Wild Linda

7 Best Parks in South Dakota for Hiking

South Dakota is such a pretty and unique state to visit.  It’s not what you’d expect.  From the Badlands and the Black Hills on the western side of the state to the hilly area of Newton Hills State Park and the beautiful Lewis and Clark Lake area, there is something for everyone in your family to enjoy.  If you’re an avid hiker, then you need to check out the list below of the 7 best parks in South Dakota for hiking.

What are the best parks in South Dakota for hiking?

Here are the 7 best parks in South Dakota for hiking!

  • Badlands National Park
  • Farm Island Recreation Area
  • Black Hills National Forest
  • Spearfish Canyon Nature Area
  • Palisades State Park
  • Newton Hills State Park
  • Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

Badlands National Park

Boardwalk Hiking Trail in the Badlands

The Badlands has some of the most unique landscapes in the United States.  It has colorful rock formations, tall spires, canyons, and much more.  Plus, the wildlife is pretty awesome as well.  There are majestic Bighorn Sheep, adorable Prairie Dogs, intimidating Bison, snakes, birds, and even fossils.  The Badlands is one of my favorite places to visit, and if you haven’t had the chance to check it out, I highly suggest you do so!

There are hiking trails all around the Badlands that are great for seeing all the scenic views up close.  Below are a couple of my favorite hiking trails in the Badlands.

Castle Trail

Castle Trail is a 5-mile-long trail that can be hiked out and back or can be hiked along with connecting trails and turned into a loop.  There are multiple ways to hike the trail, so make sure to check out a map and plan your hike.  

Castle Trail is a pretty flat and easy hike, so if you choose to stay on that trail for the whole 10-miles out and back, you should be ok.  This is one of the best hikes in South Dakota, with beautiful views of colorful mounds and spires, not to mention the possibility of seeing some wildlife.

Notch Trail

The Notch Trail is a short, fun trail about a mile and a half, round trip.  It has canyon views, a log ladder, and a short walk along a cliff edge.  It’s one of the most exciting trails in the Badlands.  The trail leads you to a vast open view of the grasslands and views that the Badlands is known for.

Farm Island Recreation Area

Located in central South Dakota, close to the State Capitol of Pierre, Farm Island Recreation Area has 8 miles of hiking trails.  The trails lead you around the island, allowing you to enjoy beautiful lakefront views, and wildlife including deer, beaver, and many birds.  

This is a pretty popular area with all the possible outdoor activities.  Visitors have plenty of options like hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and bird watching.

Black Hills National Forest

Lake with rock outcrop and forest in the background.

The Black Hills are a beautiful mountain range in western South Dakota.  This is where you will find Mount Rushmore and the currently-under-construction Crazy Horse memorial.  Custer State Park in the Black Hills is South Dakota’s oldest state park.  It’s a huge park with 71,000 acres.  You’ll find plenty of awesome hiking trails in Custer State Park and the surrounding Black Hills.  The following hiking trails are just a few of the amazing hiking trails in the area.

Horsethief Lake Trail

Horsethief Lake Trail is a 5.3 mile out and back moderately difficult trail with a steady incline for the first couple of miles.  It has some beautiful views of unique rock formations and starts with a trail running alongside a creek.  Wildlife sightings are a good possibility, including sights of mountain lions and their paw prints.

Black Elk Peak Trail

Black Elk Peak is the highest point in South Dakota.  It’s one of the more popular spots in Custer State Park.  The views from the peak are expansive and include views of neighboring states.  The trail is considered moderate in parts with many opportunities for gorgeous pictures.  It’s a gradual incline to the top.  At 7.9 miles this loop will take approximately 3-4 hours to complete.

George S. Mickelson Trail 

At 109 miles long, this trail is way too long to hike in one day.  Luckily there are 15 trailheads so you can break up your hike over several days if you wish.  Found in the Black Hills, the George S. Mickelson Trail is a rail-trail with a surface of mainly crushed limestone and gravel.  It’s a mostly easy trail, perfect for families to enjoy, with only small portions of the trail considered difficult.  The trail connects the towns of Deadwood and Edgemont, with gorgeous views of mountains, forests, and canyons along the way.

Sylvan Lake Trail

Located in Custer State Park, the Sylvan Lake Trail is a short 1.1-mile loop around Sylvan Lake.  Most of the trail is paved, but you’ll find you have to climb over some rocks on part of the trail.  The views are stunning, and you won’t regret this quick hike if you do it.

After hiking, take a swim in the lake if the weather allows for it.  You can also pack food for a picnic and just take in the views.  There are watercraft rentals on the lake if you wish to explore further.  Canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards can be rented by the hour.  

Cathedral Spires Trail

Found in Custer State Park in the Black Hills, Cathedral Spires is a relatively short trail at 1.5 miles one way, but there is still plenty to see.  The unique rock formations along the trail are the main draw of this trail.  The trail starts pretty easy, but pretty soon you’ll find yourself clambering over rocks, but overall, the trail is pretty flat.  Cathedral Spires Trail is rated strenuous by the park service because you’ll be climbing over some rocks.

Spearfish Canyon Nature Area

Spearfish Canyon Nature Area is often referred to as one of the most scenic areas in the Black Hills.  With unmatched views in the fall, and waterfalls, people visit year-round.  Below are some of the more popular hiking trails in the area.

Roughlock Falls Trail

Roughlock Falls Trail is a pretty easy, 2-mile in and out hike through trees and limestone cliffs, to a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall.  This trail is handicap accessible.  

Spearfish Falls

Spearfish Falls is another must-see destination in the Spearfish Canyon Nature Area.  The trail to the falls is about 1.5 miles total.  It’s a moderately difficult trail, but the views are worth the hike.  There are benches along the way to rest and enjoy the scenery.  At the end of the trail is an almost 50-foot waterfall.  A platform at the bottom allows visitors to get extra close to the water.

76 Trail

The 76 Trail is a difficult 1.2-mile round trip, but for hikers that can make the hike, it’s well worth it.  This trail offers views of a canyon that is said to be older than the Grand Canyon.  The trail is pretty steep, but it’s a short hike with incredible views.

Palisades State Park

Hikers looking at Split Rock Creek.

Palisades State Park is one of the smallest State Parks in South Dakota, but don’t let that stop you from checking out this park!  It’s unique and very beautiful.  There are a bunch of short hiking trails leading you around the park.  Below are two of the hiking trails you will find here.

Split Rock Creek Trail

Split Rock Creek Trail is a 1.5-mile in and out trail.  This is a moderately difficult trail.  You’ll be hiking next to rock cliffs and spires that are over two billion years old while overlooking Split Rock Creek.  

Balancing Rock Trail

Balancing Rock Trail is another quick, but slightly difficult trail in the park.  Some stairs and climbing over rocks make the trail difficult.  However, the view is worth it.  Views of stunning rock formations are all around you.  The trail gets its name from a rock column that just shouldn’t exist where it is.  This .6-mile hike is something you must-do if you’re in the area.

Newton Hills State Park

Newton Hills State Park is located in a densely forested area full of hills called Coteau des Prairie. It’s an area said to hold buried treasure!   This park is a hidden gem located in Southeastern South Dakota.  It’s often overshadowed by the Badlands and Black Hills.  It’s worth a visit.  Maybe you’ll be the lucky person to find the treasure!  Below are two of the hiking trails found in the park.

Woodland Trail

Woodland Trail is a 4.6-mile loop in the park.  It’s a great trail for seeing wildlife and birdwatching.  An easy trail with some hills, the Woodland trail is great for the family.

The Blue Diamond Multi-Use Trail

The Blue Diamond Multi-Use Trail is another great option, although hikers will be sharing the trail with horses and bikes.  The trail can get muddy after rain, so wear the appropriate footwear.  The trail is approximately 3.9 miles long and has some nice inclines.

Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

One of the more popular areas in South Dakota’s Park system has a huge lake, beautiful forest, and some great hiking trails.  Lewis and Clark Recreation Area is on the southern border of South Dakota and has 864 acres to explore.  It’s a great place to get back to nature and relax.  The following are just some of the awesome trails in the area

Gavins Point Nature Trail

Gavins Point Nature Trail is a 1.2-mile mulched surface loop with some steep inclines, but it’s a mostly moderate trail with gorgeous lake views.  There are several overlooks to take in the beauty of the area with a gazebo at the halfway mark.   There are benches on the trail for rest stops. 

Chalk Bluffs Multi-Use Trail

Chalk Bluffs Multi-Use Trail is open to horses, mountain bikers, and hikers.  It’s a little over 4 miles long and has plenty of steep hills for the advanced hiker.  There are three different loops to choose from depending on your expertise.  The views for this trail include forest and lakeshore, so expect sun and shade here.

The Lewis and Clark Lake Trail

The Lewis and Clark Lake Trail is pretty long, coming in at 9.4 miles out and back.  However, it’s a pretty easy trail, with only a couple of hills.  Most people can complete it in under 4 hours.  This trail has beautiful views of the Missouri River.  It’s a paved trail.  Perfect for families with strollers or wheelchairs.

Conclusion

South Dakota is an awesome state to go hiking!  It’s full of unique landscapes, and the best way to see those landscapes is to get up close and personal by hiking there.  There are so many parks that have hiking trails suited to your level of fitness that everyone can get out and enjoy nature.  I hope you’ve found a new park for you in this list of the 7 best parks in South Dakota for hiking!