marked, but it is well-worn and easy to spot while driving down Cleopatra Road on Spearfish Scenic Byway. Make sure to add this to your Black Hills bucket list!
Hippie Hole is a local favorite and summer hotspot. The natural swimming hole and waterfall is surrounded up tall rock cliffs and pine tree forests. It is only a short hike down Battle Creek from the parking area on South Rockerville Road. Hikers looking for a challenge can take the more strenuous hike off Highway 40. Make sure to be careful when diving off the rocks and don’t swim alone. Don’t forget sunscreen!
This four-mile hike is fairly difficult, but rewarding as the bottom of the hike goes along a bubbling creek with awe-inspiring rock formations. At some points, hikers must climb over small boulders and some steep steps. The soaring, moss-covered rock walls along the trail are a can’t-miss. This trail starts by Sylvan Lake, like the Black Elk Peak Trail, but is much quieter. Don’t overlook this little-known gem!
Wildflowers, bird watching, and amazing views are what make this trail a favorite in the Black Hills National Forest. Crow Peak got its name from a battle between the Sioux and Crow, in which the Sioux were victorious. The triumphant Sioux named it Paha Karitukateyapi, meaning “the hill where the Crows were killed.” The trail is on Higgins Gulch Road, off of Hillsview Road. Crow Peak Trail isn’t immediately visible, but head through the gate and you’ll find it. It is a little over six miles and moderately strenuous. According to the trail system map, it has a “difficult” ranking. Once at the top, Bear Butte, Spearfish Mountain, and Terry Peak can be seen. Be on the lookout for Pasque, the state flower, which is known to bloom along the trail in the spring.
This 1.5-mile trail heads through a canyon to an overlook with fantastic views of the Great Plains. The trek traces the edge of a steep cliff. Make sure to look at all the bizarre rock formations and unique geography that the Badlands has to offer. This is a short hike, but can be difficult due to the angled wooden ladder along the trail. Notch Trail is truly the trip of a lifetime!
As this trek climbs, the breathtaking granite spires and the town of Custer appear. It is a short trail at 1.5 miles one way, but is considered strenuous by the park. Hikers must scramble up boulders and through towering spires. Wild raspberries and wildflowers sprout along the trail, adding to the beauty of the rock formations. To find the trailhead, go down Needles Highway in Custer State Park. Keep an eye out for mountain goats, as some hikers have reported seeing them bouncing around on the trail!
The bi-annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch is a 10K to the top of Crazy Horse Memorial. Once completed, the mountain monument will be the world’s largest mountain carving—even larger than Mount Rushmore. This hike is only available in October and June, so you definitely won’t want to miss the opportunity. The Crazy Horse Volksmarch is the most popular organized hike in America, with 15,000 hikers in a record year. It is fairly difficult due to the rugged paths through the forest and steep upward trek. At the end of the hike is the 87-foot face of Crazy Horse, up-close and in-detail. It is an experience that every South Dakota enthusiast needs to experience. It will leave you breathless—in more ways than one!
This trail in Custer State Park provides another view of the Cathedral Spires rock formations. This three-mile round-trip hike climbs 600 feet and is strenuous due to the rocky, steep trail. The trailhead can be found near Sylvan Lake. The sweeping, panoramic view from the top makes this one of the best trails in the Black Hills.