Fall Hiking: 5 Gorgeous Ways to Explore the Black Hills | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota

Fall Hiking: 5 Gorgeous Ways to Explore the Black Hills

  • Fall Hiking: 5 Gorgeous Ways to Explore the Black Hills

When the leaves start to change color, it's time to don hiking boots and sweaters for your hike in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota.

With a collection of trails that vary in difficulty, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the "Hills" at any time of year; yet Fall is particularly beautiful, and is the best time of year to gear up and get outside. Consider making use of a tour company or vacation guide such as Black Hills Adventure Tours to help plan your next outing.

No matter the path you choose, you are guaranteed a beautiful experience in the Hills. Need a place to start? View some of our favorites: 

Roughlock Falls Trail

  • What You'll See: Waterfalls, fall foliage
  • Location: Spearfish Canyon
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles (round-trip)

This trail is accessible and winds its way slowly to Roughlock Falls, a breathtaking waterfall that flows into Spearfish Canyon from Little Spearfish Creek. Spearfish Canyon highlights an outdoor wonder that is impressive and unique to the Black Hills. From Spearfish, take 14A (Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway) to Savoy. The trail begins near Spearfish Canyon Lodge and is signed and accessible from the lodge parking lot.

Roughlock Falls is spectacular to view and photograph. Designated walking paths and hiking trails provide the opportunity to explore the area. Bird watching, wildlife viewing, fishing, and picnicking can all be enjoyed in the nature area. When visiting the area in mid-Sept through early October, be prepared for breathtaking fall foliage!

The Centennial Trail

  • What You'll See: Fall colors and foilage, wildlife
  • Recommended Recreation Areas with Day Hikes: Dakota Point, Rapid Creek, Spring Creek
  • Grade: Easy to Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 111 total miles

The Centennial Trail begins at Bear Butte National Monument and ends at Wind Cave National Park at the Norbeck Trailhead.  The total length of the trail is 111 miles - the longest trail in the Black Hills. Since the trail covers such an immense distance, the geography throughout the trail varies greatly. There are over two dozen trailheads and access points to this hike, so consider hiking a section of the trail, turning around, and heading back to your starting point for a picnic or snack.

The majority of the trail is a fairly easy hike, though pieces can become more difficult, and a portion of the trail goes within a mile of the famous Mount Rushmore National Monument. Whether you are looking for a day hike, an overnight camping trip, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, or simply sightseeing, you will find what you are looking for at some point on the Centennial Trail.

M-Hill (Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park)

  • What You'll See: Landmarks, foilage, meandering trail system
  • Grade: Easy, Moderate, Difficult
  • Distance: 20 miles in combined trails
  • Location: Near Downtown Rapid City

M-Hill is one of the most notable landmarks in Rapid City. The hillside is adorned with a 112.5-foot-tall by 67-foot-wide M that represents South Dakota Mines. When lit at night, the 'M' can be seen from several miles away.

From the summit of Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park, you can see a lot of Black Hills landmarks, including Harney Peak and Bear Butte, in addition to the impressive sight of Rapid City.

Black Elk Peak

  • What You'll See: 360-degree view of the Black Hills
  • Starting Trailhead: Sylvan Lake Trail #9 in Custer State Park
  • Grade: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 6.5 miles (round-trip)

This granite 7,242-foot mountain lies in the heart of the beautiful Black Hills. Black Elk Peak is accessible from several trails traversing Black Elk Wilderness in the Black Hills National Forest.  The most popular Black Elk Peak hiking trail begins near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

The trail begins as an easy stroll through the pine forest and becomes more strenuous closer to the summit of Black Elk Peak, including several switchbacks for the final push to the high point. Along this four-mile trail, there is a 1,100-foot elevation gain from Sylvan Lake to the summit of Black Elk Peak. In the fall, the vantage point from the summit allows sightseers a 360-degree view of fall foliage woven within the pine forest.

Notch Trail in Badlands National Park

  • What You'll See: Overlooks, rugged landscape
  • Location: Badlands National Park
  • Grade: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 1.5 miles/2.4 km (round trip)

After meandering through a canyon, this trail climbs a log ladder and follows a ledge to "the Notch" for a dramatic view of the White River Valley.

The trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. Watch for drop-offs. Not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. Treacherous during or after heavy rains.

Take some time to explore the Black Hills this fall if you are able. The Black Hills are something special, and it's hard to describe. If you take the time to just absorb the natural beauty of this area, you'll understand why.


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