Beyond Mount Rushmore – The 10 Best Hikes in South Dakota

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Prepare to embark on a journey through some of South Dakota’s most breathtaking landscapes. While Mount Rushmore may be the state’s most iconic attraction, the natural beauty of the Black Hills region offers a plethora of stunning hiking opportunities. From challenging treks to leisurely strolls, South Dakota has something for every level of hiker. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a casual wanderer, this top 10 list of the best hikes in South Dakota is sure to inspire your next adventure.

As you explore the unique terrain of South Dakota, be sure to take in the diverse wildlife, dramatic rock formations, and serene vistas that each trail has to offer. From the rugged peaks of the Black Hills to the sweeping prairies of the Badlands, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to discover. So lace up your hiking boots, pack your water bottle, and get ready to experience the beauty of South Dakota from a whole new perspective.


Key Takeaways:

  • Diverse Landscapes: South Dakota offers a wide range of landscapes and terrains, from lush forests to rugged badlands and serene prairies.
  • Unique Hiking Opportunities: The state boasts some of the most unique hiking experiences in the country, including trails leading to ancient petroglyphs and stunning rock formations.
  • Varied Difficulty Levels: Hikers of all skill levels can find suitable trails in South Dakota, with options ranging from easy strolls to challenging ascents.
  • Abundance of Wildlife: Wildlife enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to spot a wide variety of animals and bird species while exploring the state’s hiking trails.
  • Cultural and Historical Significance: Many hikes in South Dakota offer insights into the state’s rich Native American history and the impact of western expansion.
  • Hidden Gems: Beyond well-known attractions like Mount Rushmore, South Dakota is home to lesser-known but equally captivating hiking destinations waiting to be discovered.
  • Year-Round Appeal: With each season bringing its own unique charm, South Dakota’s hiking trails are a year-round attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.

Sunday Gulch Trail

A highlight of hiking in South Dakota, Sunday Gulch Trail offers a thrilling adventure through dense forests, steep terrain, and captivating rock formations. This 3.8-mile trail provides an exhilarating experience for hikers, with its challenging terrain and breathtaking scenery. The trail begins at Sylvan Lake and winds its way through narrow gorges and alongside cascading waterfalls, offering a truly unforgettable outdoor experience.

Sylvan Lake

Any hiker visiting South Dakota should make a point to explore Sylvan Lake, the starting point of the Sunday Gulch Trail. This iconic natural lake is surrounded by magnificent granite formations and provides a serene setting for hikers to start their adventure. The crystal-clear waters of the lake offer a picturesque backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Black Hills.

Boulders and Streams

Any hiker taking on the Sunday Gulch Trail will encounter a rugged landscape dotted with massive boulders and meandering streams. The trail’s unique terrain presents a thrilling challenge for hikers, as they navigate through rocky passages and across babbling brooks. This natural obstacle course adds an element of excitement and adventure to the hiking experience, making it a must-visit for those seeking an adrenaline-pumping outdoor adventure.

Trail enthusiasts can look forward to navigating through the boulders and streams, which adds an element of thrill to the overall hiking experience. The unique terrain presents a fun challenge for hikers, as they navigate through rocky passages and across babbling brooks. With its picturesque surroundings and challenging terrain, hiking the Sunday Gulch Trail promises an unforgettable adventure for outdoor enthusiasts.

Harney Peak Trail

One of the most iconic hikes in South Dakota is the Harney Peak Trail, located in the Black Hills National Forest. This 7-mile out and back trail offers hikers a variety of landscapes, from lush forests to granite formations, culminating in breathtaking panoramic views at the summit.

Highest Point

An elevation of 7,242 feet makes Harney Peak the highest natural point in South Dakota. The trail leading to the summit is well-maintained and relatively moderate in difficulty, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels. As you ascend, keep an eye out for diverse wildlife and unique rock formations that add to the allure of the trail.

Panoramic Views

Harney Peak offers unrivaled panoramic views of the Black Hills region, with the granite spires of Needles Highway and the expansive beauty of Custer State Park visible from the summit. On a clear day, hikers are treated to a 360-degree view that includes the Badlands to the east and the Black Hills to the west.

Plus, the summit is home to the historic Harney Fire Tower, adding a touch of nostalgia and history to the overall experience. Visitors can climb to the top of the fire tower for an even more spectacular vantage point.

For hikers looking to experience the beauty of South Dakota from a unique perspective, Harney Peak Trail is a must-visit. However, it’s important for hikers to be prepared for changing weather conditions, as the summit can be windy and exposed. Additionally, the trail may be slippery in parts, so sturdy footwear is essential. The reward of reaching the highest point in the state and taking in the stunning views makes the journey well worth it.

Cathedral Spires Hike

Despite its relatively short length of 1.5 miles, the Cathedral Spires hike in Custer State Park is one of the most rewarding and visually stunning hikes in South Dakota. This trail takes hikers through a rugged landscape of granite spires, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding Black Hills.

Granite Spires

An iconic feature of the Cathedral Spires hike is the towering granite spires that dot the landscape. These impressive rock formations, some reaching heights of over 100 feet, provide a dramatic backdrop for the entire hike. The contrast of the smooth, weathered granite against the lush greenery of the forest creates a truly mesmerizing experience for hikers.

Challenging Terrain

One thing to note about the Cathedral Spires hike is that it involves some challenging terrain. The trail includes steep ascents, narrow passages, and rocky sections that require careful navigation. Hikers should be prepared for the physical demands of the hike, as well as the need for sturdy footwear and ample water.

Challenging terrain, such as narrow passages and rocky sections, requires careful navigation and physical stamina. Sturdy footwear and ample water are essential for this hike. It is recommended to be cautious and stay on the designated trail to avoid hazards.

Little Devil’s Tower

Not to be confused with the more famous Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Little Devil’s Tower offers a unique and challenging hiking experience in South Dakota. This trail is a favorite among hikers for its stunning views and rugged terrain.

Short but Steep

Tower over granite formations and twisted ponderosa pines as you ascend the steep trail to the summit. The 1.5-mile round trip may be short, but the trail is steep and can be challenging for some hikers. The reward, however, is well worth the effort, with breathtaking views of the surrounding Black Hills and beyond.

Impressive Overlooks

To fully appreciate the beauty of the Black Hills, hikers will find themselves stopping at every turn to take in the impressive overlooks along the trail. From the summit, you can see Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Badlands in the distance.

The views from the top are not to be missed if you’re looking for a memorable hike in South Dakota. The trail’s impressive overlooks make it one of the best hikes in the area for scenic views.

Notch Trail

Unlike some of the other hikes in South Dakota, Notch Trail offers a unique and thrilling experience for those looking to explore the Badlands up close and personal. This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail leads hikers through some of the most stunning scenery in the region, with its main attraction being the dramatic notched cliff overlooking the White River Valley.

Badlands Formations

Trail-goers will be treated to magnificent views of the iconic Badlands formations, including spires, pinnacles, and otherworldly rock formations that have been sculpted by the forces of nature over centuries. The trail winds through narrow canyons and provides a close-up look at the unique geological features that make this area so special.

Ladder Ascent

One of the most thrilling aspects of Notch Trail is the ladder ascent that takes hikers up the steep cliff face to the top of the notch. This exhilarating climb adds an extra element of adventure to the hike, but it should be approached with caution and a respect for the inherent risks involved.

It is important to be mindful of safety precautions and to navigate the ladder ascent carefully, using the provided handholds and footholds for support. The climb may be challenging, but the reward of reaching the top and taking in the breathtaking panoramic views is well worth the effort and care taken.

Black Elk Wilderness

Now, if you are looking for a truly immersive hiking experience in South Dakota, look no further than the Black Elk Wilderness. Located in the Black Hills National Forest, this area offers some of the best hiking trails in the state, all within a pristine and untouched wilderness. For more information on where locals go to hike, check out Where South Dakotans Go to Hike.

Remote Wilderness

To truly escape from the bustle of the modern world, the Black Elk Wilderness is the perfect destination. With its rugged terrain and dense forests, this area offers hikers the chance to experience remote and untouched wilderness like nowhere else in South Dakota. The trails here will lead you through deep canyons, past cascading waterfalls, and up to some of the highest peaks in the state, providing a truly challenging and rewarding hiking experience.

Abundant Wildlife

Wilderness enthusiasts will be delighted to encounter the abundant wildlife that calls the Black Elk Wilderness home. From elk and deer to rare mountain lions and bighorn sheep, this area is teeming with animal life, making it a prime location for nature lovers and wildlife photographers alike.

Plus, hikers may also have the chance to catch a glimpse of rare species of birds that inhabit the area, adding to the diversity of the wildlife experience in the Black Elk Wilderness.

Castle Trail

Keep your eyes peeled for the breathtaking Castle Trail in Badlands National Park, one of the best hikes in South Dakota. This 10.7 mile out-and-back trail offers hikers the opportunity to experience the unique landscape of the Badlands, with its stunning rock formations and diverse wildlife.

Badlands Beauty

To fully appreciate the beauty of the Badlands, take some time to explore the Castle Trail. With its rugged terrain and dramatic vistas, this trail will lead you through a landscape that is unlike any other. The vibrant colors and intricate formations of the rock formations are sure to leave you in awe, making this hike a must-see for nature enthusiasts.

Mixed-Grade Path

Any level of hiker can enjoy the Castle Trail, as it offers a mix of easy and moderate terrain. The trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner looking to explore the beauty of the Badlands or an experienced hiker seeking a new adventure, the Castle Trail has something to offer.

Mixed-Grade Path offers hikers a chance to experience the diverse landscape of the Badlands, with its easy-to-moderate terrain and breathtaking views. Hikers can expect to encounter some steep sections and rocky terrain, so be sure to come prepared with sturdy footwear and plenty of water. The trail also provides opportunities for bird watching and wildlife spotting, adding to the overall experience.

Rankin Ridge Trail

To experience the natural beauty of South Dakota, embark on the Rankin Ridge Trail. This 1-mile loop trail is located in Wind Cave National Park and offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The trail is rated as moderate, making it suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

Fire Lookout Tower

Ridge the trail, hikers will come across the historic Fire Lookout Tower. This structure was built in the 1940s and offers a unique opportunity to glimpse into the past. From the top of the tower, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the park and its diverse terrain.

Forest and Prairie

Fire rolling hills, dense forests, and expansive prairies, the Rankin Ridge Trail showcases the diverse ecosystems that make up Wind Cave National Park. Hikers will have the chance to observe a variety of wildlife and plant species along the trail, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

Tower The Rankin Ridge Trail is particularly known for its wildflowers, which bloom in vibrant hues during the spring and summer months. Hikers can spot native species such as aster, coneflower, and prairie rose, adding to the natural beauty of the landscape.

Saddle Pass Trail

Now, we turn our attention to the Saddle Pass Trail, a popular hiking route in Badlands National Park. Offering breathtaking views of the unique rock formations and expansive landscapes, this trail is a must-visit for avid hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Steep and Short

One of the main attractions of the Saddle Pass Trail is its steep and relatively short distance, making it a challenging yet achievable hike for most visitors. The trail gains elevation quickly, providing a thrilling ascent to the top where hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding Badlands.

Vast Badlands

With its rugged terrain and otherworldly beauty, the Saddle Pass Trail takes hikers through the vast Badlands, showcasing the area’s unique geological features and diverse wildlife. The trail offers an up-close look at the layered rock formations and the ever-changing landscape of the park.

A prominent feature of the Saddle Pass Trail is the presence of steep drop-offs and loose rocks along the path, requiring hikers to proceed with caution. However, the breathtaking scenery and spectacular photo opportunities make this trail an unforgettable experience for outdoor enthusiasts.

Lover’s Leap Trail

After exploring the iconic Mount Rushmore, lovers of hiking won’t want to miss out on the breathtaking Lover’s Leap Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This 3.5-mile round trip hike offers stunning views, fascinating rock formations, and a rich historical background that makes it a must-see for outdoor enthusiasts.

Engaging Terrain

The Lover’s Leap Trail is known for its diverse and engaging terrain, which provides hikers with a memorable and challenging experience. The trail winds through dense forests, over rugged rock formations, and along the edge of steep cliffs, creating a thrilling and varied landscape for hikers to navigate. Hikers can expect to encounter a mix of narrow paths, rocky outcrops, and elevation changes, adding an element of excitement to the hike.

Picturesque Vistas

On the Lover’s Leap Trail, hikers are treated to stunning panoramic views of the surrounding Black Hills, including distant peaks, lush valleys, and the iconic granite spires that define the region. These picturesque vistas provide the perfect opportunity for hikers to pause and take in the natural beauty of the area, creating lasting memories and stunning photo opportunities.

Trail: The trail is well-marked and maintained, making it suitable for hikers of various skill levels. The breathtaking views and unique terrain make Lover’s Leap Trail a standout destination for anyone seeking an unforgettable outdoor adventure in South Dakota. Don’t forget to pack sturdy hiking boots, plenty of water, and a camera to capture the awe-inspiring landscapes along the way.


Taking this into account, South Dakota offers a diverse range of hiking experiences that go beyond the famous Mount Rushmore. From the otherworldly landscapes of Badlands National Park to the dramatic canyons of Spearfish Canyon, hikers can explore a variety of terrains and ecosystems. Whether you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenging trek or a casual explorer seeking scenic views, South Dakota has something to offer for everyone. So, lace up your hiking boots and venture off the beaten path to discover the natural beauty and hidden gems of the Mount Rushmore State.


Q: What is ‘Beyond Mount Rushmore – The 10 Best Hikes in South Dakota’?

A: ‘Beyond Mount Rushmore – The 10 Best Hikes in South Dakota’ is a guidebook that highlights the top hiking trails in South Dakota, showcasing the natural beauty and diverse landscapes of the state.

Q: How were the featured hikes selected?

A: The featured hikes were carefully selected based on their scenic views, accessibility, trail conditions, and overall hiking experience, providing a well-rounded representation of South Dakota’s outdoor offerings.

Q: What types of trails are included in the guidebook?

A: The guidebook includes a variety of trails, ranging from easy to challenging, and encompassing a mix of terrain such as forests, canyons, lakes, and unique geological formations.

Q: Are the hikes suitable for beginners?

A: Yes, the guidebook features hikes that are suitable for beginners, as well as more experienced hikers. Each trail is clearly rated in terms of difficulty to help readers choose the best hike for their skill level.

Q: Are the trails family-friendly?

A: Many of the featured trails are family-friendly, providing an opportunity for people of all ages to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of South Dakota together.

Q: Does the guidebook provide detailed trail information?

A: Yes, the guidebook offers detailed trail descriptions, including distance, elevation gain, notable features, and tips for hikers. It also includes maps and directions to the trailheads for easy navigation.

Q: Where can I purchase ‘Beyond Mount Rushmore – The 10 Best Hikes in South Dakota’?

A: The guidebook is available for purchase online through various retailers, as well as in select bookstores and outdoor recreation shops in South Dakota.


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