Best Backpacking In South Dakota

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

Photo: Federica Grassi via Getty Images

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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;

From 2022