Description - The Black Hills cover 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 Black Hills represent an ecological crossroads, with wildlife and plant species typical of habitats of the Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, northern boreal forests, and eastern deciduous forests. 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, Devils Tower National Monument and Jewel Cave National Monument are all found adjacent to or near the Black Hills National Forest.
The Black Hills 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. Bismark, Deerfield, Sheridan and Stockdale Lakes are also open for boating and fishing.
The Peter Norbeck and Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byways showcase 90 miles of the Black Hills' most scenic highways. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is reknowned for its natural beauty and history framed by towering Paha Sapa limestone canyon walls. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway offers 70 miles of outstanding sights including Mount Rushmore, the Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Custer State Park.
The 10,000-acre Black Elk Wilderness is located near Mount Rushmore 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. 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.
Recreation - The Black Hills National Forest offers year round outdoor recreation activities. The Forest has 30 campgrounds, including 3 horse camp areas - Willow Creek, Iron Creek, and Sundance Trails. The Forest offers visitors over 600 miles of trails for hiking, horse back riding, skiing and snowmobiling. The Forest also offers hunting, fishing, boating and scenic driving.
Climate - As throughout the region, climate varies drastically depending on elevation. Summers generally offer warm clear days with cool nights. Afternoon thunderstorms are often a possibility in the summer. In the winter, sunshine, with plenty of snow in the higher elevations, are ideal for winter activities. Harsh weather - including wind, cold, and snow - is possible throughout the winter and even throughout the year, in the highest elevations.
The Black Hills National Forest lie in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. The Forest Headquarters is located in Custer, South Dakota, with offices also in Rapid City and Spearfish, South Dakota as well as Sundance, Wyoming. A Visitor Center is located at Pactola Reservoir.