President Grover Cleveland established the Black Hills National Forest in 1897 as the Black Hills Forest Reserve. Now in its second century, the USDA Forest Service manages these 1.2 million acres of public lands for a diversity of wildlife and fish, recreation, water production, livestock grazing, timber harvest, wilderness and other uses.
The timbered mountains of the Black Hills National Forest continue 10 to 40 miles beyond the South Dakota border, west into Wyoming and cover an area that is 125 miles long and 65 miles wide. Visitors will find rugged rock formations, canyons, grasslands, streams, lakes and unique caves. Recreational opportunities for visitors include 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, 13,605 acres of wilderness, over 450 miles of trails and much more.
The name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa, which mean “hills that are black.” From a distance, these pine-covered hills, rising several thousand feet above the surrounding prairie, appear to be black. The Hills are diverse in cultural heritage. The earliest known use of the area occurred about 10,000 years ago. Later, Native Americans came to the Black Hills to seek visions and to purify themselves. Paha Sapa was considered a sanctuary and was a peaceful meeting ground for tribes at war. Exploration of the Black Hills by fur traders and trappers occurred in the 1840s. In 1874, General Custer led an Army exploration into the area and discovered gold. When word got out of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, settlers soon followed.