The Black Hills are beautiful and are just waiting to be explored. Hiking is a popular activity with locals of all ages, but families just getting started might not know where to begin.
While getting out in nature together is a great way to bond as a family, tired feet and unwilling participants have spoiled many hiking trips. The best way to get your family into hiking is to start out slow, and stick to trials that are within your entire family’s skill level. Never hit the trail before? Start out in a local park or easy trail and then work your way up to the top of Black Elk Peak. Even if you have small children who can’t go far or if you aren’t in peak shape, there’s a trail in the hills that will suit you.
Looking for inspiration? We found the top trails around the Black Hills for families who want to get started, all the way to those ready to tackle a challenge. Lace up your hiking boots and get ready for adventure!
Ready to get started? Check out some gentle paths in the area where you can easily take a stroller or balance bikes, not to mention amenities that allow your family flexibility to spend as much or as little time as you like.
Robbinsdale Loop: 1.7-mile loop in Robbinsdale Park in Rapid City. This paved path is great for strollers, with a wide open grassy area to explore. There’s also a dog park and BMX track nearby, and plenty of areas for picnics.
Canyon Lake Park: varies. There are a variety of places to park at Canyon Lake, which allows you the flexibility to choose your starting point and duration. Paved areas are great for strollers, with picnic shelters, several playgrounds, and gazebo island offering plenty to explore, not to mention the large number of waterfowl that frequent the lake. Great for a short hike or all day fun.
Spearfish Rec Path: 7.5-mile path that runs along Spearfish Creek with multiple parking areas so your family can choose which section to enjoy. This path connects several sites around the Spearfish community, including City Park, Black Hills State University, and even Spearfish Canyon. As a bonus, you can easily hop off into the D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery for an afternoon worth of family fun.
Short and flat doesn’t mean boring
Move away from the pavement and dip your toes in nature on these trails. Easy terrain for beginners coupled with shorter trails means your family can enjoy nature, but not so far from the car that you’ll be dreading the first “are we there yet?”
Sylvan Lake shore trail: 1.1-mile loop with some terrain, but easy enough for young hikers. Take the trail counterclockwise to go downhill during the steeper terrain, but either direction is a great combination of easy trail and spectacular views.
Roughlock Falls: 2-mile out and back, but it’s really a 1-mile hike to the waterfalls and then 1-mile back. Start near the Spearfish Canyon Lodge and follow the trail to the Roughlock Falls State Nature Area. The trail runs next to Little Spearfish Creek, so there’s plenty to enjoy along the way. Once you arrive, enjoy walking the boardwalk around the falls, with the bonus of toilets and picnic areas you can stop and rest at if your crew gets tired or needs snacks before heading back to the car.
Grace Coolidge fishing area: 5.8-mile out and back trail, but you don’t have to do the entire trail to enjoy it. The trail is flat and forgiving and runs along Center Lake and Grace Coolidge Creek. The creek provides interest for young hikers, including easy crossings and fun fishing holes to explore.
The Mickelson Trail: this 109-mile converted railroad track that runs through the heart of the Black Hills may seem daunting, but with over a dozen trailheads your family can pick and choose what section you want to tackle. There are four rock tunnels and over 100 bridges along the length of the trail, and you can explore everywhere from Deadwood down to Edgemont. Since the trail was once a railway, the maximum grade you’ll find is 4% — most of it is less — which means it’s a pretty easy trek no matter your skill level. You will need a pass for each person over 12 years of age; a day pass is $4, an annual is only $15.
Build your confidence
Once your family is excited about the outdoors and ready for a little more terrain, check out a couple of these trails. They provide a decent amount of hills to climb without being overly taxing, so you can keep the momentum going for kids who are getting used to spending time in nature.
Stratobowl Rim Trail: 1.7-mile out and back with some hills, but the entire trail is a service road that leads to an amazing overlook. Enjoy views of the bowl, but also the Black Hills and the Needles. The trail has a plaque at the end explaining the significance of the bowl, and in the fall there are hot-air balloon launches from the bowl in commemoration of the first launch in the 1930s.
Osprey Trail: 2.8-mile total, although there are three loops so you can do less or easily return to the car if you get tired. Fairly easy terrain with parts of the trail along the lakeshore for water views or to stop and skip rocks.
Custer Skywalk: 0.5-mile out and back. This trail is actually a staircase that goes to the top of Big Rock Park. It’s a short trek with splendid views at the top, which makes it perfect for graduating from flat trails to something more challenging for beginning hikers.
Mount Roosevelt: 0.8-mile loop trail that can be a little more challenging in the winter due to frequently icy conditions. In clear weather it’s a great loop that promises views of the Black Hills and Bear Butte, not to mention the Friendship Tower built in memory of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Get ready for adventure
Ready for trails that will challenge your entire family? These are some of our favorites, and generations of locals agree. Start with these three trails to get a perfect mix of hard work and great payoff — then head out and explore the rest of the hills!
Buzzard’s Roost: there are several loops, but the easiest is a 2.2-mile loop. This trail is good for all ages but there are short parts of the trail that reach about a 25% grade. The panoramic views at the top are worth the effort though, and a great reward for kids who are getting excited about hiking.
Devil’s Bathtub: 1.1-mile out and back trail that is more difficult simply because of frequent stream crossings. Smaller hikers may have a harder time, although it is easy with sure-footed parents ready to help when needed. The trail ends at Devil’s Bathtub, including a great naturally occurring rock slide that dumps you into a pool — it’s a great reward on a scenic hike that truly is a Black Hills experience everyone should do at least once.
Black Elk Peak: 6.4-mile out and back. One of the most iconic hikes in the hills, this is one you shouldn’t miss. There are several ways to reach the top, but starting in Custer State Park is one of the more popular and more accessible. Once you reach the peak, your family will be atop the highest point in the country east of the Rocky Mountains, with views of the Black Hills and surrounding states. The trail is longer and more strenuous than many on this list, but the views from the top are worth it.
This list is just the start of the amazing trails and opportunities in the Black Hills. We encourage your family to get out and explore the wonderful natural playground all around us. Find a new favorite you think we should add to the list? Find us on social and let us know! We love to hear from our local families.
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WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON