In South Dakota’s Black Hills, mica and quartz sparkle along trails and thick stands of pines decorate granite peaks and distinctive spires seen from scenic overlooks. It's an area that calls for outdoor exploration along trails or on lakes. Here are some of our favorite Black Hills and Badlands adventures:
1) Black Elk Peak A majestic four-state view unfurls from the highest point in South Dakota at 7,244 feet above sea level (formerly known as Harney Peak). Pack a lunch for this 6- or 7-mile (depending on route) round trip from Sylvan Lake.
2) Sylvan Lake Grab a canoe or kayak for a scenic outing on Custer State Park's Sylvan Lake.
3) Mickelson Trail Ditch the crowds and bike over the pine-covered hills, through four rock tunnels and across 100 railroad bridges on this 109-mile-long crushed-limestone trail for bicyclists, walkers and horseback riders. The 8 miles between Rochford and Mystic are among the easiest. You’ll need a daily pass, which can be purchased at self-pay stations at 15 trailheads.
4) National caves Tours let you admire two of the world’s longest cave systems in Wind Cave or Jewel Cave national monuments. Wind Cave: ; Jewel Cave:
5) Sylvan Rocks Whether you’re a novice rock climber or an adrenaline-loving ace, guides from this outfitter can help. Beginner lessons are on the gently sloped rocks near Sylvan Lake.
6) The Badlands You’ll want an early start to enjoy morning light and cooler temperatures hiking in this otherworldly landscape east of Custer State Park. Options include an easy 1/4-mile Fossil Exhibit or Window Trail and the 1.5-mile Notch Trail that follows a ledge to a dramatic view of the White River Valley.
7) Bluebell Stables Enjoy a memorable horseback trail ride through the pines at Custer State Park near Bluebell Lodge. Keep an eye out for wildlife, such as Rocky Mountain sheep, or the park’s herd of 1,300 bison.
8) Fishing You can hook rainbow, brook and brown trout while fly-fishing at Grace Coolidge Creek and French Creek in Custer State Park. Or fish one of the park’s four mountain lakes (Legion, Stockade, Center and Sylvan) for panfish, trout and bass.
9) Black Hills National Forest Adventurous mountain bikers find several loops throughout the Black Hills National Forest, including challenging trails around Deerfield Lake or Pactola Reservoir. It’s also easy to jump on the 111-mile mulituse Centennial Trail running from Bear Butte State Park to Wind Cave National Park.
10) Pactola Reservoir Jump into the cool water of the Hills’ largest lake or rent a pontoon from the Pactola Pines Marina and give fishing a try.