Top Ten National Forests in the United States

Blackhills National Forest, South Dakota and Wyoming
By Rene Vasicek

The Black Hills National Forest is by far the greatest of the Great Plains forests due to its intense concentration of canyons, caves, buttes, granite crags, and volcanic geologic oddities. In the vocabulary of outdoor adventure, that translates to out-of-this-world opportunities for the intrepid hiker, climber, and spelunker. The mountain forest is a respite from the sea of grass that typifies the region, exemplified by Badlands National Park and the national grasslands of Thunder Basin, Buffalo Gap, and Fort Pierre.

Black Hills is a timbered mountain oasis that rises above the plains, peaking at the craggy 7,242-foot summit of Harney Peak. Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man, believed that Harney Peak was the center of the world and a source of spiritual renewal. The peak is also the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies. The Lakota Sioux called these rocky volcanic formations Paha Sapa, or "the hills that are black," and gathered here to settle disputes with the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiowa. In this way, the Black Hills served as a sort of United Nations for tribal nations at war.

Just the Facts

Size: 1.2 million acres

Established: 1907, set aside as forest reserve in 1897

Length of Centennial Trail: 111 miles

Number of plant species: 1,260

Features: The forest is home to the stoic and stone-faced presidential Fab Four, better known as Mount Rushmore. Also stop by the still-in-progress Crazy Horse Monument and tell them to hurry up already. And if you're seeking a close encounter of the third kind, visit the eerie Devils Tower National Monument. The Bearlodge Mountain Trail System snakes its way through canyons and along ridges. The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve features rugged granite formations that serve as sanctuary for clambering mountain goats.


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