Beauty and history have always intertwined in the Black Hills of western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and George Armstrong Custer, among others, left enduring marks in this unpromising landscape of buttes, pinnacles, caves, and vast badlands.
The Black Hills remain a place where you can lose yourself in the landscape-and the past. Some 600 miles of trails crisscross the region, where buffalo still roam; deer and antelope still play; and elk, prairie dogs, beavers, wild turkeys, coyotes, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions go about their business.
A classic hiking route is the 50-mile section of the Centennial Trail starting at Alkali Creek in the Fort Meade Recreation Area and ending at Dakota Point trailhead at Sheridan Lake. This path into the heart of the Black Hills winds through forests of towering ponderosa pine, hardpan canyons, and open grassland. Along the way, you'll glimpse 7,242-foot Harney Peak and pass swift streams and placid lakes, as well as the ghostly ruins of gold mines, settlements, and railroads. All told, it's a mother lode of pristine wilderness.
Where: 30 miles (30 minutes) northwest of Rapid City and 640 miles (10 hours) west of Minneapolis. To reach the Alkali Creek trailhead, take exit 34 off I-90 near Sturgis, then follow the signs on the frontage road.
Maps: Black Hills National Forest Map ($4) is available from the Forest Service (see below). For details, read Exploring the Black Hills and Badlands ($14.95, Johnson Books, 800-258-5830).
Trail Info: Black Hills National Forest, (605) 673-2251; www.fs.fed.us/BHNF.