Hiking with Kids

10 Trails Not to Miss

The Black Hills has hundreds of miles of scenic hiking trails for a wide range of ages and skill-levels, making it the perfect place to introduce younger children to hiking in the great outdoors!


Fossil Exhibit Trail in Badlands National Park

The Fossil Exhibit Trail will transport your family back to a time when dinosaurs, alligators, and rhinos roamed the arid Badlands. This kid-friendly trail follows a boardwalk path with replicas of fossils that have been found here and informative displays that showcase the Badland’s paleontological past.

Admission to the Badlands costs $20 per car, and leashed pets are allowed in developed areas, such as campsites and parking lots, but not on trails. The round-trip hike is 0.25 miles or 0.4 kilometers with no elevation change, so it will take about 30 minutes.

To get to the Fossil Exhibit Trail, go west from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center on Badlands Loop Road for about 5 miles.

Difficulty (1-5): 1


Cathedral Spires

This short and enjoyable trail offers a look at the unique rock formations of Custer State Park and views of Black Elk Peak, Cathedral Spires, and the Black Hills Forest. To go to the trailhead, drive one mile east of Sylvan Lake on Needles Highway (Highway 87). This trail climbs a to a high elevation, so it will take about one hour. If you still have energy after hiking the Cathedral Spires, continue the increasingly strenuous trail to Little Devils Tower.

Admission to Custer State Park is $20 per car. This pass is valid for seven days after purchase. Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash at all times.

Difficulty (1-5): 3

Bear Butte Trail System

Bear Butte is a geological laccolith near Sturgis that is an important landmark for some Plains Indian tribes. There are several great trails in Bear Butte State Park including the 1.85 mile Summit Trail and the 2.5 mile Lake Trail.

Admission is $4 per person or $6 per vehicle. Pets are not allowed on the Summit Trail. The Summit Trailhead is by the parking lot near the Education Center. The Lake Trail has several trailheads including the boat ramp, middle campground, and main campground.

Bear Butte State Park is located 6 miles northeast of Sturgis off SD Highway 79.

As this is a sacred site for some tribes, you may see prayer clothes or tobacco ties on trees. Be respectful and don’t disturb these offerings. This park has buffalo that roam near the base of the butte. Do not approach, as buffalo are dangerous.

Difficulty (1-5): 3


Rankin Ridge Trail at Wind Cave

Although the fire tower is not open to the public, this nature trail goes right by it, with fantastic panoramic views of the Black Hills and nearby prairies. The trail curves through a Ponderosa Pine forest, gradually becoming rockier. Stone steps lead to the top near the tower before the trail starts descending.

It is free to hike in Wind Cave National Park, but pets are not allowed.

This trail is a mile and climbs about 250 feet in elevation. It will take approximately 30 minutes.

Difficulty (1-5): 3


Hell Canyon

In Black Hills National Forest, Hell Canyon was named for the treacherous terrain. The canyon has streams, some trees, and wildlife like bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes, and porcupines.

Hiking in Hell Canyon is free and dogs are permitted. This trail is a 5.3 mile loop that climbs from 5300 to 5800 feet, so it will take approximately 2 hours to complete.

To find Hell Canyon from Custer, go west towards Jewel Cave National Monument. The trailhead is about 1 mile west of the main entrance to Jewel Cave.

There is a lot of vegetation on the canyon floor, so wear long pants to avoid ticks. This trail is especially long so bring plenty of water

Difficulty (1-5): 5

Joyner Ridge Trail at Devils Tower

This unpaved trail loops through both forest and prairie landscapes with a great view of Devils Tower. This is a good trail to spot a number of local species like prairie dogs, wild turkeys, and even black bears. Watch out for rattlesnakes!

Admission is $15 per vehicle. The trail does not allow dogs. The trail is 1.5 miles and climbs an elevation of 270 feet, so it will take 1 hour.

Find the trailhead by taking the main road and turning on the dirt road before the visitors center.

Difficulty (1-5): 3


Eagle Cliff Trail System

Description: Developed in the 1980s by skiing enthusiasts, the Eagle Cliff Trail System offers 21 varied trails with over 27 miles combined- from rugged and challenging to short and fun.

Hiking in this trail system is free. Hiking with dogs is welcome. There is a trail for every fitness-level here so the miles and time spent will vary. The elevation is 5700 to 6600 feet depending on the trail.

From Spearfish, take Highway 14A south through Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to Highway 85 at Cheyenne Crossing. Take Highway 85 southwest to find the trailheads.

Difficulty (1-5): varies


Mount Roosevelt

Hikers will get to explore the Friendship Tower built in 1919 by Deadwood’s Seth Bullock as a memorial to his friend Theodore Roosevelt – a short but rewarding trail. The path is not strenuous, goes through a beautiful forested area, and is especially scenic when the leaves begin to change colors.

To get to the trailhead, take US Highway 85 north from Deadwood for two miles. Turn onto Forest Service road 133 and drive two more miles. (The trailhead is near the picnic area.) It is about a half mile, so plan on an hour or less.

Difficulty (1-5): 1

Horsethief Trail #14

Description: The Horsethief Lake Trail is one of the most scenic trails in the Black Elk Wilderness, with a waterfall, streams, interesting rock formations, serene forests, and wildlife.

Admission is free. This trail is dog-friendly. Please remember to keep your dog on a leash. The trail goes 2.7 miles one-way, so it will take about 2 hours to complete the entire trail.

The trailhead is at the Horsethief Lake Day Use area off State Highway 244, two miles west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Difficulty (1-5): 4


Buzzard’s Roost

Buzzard’s Roost offers trails for every skill-level. The highlight of this area is the view from the Lookout, which has 360-degree views of the surrounding Black Hills Forest wilderness. The trailhead is located five miles west of Rapid City when traveling on Highway 44. Parking is on the left near the Black Hills National Forest sign.

Hiking at Buzzard’s Roost is free and dogs are allowed. Elevation and distance will depend on the trail, but be prepared to spend at least one hour here.

Difficulty (1-5): varies



For more challenging trails, look into sections of the 111-mile Centennial Trail or 108-mile Mickelson Trail. For hiking with older children who have hiking experience, consider taking on the steep 6-mile trail to Black Elk Peak.

When hiking with children, make sure to bring lots of water, small snacks like granola bars or dried fruit, and extra sunscreen. Ensure the kids wear comfortable clothes, shoes, and sun protection like sunglasses and hats.

Let your kids set the pace so they don’t get exhausted trying to keep up with the adults. Take frequent breaks to fill up on water.

To make hiking a more enjoyable activity for them, play games like I-Spy, point out wildlife, give them praise after a more challenging hike, and let them take the lead.


By Kelsey Sinclair