South Dakota is a state with prairies, lakes, and mountainous areas. Hiking throughout the different areas of the state offers different experiences. I have hiked several trails in the state of South Dakota, and these are some of the best hikes to experience. Each offers a different level of difficulty and something unique.
Dress in layers, pack your binoculars, wear comfortable hiking shoes, and fill a canteen. A lightweight day pack completes your gear. You will want to make sure your body is acclimated to the area to avoid any problems with altitude sickness. South Dakota is home to rattlesnakes, so be aware of your surroundings at all times while hiking the trails.
1. Big Sioux River Recreational Trail And Greenway
This 22-mile paved bike and walking trail offers an easy hike for anyone who needs a level path. The Big Sioux River Recreational Trail and Greenway is a wonderful experience for everyone who enjoys being outdoors. This trail goes around the city of Sioux Falls and through several city parks, including the famous Falls Park.
This is where you will want to take time to enjoy the falls of the Big Sioux River. This is an ideal scenic trail that also embraces the state’s urban life. It's an opportunity to enjoy a city that is surrounded by nature.
2. Farm Island Recreation Area
Farm Island Recreation Area is an outdoor enthusiast's dream come true, which naturally includes hiking. Eight miles of hiking trails meander through the island, which offers tranquility while you observe nature. You will want to be sure your binoculars and birding books are in hand. When you are near the water's edge, look for beaver activity. If you are lucky, you may see one on your hike.
This is a fairly level outdoor hiking area. The ground can be soft in places, which means hikers will want to be steady on their feet. Pack your lunch and a blanket for a picnic. These are the kinds of memories that could have you calling your Farm Island excursion the hike of a lifetime.
3. Mina Lake Recreation Area
Mina Lake Recreation Area offers water sports as well as hiking opportunities. The Shake Maza Trail is three-quarters of a mile long. It is composed of gravel and limestone. It's level and rated easy. This makes for a great way to connect with nature, maybe after you set up your camper or take your boat out on the lake.
With numerous educational stations along the trail, you will also learn a lot about the area. Views of the prairie, boxelder trees, and chokecherries can all be seen during peak times of the year. During the fall and winter, the nests of birds can be spotted where the chokeberry thickets thrive. This trail is a peaceful way to connect with nature and most anyone can enjoy the hike.
4. Notch Trail
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is home to many trails that offer everything from easy to strenuous hiking experiences. Notch Trail is a 1.5-mile-long round trip. You’ll wander through a canyon and follow a ledge to “the Notch” for a stunning view of the White River Valley. There is a log ladder that trailblazers will want to climb.
The trail begins at the south end of the Door and Window parking area. The area is steep and you will want to stay on the trail. If you are afraid of heights, I would not recommend this trail. It is considered moderate to strenuous but is well worth it if you are physically able to complete the hike. As with any hike in Badlands National Park, you will want to carry in plenty of water. The air is dry and summer can be extremely hot.
5. Presidential Trail
Mount Rushmore is one of my favorite places in South Dakota. There are several trails in the area and the 0.6-mile loop trail at this national monument can be reached from either side of the viewing deck. Signage is visible, which makes it easy to find. The trail itself is easy, but it does have several steps. If you are lucky, the mountain goats that frequent the area will show up for a photo opportunity.
Take the time to stop at the benches along the trail and take in the views. Different angles and views of Mount Rushmore are available along this busy trail. There is no fee to visit Mount Rushmore, but there is a parking fee. Once you’ve paid, you are eligible to park for one full year after purchase.
6. Black Elk Peak
This is my pick for the best hike in South Dakota. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak, offers a beautiful view of the Black Hills. You begin your hike at 6,200 feet and gain 1,100 feet in elevation on this 3.5-mile hike to the summit. Begin your hike at Sylvan Lake and enjoy the view. It's a beautiful lake. It's important to note that the trailhead is in Custer State Park, and you will need a park pass to hike this trail. Summer is when the trail is the busiest, and it's also the most beautiful time to make the hike. You will hike through a pine forest and go through several switchbacks as you near the top. Once you have arrived at the summit, take it all in and enjoy the view at over 7,200 feet.
At the summit, be sure to reflect on the climb that you accomplished as the view will make it all worth it. I would suggest that you build five hours into your day to complete this round trip hike. Arrive early in the morning before the crowds and experience sunrise along the trail.
7. Sylvan Lake Trail
Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Midwest. It's a great place to start your hike to Black Elk Peak or begin a hike around the lake for an easier experience. This trail, which is a little more than a mile long, can become very busy during the summer. Strive to hop on this trail early in the morning before the large groups of people arrive. The trail is fairly level, but it is rocky in places. The views of the lake from all sides are truly magical. The reflection of the blue summer skies will translate into lake photo opportunities of a lifetime.
The air and water are clear and reflect the natural beauty that defines this area. This is a loop trail and it's mostly flat. I have hiked this trail on sunny and cloudy days, and they both offer fantastic views. You will need a day pass for Custer State Park in order to hike Sylvan Lake.
8. Spearfish Canyon Nature Area
Spearfish Canyon is one of the most beautiful areas in South Dakota. It's on the western edge of the Black Hills and is home to numerous waterfalls. Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Falls, and the Savoy Pond area are popular hiking destinations. Birding is also very popular in this area. The American dipper, a stocky, gray bird, can often be spotted. Fall is a particularly stunning time to visit, as the golden and red colors are rich. Summer is the busiest, but it truly brings beauty with the lush green and beautiful water views. Vault toilets are in the area as are picnic tables. Plan to eat your picnic lunch before or after the noon hour, as a picnic table will be easier to find. There are no fees to access this area or enjoy the hike.
Pro Tips For Hiking In South Dakota
South Dakota is a beautiful state from north to south and east to west. There are hiking trails throughout the state that will leave you with your mouth dropped wide open. The wide-open skies and prairie will take you back to a quieter place in time. The ruggedness of the Badlands and the Black Hills are sure to wow you, as well. You could easily spend all year long hiking in different areas in South Dakota.
Be smart when you head out on your hikes. You will want to have plenty of water, rain gear, and sturdy hiking shoes with you when you hit the trails. Sunscreen, a sun hat, and bug spray are also handy during all four seasons. South Dakota is a state that offers memories of a lifetime on the trails. Sunset and sunrise are particularly good times to hike as the crowds are minimal. If you enjoy taking photos, these times of day are particularly beautiful in photos.
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