Midwestern Mountains: A Peek at South Dakota's Black Hills
The Black Hills are South Dakota’s hidden treasure trove of runnable peaks
Photo by Action Sports Images
South Dakota might not appear like a trail runner’s paradise ... at first thought. The state conjures up images of prairie and grazing bison rather than high-altitude vistas and rocky ridges lined with singletrack. But in the state’s southwestern corner, an isolated patch of small mountains defies the state’s flatland reputation.
Boasting some of the country’s highest points east of the Rocky Mountains, including 7244-foot Harney Peak, the Black Hills are an oasis for mountain lovers in the Midwest. The region (which extends slightly into Wyoming) encompasses the Black Hills National Forest and contains hundreds of miles of smooth, rolling singletrack plus steeper, technical offerings going up to—or down from—the region's many peaks.
Here, you can drift through the prairies with views of far-off buttes or romp beneath the shade of hillside pine trees. And interspersed between it all are small towns that, over a century after the gold rush drew settlers to the region, retain much of their frontier charm.
The ample offerings of runnable terrain play host to several races throughout the year. One of the Black Hills’ marquee trails—the Centennial—is so “runnable,” as local race director Chris Stores puts it, that it nearly acts alone as the course for the annual Black Hills 100 Mile, 100K and 50 Mile races, which were just held for the second time and are billed as an alternative to another “runnable” race held on the same weekend: Western States.
“It's actually the runnable nature of the Centennial that gets people in trouble at the Black Hills 100,” says Stores. “Unlike 100-milers like Leadville and Bighorn, which have stretches where it is painfully obvious that you should be hiking, the Centennial's constant up and down wears on you.”
The Black Hills provide easy access to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park, making it an easy trail-running stopover on your next family vacation as well as a great trip on its own.