Winter is a great time to explore the Black Hills National Forest! Black Hills winters are mostly temperate in nature with the occasional winter storm bringing snow and frigid temperatures. Working with our Recreation Specialists, we compiled a list of the top five ways to enjoy the Forest this winter.
1. Interagency Snowmobile Trail
The Black Hills Snowmobile Trail System is maintained through a cooperative effort between the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department - Division of Parks and Recreation, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Barrick Mining Company, Golden Reward Mining Company and numerous private landowners. In the 1.2 million-acre Black Hills National Forest there are a total of 416 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
Additionally the Bearlodge Mountains of the Black Hills National Forest have 66 miles of snowmobile trails.
Always check with the local Forest Service office regarding closures and access. Snowmobile maps are available on the Black Hills National Forest website or from one of the local Forest Service offices. The snowmobiling season for the Black Hills is December 15th through March 31st.
2. Cross Country Skiing
Several of the Forest's hiking trails are open to cross-country skiing during winter. Check out all of the trails online here.
A few highlights:
On the Bearlodge Ranger District, the Carson Draw Trail System winds through the beautiful and serene Carson Draw. This solitude trail system includes a five-mile loop groomed throughout the winter by volunteers with the local Sundance Nordic ski club. Amidst pine, aspen, and oak stands cross-country the trail features smooth, fast, and fairly steep descents as well as tranquil level stretches. Parts of the trail system have existed since the 1800s. In the late 19th and early 20th century, miners and homesteaders made their way into the Bearlodge Mountains—the trail system is named for one of those families, the Carsons.
Local skiing enthusiasts developed the Eagle Cliff Trails in the mid-1980s in the Northern Hills. This trail system became popular among recreationists because of the opportunity to create your own adventure. With twenty-one intertwining trails, the system offers fun and challenges at every turn. Trails range from short, rugged and remote to longer, looping trails with a range of difficulty.
Other amazing cross country ski areas include the Beaver Creek Ski area on the Hell Canyon Ranger District, Big Hill, Deerfield Lake Trail and Sundance Trail System. Click here for more great cross country ski trails information.
3. Stay a night or more in the Historic Summit Ridge Cabin
When it’s not Memorial Day through Labor Day, the main camping season on the Black Hills, the Historic Summit Ridge Cabin remains open for public use.
The Summit Ridge Lookout Cabin is the only cabin available for rent on the Black Hills. Sleeping seven comfortably, the former fire lookout cabin is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Groups as large as 10 may rent the cabin.
Please Note: Access to the Summit Ridge Cabin is over snow only and roads leading to the cabin are not plowed. A reservation and fee are required. For cabin rental information visit Recreation.gov
4. Snowshoeing and Winter Hiking
There are many snowshoe and winter hiking opportunities across the Forest including the Hell Canyon Trail, Willow Creek Trail #8 Loop, Iron Creek Trail #15 from Lakota Lake, Black Elk Peak, Dugout Gulch, Old Baldy, Rimrock and Little Spearfish trails. These trails can be challenging in the winter but offer a beauty all their own. See all Forest trails online here.
The 10-mile Deerfield Lake Loop trail encircles Deerfield Lake. With a difficulty rating of Easy, it is a great trail to learn how to snowshoe or break your snowshoes in for a first winter outing. From Reynolds Prairie you'll have great views of the lake. To the south, the trail winds through areas of tall pines and small meadows.
Located in the Northern Hills near Spearfish, the Big Hill Trail System has a trail designated specifically for snowshoeing. Snowshoers are welcome to bring dogs but be sure to stay on marked trails and not use groomed ski trails.
5. Ice Fishing
Love to fish year-round? Ice Fishing is allowed on all lakes in the Black Hills. The three largest lakes on the Forest are Pactola Reservoir, Deerfield Reservoir and Sheridan Lake. Smaller lakes include Roubaix Lake and Dalton Lake.
The newly dredged, Horsethief Lake, Bismarck Lake and Lakota Lake on the Hell Canyon Ranger District, are also great ice fishing locations.
Sheridan Lake, located 15 miles west of Rapid City on the Mystic Ranger District is one of the many great places on the Forest for ice fishermen to enjoy their sport. This 375 acre lake provides anglers with opportunities to fish for trout, northern pike, perch, bass and other pan fish. Fishing piers are also located in various areas around the lake.
Note: Boat ramps are not plowed or maintained for access to the ice at Sheridan Lake, Pactola Reservoir and Deerfield Reservoir. Ice conditions can fluctuate and anglers are reminded to use caution when travelling over the ice. Check the newspaper and at local fishing and bait shops for local ice conditions and fishing reports.