Black Hills National Forest

Norbeck Wildlife Preserve

Nearly everyone has a "special" place somewhere in the outdoors. Whether they go there to read a book or to risk life and limb in the pursuit of adventure, these are the places people hold dear. Within the heart of the Black Hills is an area cherished and used by many people. Bordered on the north by Mount Rushmore National Memorial and on the south by Custer State Park, this area includes the Black Elk Wilderness and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. Some people call it the "Harney Peak" area, others the "Norbeck" area, and some call it "Heart of the Hills."

Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was established by Congress in 1920 for the "protection of game animals and birds and to be recognized as a breeding place therefore." The Preserve covers about 35,000 acres of which 27,800 are managed by the Black Hills National Forest. Most of the remainder is under the jurisdiction of Custer State Park. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, and mountain goat. It also contains rugged granite formations, small lakes, scenic drives, and about 36 miles of hiking trails.

The core of the Black Hills National Forest's hiking and horseback trail system lies within the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness. It is commonly known as the Harney Range Trail System because most trails lead to Harney Peak from almost any direction.

This area contains more than 50 miles of trails and provides a wealth of non-motorized recreational opportunities ranging from mountaintop panoramic views of ponderosa pine forests and spectacular geologic rock formations to visiting a cool forested stream canyon on a hot summer day and observing a variety of wildlife.

A new trail, the Centennial Trail, stretches 111 miles from Wind Cave National Park to Bear Butte State Park. Eight miles of trail are located within the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness.

Horse riders and hikers are the two main user groups utilizing this trail system. A third group, mountain bikers, has become more common in recent years. Although mountain biking is permitted within the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, it is not authorized within the Black Elk Wilderness. Here, all forms of motorized and mechanical transport are prohibited to maintain wilderness values.

Four campgrounds are located within the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, each tied directly to the trail system. Camping at Willow Creek is by reservation only. Horsethief and Sylvan Lake Campgrounds will accept reservations; units are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Iron Creek is open only on a first-come, first-served basis. Dispersed type camping is permitted, but we request that you choose a site at least 100 feet from a trail or stream.

Harney Peak Lookout Tower
Harney Peak was named for General William Selby Harney in 1855. The stone tower was constructed in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The lookout tower was established for wildfire detection and was maintained and managed for that purpose from 1938 to 1967. In 1982, the lookout tower, dam, and pumphouse were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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