Off Highway Vehicle (OHV)/ Utility Task Vehicle (UHV)/ All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Information
The BHNF has more than 3,600 miles of roads and trails designed for motorized travel. Maps for motor vehicle use can be found here. OHV travel is only allowed on designated trails and roads, more than 650 miles of which are available within the forest. Many trails are connected by 500 miles of roads that are open to all vehicles. (For specific maps, click here or obtain one for free at forest offices.) A permit is required for any motor vehicle traveling on motorized use trails in the BHNF. The permit can be purchased online here or in person at either the Black Hills and Badlands Visitor Center off Exit 61 on I-90 just east of Rapid City or at any Black Hills National Forest Service office.
If you’re just starting out in the world of OHV driving, there are two areas—each less than 5 acres—designated for cross-country opportunities for beginners to practice.
While hiking, you may encounter wild turkeys, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer, elk, coyote, and other wildlife. Most of these are harmless, but please exercise caution. Do not approach or get too close to bison or mountain goats. Should you have a rare encounter with a mountain lion, do not run away! Stay calm and either hold your ground or back away slowly while facing the lion and standing upright. If a mountain lion moves in your direction or acts aggressively, try to appear larger by raising your arms and, if you are wearing one, opening your jacket. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. These actions are designed to convince the mountain lion that a) you're not prey and b) you may be a danger to the lion. If after all of this, the mountain lion continues to approach you, throw stones, branches and whatever else you can reach. It's also a good idea to never hike alone and always keep children close to you. Again, the chances of encountering a mountain lion are rare, but it's always best to be safe and prepared.
Cruising the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway will take you through pine-covered hills, rolling prairies, and red-walled canyons, but your chances of catching animals in action dramatically increase if you make it a morning or evening drive. You can also get on the caravan tour that departs from Custer State Park headquarters each summer evening at 6 p.m. A temporary (1-7 days) license is $20 per vehicle and $10 per motorcycle. An annual park entrance license is $30 and you can buy a second annual park entrance license for $15. Don’t be surprised if you see bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer, elk, coyote, prairie dogs and numerous bird species including wild turkeys. For guaranteed or additional wildlife experiences, check out Bear Country USA. (Click here for pricing information.) It's the only place you’ll see bears in SoDak, but the attraction is also home to arctic wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, buffalo, lynx, bighorn sheep, beavers, badgers, elk, coyotes, porcupine, foxes, raccoons, reindeer and more! The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary features 11,000 acres of wind-swept prairie where unwanted horses enjoy a life of freedom. (Click here for price information.) Caputa Alpacas offers a free, family-friendly experience at the only alpaca farm in western South Dakota. Experience gators, crocs, snakes and other fascinating life forms at Reptile Gardens, home to the Guinness World Record for largest reptile zoo. Just south of Spearfish, visitors can experience an up-close (and free) view of the fish production process from zygote to adult at the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives. Hatchery grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk, but the historic buildings and gift shop are open limited hours in May & September and every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June, July and August. If you’re looking for a hands-on experience, visit Old MacDonald’s Farm. From May 1st through September 3rd, kids of all ages can pet, play with, and even bottle-feed some of the farm's 100-plus animals. (Click here for rate info.)
From the gorgeous Needles to the backside of Mount Rushmore, there are a variety of rad places for every level of climber to scale in the Black Hills. The Sylvan Lake area in Custer State Park makes a great base for rock climbing adventures. That area and the Needles are super spots for bouldering, so much that it’s where John Gill—known as “the father of bouldering”—got famous. The truly daring can try Gill’s “Thimble problem,” but most of the climbing is in the 5.6-5.10 range with some harder lines scattered throughout. Most are single pitch.
But Custer State Park isn’t the only place to find some of the finest climbing spots in the area. With more than 600 established sport routes and less than a dozen traditional routes, Spearfish Canyon offers excellent climbing all year long. During the spring, summer, and fall, climbers can scale beautiful limestone rocks. Winter offers a unique and awesome chance to climb icicle-laden waterfalls and ice-covered rock faces. Gear up at Granite Sports in Hill City or Rushmore Mountain Sports in Spearfish. To be guided by the best, check out Sylvan Rocks Climbing School & Guide Service.
There’s a special peace that comes from taking in Black Hills views from atop a peaceful steed. Visitors looking for horseback ride options can click here. If you’re looking to take your own horse on the trail, some of the best trails include Centennial Trail (Trail #89), Big Hill Trail (Trail #72), Sundance Trail (Trail #93), and the trip from Willow Creek Horse Camp to Iron Creek Horse Camp (Trails #8 – Willow Creek Loop, #5 – Willow Creek/Rushmore Trail, and #89 in the Black Hills Elk Wilderness and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.) Trails in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve & Black Elk Wilderness require an entrance fee for Custer State Park. A complete list of horse riding trails in the area can be found here.
Visitors to the Black Hills can hunt turkey, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, rabbits, and game birds. A hunting license can be obtained online or from state game departments and local retailers. For fee information, please click here. Visitors looking for big game and turkey hunting guides and outfitters can learn more here.
Within the Black Hills are 14 mountain lakes and more than 400 miles of meandering streams containing brook, brown, and rainbow trout. For more information on Black Hills fishing, click here. Fishing licenses can be purchased online or from state game departments and local retailers. Black Hills fishing guides include Dakota Angler and Outfitter (Rapid City) and High Mountain Outfitters (Spearfish).