The Black Hills get their name from the Lakota Sioux. The Native Americans called this land in western South Dakota, “Paha Sapa” or hills that are black. From a distance, the thick ponderosa pine forests make this isolated mountain range appear black in color, but up-close, the towering green pines, blooming wildflowers and native prairie grasses are a colorful sight.
On February 22, 1897, President Grover Cleveland established the Black Hills Forest Reserve, to protect the land from fires, wasteful lumbering practices and timber fraud. In 1905, the Reserve was transferred to the Forest Service and it was renamed the Black Hills National Forest.
Visiting Black Hills National Forest
The Black Hills National Forest stretches for 1.2 million acres, offering outdoor adventure like hiking, biking and camping amidst stunning scenery. There are over 30 campgrounds, 11 reservoirs, 1,300 miles of streams and over 450 miles of hiking and biking trails in the forest, so adventures are endless. For the casual cruiser, there are also two National Scenic Byways—The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and the Spearfish National Forest Service Byway.
The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness offer some of the most challenging hiking and biking in the forest. Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), located in the Black Elk Wilderness, reaches a summit of 7,242 feet—the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. At the summit you find an old fire lookout tower once used by the National Forest Service. The tower is no longer used, but visitors are encouraged to climb the steps to the top for an uninhibited view of the Black Hills. Some say that you can see as many as four states from the top of Black Elk Peak.
Other activities that are popular in the Black Hills National Forest include wilderness camping, swimming, fishing, hunting, rock collecting and gold panning in forest streams. The National Forest Service Visitor Center is located at Pactola Reservoir and is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
What You Need to Know About Visiting the Black Hills National Forest
Location:Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center is approx. 30 minutes from Custer
Hours/Seasonality: Visitor Center opened daily, Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Fees/Reservations: Various fees for recreation activities (camping, boating, parking, etc.)