By Michaela Mader

Picking the best trail to hike in the Black Hills is hard — really hard. While the region has a whopping 450 trails ready to be explored, get started with these 10 routes you don’t want to miss.

The landscapes of the Black Hills vary tremendously, making the trails quite diverse. You may find yourself walking through grasslands, crossing creeks, traversing pine forests, or even scrambling over boulders. Yet no matter where you hike, you’re sure to find jaw-dropping views and a little bit of history along the way.

1. Sunday Gulch Trail

The Sunday Gulch Trail is a 4-mile loop that begins behind the famed outlets near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. At the beginning, you’ll traverse large boulders down a valley. Towering granite spires frame views here all the way to the northern Black Hills. Don’t let the handrails and stairs fool you into thinking this trail is easy. It would be challenging to get down the valley without them.

Sunday Gulch Trail

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2. Crow Peak Trail

Crow Peak Trail is a 7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back located to the west of the northern Black Hills near Spearfish. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Black Hills and the prairies to the east, including a great view of Bear Butte. Take a summit selfie with the elevation sign at the top then head back down to the brewery that shares a name with the peak.

Read More: A Hike to Crow Peak Summit

Crow Peak Hike

3. Flume Trail

Flume Trail, a designated National Recreation Trail near Rapid City, stretches between Storm Mountain and Sheridan Lake, which both offer ample outdoor activities of their own. During the 1880s, the trail carried water from Sheridan Lake to the placer mines near Rockerville. Today, historic tunnels and parts of the flume are still visible along the trail’s 11-mile length. Although the full 22-mile round trip would wear out most, some experienced hikers opt for the additional 3-mile loop that’s accessible from the trail as well.

Flume Trail hike

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4. Horsethief Lake Trail

Horsethief Trail, situated behind a lake of the same name, is a genuine mountain wonderland. A hike back here makes you feel like you’re in the Pacific Northwest. Along this 3.5-mile trail, you will discover waterfalls, granite spires, mossy boulders and Old Man’s Beard dripping off some of the largest trees in the Black Hills. Horsethief Lake can be found on Highway 244 west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Horse Thief hike

5. Summit Trail

Bear Butte, or mato paha in Lakota, is an igneous intrusion — essentially a volcano that never erupted — with historic and prehistoric significance. People have discovered artifacts here dating back 10,000 years ago. Located near Sturgis within Bear Butte State Park, the Summit Trail is a 1.85-mile hike one-way and follows along the Centennial Trail. The hike can be a bit steep and strenuous in places, but the views from the top are well worth the work. On a clear day, you can see four states from its 4,426-foot summit. During your trek to the top, you’ll notice Native American prayer flags serving as a reminder of the mountain’s sacredness.

Bear Butte trail

6. Cathedral Spires Trail

The Cathedral Spires Trail is a 1.5-mile (one-way) out-and-back in Custer State Park that is commonly used as an approach to some of the best climbing in the Black Hills. The trail leads to Cathedral Spires, or "The Spires" as locals call them. Wandering among these structures, you’ll be amazed by the geology that formed the Black Hills. Look south for awe-inspiring views of the park and the prairie beyond.

Cathedral Spires

7. Lover’s Leap Trail

Yet another trail nestled in Custer State Park, the 3-mile Lover's Leap Trail offers views of Cathedral Spires, Black Elk Peak and Mount Coolidge. According to folklore, a Native woman and her lover jumped to their deaths from the summit of this hike. The trail follows a ridgeline and then descends. With multiple creek crossings, the route will challenge even experienced hikers.

Lover's Leap trail

8. Centennial Trail

Centennial Trail, one of only two routes in the Black Hills exceeding 100 miles in length, beckons experienced hikers and backpackers from around the world. The trail spans from Bear Butte State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the southern hills. Depending upon where you start, you could find yourself covering prairie grasslands, navigating the mountainous region of the Black Hills or hiking alongside any number of creeks and streams. There are plenty of opportunities to camp along the way, but many campgrounds require reservations, so be sure to plan ahead. Click for a PDF map of Centennial Trail.

Centennial trail hike

9. Black Elk Peak

A list of the best hikes in the Hills wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak). At 7,242 feet, it’s the highest point east of the Rockies in the United States. The Lakota call the mountain hinhan kaga and regard it as sacred ground. It’s said to be the site where Black Elk, a Lakota leader and medicine man, received his famous vision, detailed in the classic book Black Elk Speaks.

The peak was used as a fire lookout tower from the early 1900s until 1967. Like many other historical buildings in the Black Hills, the fire tower was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Today, Black Elk Peak is used by adventurous locals and travelers alike and is one of the area’s most popular hikes. The summit can be reached from two trailheads in Custer State Park: From Sylvan Lake to the south or from Willow Creek to the north. If you’re looking for solitude and a moderate hike, head for Black Elk Peak from the north. You can also link up a hike to the summit of Little Devils Tower if you’re up for a challenge.

Get more Black Elk Peak hiking information, including specific trailheads and elevations.

Hike Black Elk Peak

10. Little Devils Tower Trail

At 3.1 miles out and back, the trail to Little Devils Tower in Custer State Park isn’t nearly as long as the hike up to South Dakota’s highest point, but the payoff is equally rewarding. The views of Black Elk Peak and Cathedral Spires, as well as the Black Hills and the surrounding prairie, perfectly cap off this short hike. To start, you’ll make your way through sub-alpine valleys and along switchbacks that wrap around granite boulders. Unlike other trails, which have been adapted for any level of hiker, a Class 3 scramble to reach the top of Little Devils Tower makes this hike every bit as challenging as it is rewarding.

Little Devil's Tower hike
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