Black Hills National Forest Horseback Riding Overview

Black Hills National Forest Horses and Riding Travel Tips

  • The popular, 109-mile Mickelson Trail is open to horseback riders, who share the crushed-rock former railroad with hikers and quite a few bikers. Some commercial campgrounds and lodging along the way have corrals, but the forest's official horse camps (Sundance, Iron Creek, and Willow Creek) are all rather distant.
  • A small horse camp on the east side of Bear Butte Lake in Bear Butte State Park marks the north end of the 111-mile Centennial Trail for riders (hikers can continue north to the butte). Multiple horse camps and ten miles of trail through the wildlife-rich Black Elk Wilderness are highlights.
  • Head north of Custer State Park to find a 50-mile trail network in and around the Harney Range. Because many miles of these trails are inside the Black Elk Wilderness, horseback riders do not share space with mountain bikers. Trot the dry, flat Willow Creek Loop for views of South Dakota's highest point, Harney Peak.
  • In the Spearfish area, horseback riders explore the Rim Rock and Little Spearfish Loops, setting out from either the Timon or Rod and Gun campgrounds on Highway 222. Both routes meander through stands of pine and aspen in Little Spearfish Canyon and its peripheral gulches.
  • From Jewel Cave, go just one mile west to find Hell Canyon trailhead on Forest Road # 284.2, where a 5.5-mile trail leads riders above and into the deeply eroded canyon. The area is prolific with ghost trees and eerily beautiful as it begins to recover from one the Black Hills' largest fires in 2000.

Horseback riders like the many trails and low standard roads of the Black Hills. Two National Forest horse camps offer convenient starting points for rides into the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness.

Willow Creek horse camp southeast of Hill City is a charge camp with reservations required in the summer, free in winter. Iron Creek horse camp east of Custer is a small, non-charge facility near the Wilderness boundary. Other agencies have horse camps, and some private resorts offer horse rentals and guided horse trips.

Multi-Use Trails
Most of the national forest trails allow horses. Here are some good ones. Numbers correspond with the map above.

Centennial Trail11 miles. A landmark trail that stretches across the north-south length of the Black Hills. Mixed use.
George S. Mickelson114 miles. Rail trail from Deadwood to Edgewood. Gentle grades. Mixed use.
2. Bearlodge Trails50.3 miles. Home of the annual Fattire Biking Challenge for mountain bikers. Hiking, biking, horses, skiing.
3. Crow Peak Trail3.5 miles. Challenging hike to a 360° view over three states. Hiking, horses, no bikes.
5. Baldy Trail, Rimrock Trail & Little Spearfish Trail18 miles. Canyon rims and peak topswhere the winter scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed. Hiking, biking, horses.
8. Deerfield & Lake Loop Trail28 miles. Gentle trails through scenic canyons. Hiking, biking, horses, skiing.
11. Harney Range Trail System50 miles of trails, 14 trailheads, many in the Black Elk Wilderness. Hiking, biking, horses.
12. Hells Canyon Trail6 miles. Follows a bench below limestone cliff for outstanding views of Eagle Canyon. Hiking, biking horses.

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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