National Forest Foundation

Eight Places on the Black Hills National Forest with Old History and a New Future

Adventures, Cabins and Lookout Towers, History and Culture

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National Forests across the country are full of historical places. On South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest, the Forest Service, volunteers and numerous organizations have stepped up to preserve important places for future generations. Start planning your trip back in time on the Black Hills! (P.S. - Follow the Black Hills National Forest on Facebook .)​

Black Elk Peak Lookout Tower (formerly Harney Peak)

As Black Elk Peak lies within the Black Elk Wilderness, work at the tower has been traditional in technique, meaning no motorized equipment or wheeled tools were used. Civilian Conservation Corps employees constructed the Harney Peak Lookout Tower in 1938. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is renowned by South Dakotans and visitors abroad for its landscape views of the Black Hills and beyond.

Meeker Ranch

Volunteers and Forest Service employees are working to save an important piece of local history. Meeker Ranch, constructed in 1887, is located in a quiet green valley surrounded by pines near Custer, South Dakota and was acquired by the Forest Service in 2004.

In 2008, Artist Jon Crane piqued the interest of the public to raise funds to rehabilitate the ranch by hosting a “Plein Air” paint out. Artists from all over came to the ranch to participate in the outdoor painting event. Thirty percent of the proceeds from their sold art work were donated towards the preservation of the Meeker Ranch. With renewed interest and funds, the Forest Service teamed up with the Black Hills Historic Preservation and Trust shortly after the paint out.

Sadly, in 2014, numerous windows were broken and damage was done to an exterior door at the Meeker Ranch from forced entry. The Forest, Black Hills Historical Preservation Trust and others closely involved say that this vandalism will not stop future preservation work at the ranch. 

Hardy Guard Station

The station is located 1.5 miles south of O'Neil Pass within the Black Hills National Forest and was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936, many of whom who were World War I veterans. Forest Service preservation specialists from Missoula, Montana, started working with employees from the Black Hills National Forest in 2013 to replace deteriorating logs and repair original stone masonry at the historic Hardy Guard Station. 

The Guard Station consists of two log cabins, one log shop/garage, and two modern garages located on 5 acres of ponderosa pine forest in Lawrence County. In the winter employees of the State of South Dakota use the station to maintain the area’s snowmobile trail systems. The station is not open to the public. The Hardy Guard Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.

Gold Mountain Mine

The Gold Mountain Mine is the only gold mining site left on the Black Hills National Forest with a standing mill frame. In 2007, the site was determined to be a public safety hazard because of open mine shafts and a weakened timber structure.  In the summer of 2009, Forest Service employees and Black Hills Historic Preservation and Trust (BHHPT) volunteers began preservation of the site. Work intensified during the summers of 2010 and 2011, with the addition of volunteers from the Forest Service’s Passport in Time (PIT) program.

In September 2014, the Black Hills National Forest and Black Hills Historic Preservation Trust invited the public to an opening ceremony and official unveiling of the Gold Mountain Mine interpretive trail located outside of Hill City, South Dakota. 

Custer Peak Lookout Tower

The lookout tower was built in 1911. In 1935 it was replaced with a cupola building, and by 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the fire lookout you see today. The cab is 14 ft. by 14 ft. surrounded by a catwalk. Originally, the tower had a telephone line that ran between Custer Peak and the Bull Dog Ranch. Custer Peak lookout tower remains an active fire lookout today and is staffed during the fire season.

In 2008, volunteers with the Passport in Time (PIT) program worked with the Black Hills National Forest to repair portions of the Custer Peak fire tower near Deadwood, South Dakota to stop some of the deterioration on the tower caused by weather and aging. 

Summit Ridge Cabin

Solar panels were installed in 2011 on the Summit Ridge cabin, the only cabin available for rent on the Black Hills National Forest. The solar kit allows the cabin to have lighting for up to six hours a day.

The primitive cabin is available for rent year-round and sleeps groups up to 10. The Summit Ridge cabin was built in 1936-37 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and served as the home for lookout staff. A lookout tower sits adjacent to the cabin, but is no longer in use.

Cement Ridge Fire Lookout

The original Cement Ridge Fire Lookout was built between 1911 and 1913. At that time it was a one-room log cabin with a shingle roof. In 1921, a crow’s nest with a glassed-in house was constructed. A new lookout was finished in 1941. This is the tower that you see today. The ground floor window frames and door were also replaced at that time. The lookout is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register on December 30, 1993.

Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower 

The famous Deadwood Sheriff, Seth Bullock, built the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower in 1919 as a dedication to his close friend President Theodore Roosevelt. Bullock wanted to create a memorial where people could view wide open spaces that both men had become so fond of during their lives.

In 1919, the Society of Black Hills Pioneers provided financial support to build the Tower and in 1966, the Society donated the Tower to the United States Forest Service.

In 2005, the Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Mount Roosevelt, also called the Friendship Tower, underwent stabilization in 2010 to reinforce the base and restore the monument for public use. 

For more information about any of these places or the Black Hill National Forest, contact:

US Forest Service
Black Hills National Forest
1019 N. 5th Street
Custer, SD 57730
605-673-9200


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