Black Hills National Forest | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Black Hills National Forest

  • Black Hills National Forest

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 harvesting, 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 covers an area that is about 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, multiple swimming beaches, 30 campgrounds, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, 13,605 acres of wilderness, over 450 miles of hiking 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 George A. Custer led an Army exploration into the area and discovered gold along French Creek in the Southern Hills. The discovery of gold in the Black Hills caused an excitement across the country and gold seekers and settlers soon followed. When word got out of the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, settlers soon followed.

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Black Hills National Forest is open year-round, 24 hours per day.


There is no fee to visit the Black Hills National Forest, but some day-use recreation sites charge a $3 to $5 per vehicle fee from about Memorial Day through Labor Day.

A $20 to $30 annual vehicle pass is also offered for frequent visitors.

Passes can be purchased at most Black Hills National Forest offices, some campgrounds and the Forest Visitor Center at Pactola. Fees are used to maintain and operate the facilities.

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