The Black Hills National Forest covers an area 125 miles long and 65 miles wide. The name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa, which mean “hills that are black”. Seen from a distance, these pine-covered hills, rising 4,000 feet above the surrounding prairie, appear black. They encompass rugged rock formations, canyons and gulches, open grassland parks, tumbling streams, deep blue lakes, and unique caves. The forest is dominated by ponderosa pine, but also includes dense spruce stands and areas of aspen, birch and oak.
Travelers have long come to the pine forests of the Black Hills to find relief from the summer sun and winter winds of the plains. Shady campgrounds provide a place to rest after a long day of hiking, fishing, or trail riding. In winter, the canyons and plateaus of the northern Black Hills are traversed by first-class snowmobile and ski trails. Mount Rushmore National Monument and Devils Tower National Monument are found adjacent to or near the Black Hills National Forest.
The Black Hills National Forest Visitors Center at Pactola Reservoir provides a wealth of information about the forest. Hike on a self-guided nature trail near the Center. Boat, swim, windsurf and fish in the reservoir. Bismarck, Deerfield, Sheridan and Stockade Lakes are also open for boating and fishing.
The 10,000-acre Black Elk Wilderness is located near Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve. In addition to the 111-mile Centennial Hiking Trail, the Forest has two National Recreation Trails. The Flume and the Lost Cabin National Recreation Trails both feature scenic and historic sites.
At an elevation of 7242 feet, Harney Peak is the tallest point east of the Rocky Mountains on the North American continent. From the lookout at Harney Peak, visitors have a bird’s-eye view of the Forest and a panoramic view of four states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana. The summit can be reached by following the trails either from Sylvan Lake or Horse Thief Lake. The hike from Sylvan Lake to the summit and back is about 6 miles (10 km).