The Black Hills of western South Dakota is a unique blend of convenient and isolated. How you want to explore the “Hills” depends on your mood, which is probably why I enjoyed living there and visiting when I can. If one is feeling like a staying close to the roads and civilization there are places spotted all over the Hills ranging from the iconic Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial to the more “touristy” places such as the Reptile Gardens and Bear World. The local history of the Hills offers another opportunity to explore without having to venture too far into the unknown as many places throughout the Hills give homage to its mining history.
When you feel like being a tad more adventurous, there are hiking trails ranging from easy strolls to fairly intense. Any of these trails can guide you through all sorts of terrain and spectacular geology. The tallest peak in the Hills, Harney Peak, tops out around 7,244 feet has a trail which takes you from the valley floor to an old fire look out perched on top of the peak. As you walk with a canopy of ponderosa pines above, your feet below become glittered by eons worth of mica weathered out of the metamorphic rocks. And if you do not want to go up, you can always go down. Down underground that is. The Black Hills is home to a handful of caves and caverns that give tours of these subterranean worlds.
If hiking and walking is not your thing, there are many opportunities for mountain biking and horseback riding as well. The Mickelson Trail, for instance, is one such trail that is popular for biking and riding. This 108-mile-long trail takes you from one end of the Hills to the other as you follow an old rail road grade. Too hot outside? The Hills have an answer for that too. There are several large reservoirs which offer ample room for boating, fishing, and swimming on warm summer days. Or my favorite activity to wrap up a beautifully busy day: skipping rocks across the water as it mirrors the failing light cast by the setting sun.
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