Hikes in South Dakota

South Dakota, home of Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, is a sparsely populated state offering much for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. The Black Hills are a small but significant mountain range in the southwest corner of the state, famous for pine forests and granite formations. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer State Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial are all popular destinations in the Black Hills.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial is a work in progress rarely open to hikers

East of the Black Hills, the Badlands don’t look like the rest of the Great Plains. French trappers named this land “les mauvaises terres à traverser.” There is no doubt that this rough terrain of eroded spires and pinnacles would have been hell for early explorers to cross. The contrast of Badlands buttes and surrounding prairie grasses make this a very dramatic national park. Today, roadways make it easy to explore and enjoy the Badlands, even if you have limited time.

Hiking in South Dakota

Crazy Horse VolskmarchCrazy Horse Volskmarch
This roughly 5-mile hike (designed as a 10-kilometer feat) ventures up onto the Crazy Horse Memorial for up-close views of the massive carving and is only open to the public a few days a year.
Rankin Ridge TrailRankin Ridge Nature Trail in Wind Cave Park
This one-mile loop hits the highest point in the park at a lookout tower with views over the east side of the Black Hills.
Door TrailDoor Trail in Badlands National Park
This one-mile hike passes through a gap in Badlands Wall to a viewing platform followed by a cross-country path into the rugged badlands.
Window TrailWindow Trail in Badlands National Park
This level 0.25-mile round trip hike leads to an opening in Badlands Wall overlooking the rugged landscape beyond.
Notch TrailNotch Trail in Badlands National Park
This adventurous 1 1/3-mile hike travels up a badlands canyon to an elevated overlook with views over the Great Plains.
Cliff Shelf Nature TrailCliff Shelf Nature Trail in Badlands National Park
This half-mile hike loops through a juniper forest on the south side of the Badlands Wall, reaching a viewpoint below the notch.


Camping in South Dakota

Bismarck Lake CampgroundBismarck Lake Campground
This 23-site lakefront campground is conveniently located in Black Hills National Forest near the city of Custer and the area’s outdoor attractions.


Bismarck Lake Campground Black Hills National Forest South Dakota Camping
Bismarck Lake is a small, secluded 23-site campground in Black Hills National Forest, less than five miles east of Custer, South Dakota. While some sites offer obstructed views of the lake below, most sites are nestled back in the woods among ponderosa pines and large boulders. A lakeside boardwalk with benches and an elevated seated area leaves from the campground and... Read more.
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By: Published: Last updated: September 10, 2015
Rankin Ridge Trail Hike Wind Cave National Park Black Hills South Dakota Rankin Ridge Fire Tower Lookout Tower Hike
Rankin Ridge forms part of the southeast edge of the Black Hills and at 5,013 feet in elevation, it is the highest point in Wind Cave National Park. A lookout tower rises above the ridge top, which can be reached via a 250-foot ascent on a 0.55-mile long single track. Take a wide dirt trail back down the ridge to form a one-mile loop. Although this hike is short, it is not... Read more.
By: Published: Last updated: April 25, 2016
Crazy Horse Memorial Hike Black Hills South Dakota Crazy Horse Volksmarch
It is not every day that you can hike to the top of a 563-foot tall granite carving honoring an American legend. Actually, you can only do this hike a few days a year when the active construction on Crazy Horse Memorial is suspended so that the public can get a close look. The hike passes through forests and fields below the work-in-progress memorial and follows the same... Read more.
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Distance: 4.75 miles – Elevation change: 775 feet
By: Published: Last updated: April 17, 2016
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail Badlands National Park hike
Beneath the natural fortress known as Badlands Wall, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail presents easy access to South Dakota's badlands and has views across the Great Plains. This pleasant half-mile lollipop loop passes through a juniper forest elevated along the Badlands Wall, a 100-mile long ridge spanning across the park. The start of the loop is wheelchair friendly, but there... Read more.
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Distance: 0.5 miles – Elevation change: 300 feet
By: Published: Last updated: November 18, 2014
Notch Trail Badlands National Park hike Notch Hike South Dakota
This trek travels up a badlands canyon to an overlook with massive views over the Great Plains. The hike is 1.33 miles round trip with 125 feet of elevation gain. There is no boardwalk to follow on this hike, just a dirt trail and a steep wooden ladder. Notch Trail also traces a cliff's edge so it is not a good option for hikers with a fear of heights. For those... Read more.
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Distance: 1.33 miles – Elevation change: 125 feet
By: Published: Last updated: April 25, 2016