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Backpacker Magazine – October 2001

Best Backpacking In South Dakota

Our comprehensive guide to the best backpacking you can find in South Dakota.

by: Steve Howe

Black Elk Wilderness

The 1.2-million-acre Black Hills National Forest contains more than 353 miles of trail, and at its center, between Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park, sits the 9,826-acre Black Elk Wilderness, named for the Oglala Sioux holy man. Elk, deer, and mountain goats are common sights in this rugged wilderness of granite cliffs and tiny lakes, and 7,242-foot Harney Peak is America's highest point east of the Rockies. One of the best hikes is the 15-mile Norbeck-Grizzly Creek Trails loop.

Contact: Black Hills National Forest, (605) 673-9200;

Badlands National Park

This treasure harbors almost a quarter of a million acres of sharp buttes and otherworldly spires, along with the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The park's 64,250-acre Sage Creek Wilderness is ideal for cross-country backpacking trips, but you'll need to haul water and be ready for encounters with the resident bison herd.

Contact: Badlands National Park, (605) 433-5361;

Centennial Trail

After crossing prairie grasslands surrounding Bear Butte State Park, this 111-mile trail climbs through the Black Hills to Wind Cave National Park. Remote canyons, granite crags, and wildflower meadows highlight the diverse terrain. More than two dozen access points line the trail. Water can be scarce, and often is not potable.

Contact: Black Hills National Forest, (605) 673-9200;

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Nov 29, 2010

In South Dakota

Jeff Sanow
Nov 29, 2010

My son and I would like to hike to Harney Peak. Where is the nearest campground to it?

May 25, 2009

Some of the best backpacking I've experienced is the French Creek Natural Area. It can be a leisurely 3 day hike/camp or a more vigorous 2 day. I recommend traveling from the East Trailhead to the West traveling upstream. At first the terrain is rougher, and the trail less distinguishable, but around half way it develops moderately. 12 mile jaunt consisting of canyon walls, caves, bison, other wildlife and scenery. Pack water and watch out for poison ivy.

Apr 29, 2009

I have done the hike suggested in May and there is plenty of stream crossings (needs to be filtered!). The routed described will have little traffic, but I would length recommend incorporating Harney Peak and lost cabin trail in too the loop. There will be a ton of traffic between Sylvan lake and Harney Peak (for South Dakota anyway) but itís worth the hassle. Lost Cabin trail is desolate.

Apr 29, 2009

I would recommend any of the trails in the Black Elk Wilderness if you are looking for outstanding scenery and few people. I'm heading out there for a 3 night trip this weekend. Beautiful country. I usually bring a small supply of water and filter the rest. Depending on where you are, you should be able to find plenty of water this time of year.

Apr 19, 2009

I and my wife are planning a blackhills backpacking trip for seven days where is best place to go their for the best outstanding sceneary and the far least people we see is best. I also heard that you need to pack in all your water needs,is this true.


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