Black Hills National Forest

Highlights
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The Mickelson Trail and a view of the surrounding countryside
The Mickelson Trail in a classic Black Hills setting

The Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center at Pactola Reservoir is recommended as a good first stop for travelers to enhance their knowledge and enjoyment of the Black Hills National Forest. The Center is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Forest Service employees are there during the day to answer questions and provide materials. And there's a short self-guiding nature trail for stretching your legs.

The forest provides 108 developed recreation sites that include camp and picnic grounds, swimming beaches, boat launches, and scenic overlooks. Fishing is a favored activity all over the hills. Many of Black Hill's trails are multiple-use, available to hikers, bikers, and equestrians, and in the winter, skiers. If you want to explore the diversity of the Black Hills, two major north-south trails, the Centennial and the George Mickelson, are smart picks. But there's nary a bad draw in the bunch of others. Summer is the most popular vacation season in the Black Hills, but there's fun to be had year-round—and less people in the winter, spring, and fall.

Mount Rushmore is the Black Hill's landmark attraction. Technically administered by the National Park Service, Rushmore presides in the heart of the national forest. State historian Doane Robinson began agitating for the monument in the 1920s. He envisioned the sculptures standing as the gateway to the west, where the Black Hills rise from the plains as a geographical prelude to the Rockies. His vision was realized by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the pushy son of Danish Mormons with a classical Parisian training. For such an enormous undertaking, work progressed rapidly. The first head, Washington, was completed by 1930; the final, Roosevelt, by 1939. Today, the monument is something you must see if you're in the area, even if it's a 15-minute gander then off to your four-day backpacking trip. The encircling Norbeck Scenic Byway is more than half the fun.

Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was established by Congress in 1920. The Preserve covers about 35,000 acres, and 28,000 are managed by the Forest Service. Most of the rest of Norbeck is part of Custer State Park, home to the largest herd of buffalo in the U.S. Norbeck is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, and mountain goats. It also contains rugged granite formations, small lakes, scenic drives, and hiking trails.

Black Elk Wilderness is in the center of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. The 9,824-acre wilderness was named for Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man. Harney Peak, the highest mountain east of the Rockies, is the centerpiece of the wilderness and the namesake for a series of terrific trails.


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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