In southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, you can find more than 1.25 million acres of wooded wonderland in the Black Hills National Forest. It is made up of mostly ponderosa pine trees but also has some birch, oak, and aspen as well as grassland prairies and mountains. And of course, then there are the Black Hills. These hills, which are actually mountains, were named as such because of their dark appearance when seeing them from a distance.
Native Americans have mostly ruled this territory since the 1600s changing hands from the Cheyenne to the Lakota, and then to the Sioux after that. During the gold rush of 1874, gold miners came from all over the country and ended up staying. In 1897, President Grover Cleveland established the Black Hills National Forest as the Black Hills Forest Reserve where today it is a playground for both wildlife and humans.
Whether you want to fish, swim, do some RV camping, or just want to see some wildlife, you can find it all here. This wilderness area has over 1,300 miles of streams, 450 miles of trails, and more than 30 RV campgrounds. We have highlighted our top five favorite RV campgrounds for you here.
Interstate 90 is the main highway that takes you into the Black Hills National Forest no matter which direction you are coming from. You can also enter from Highway 18 and take Highway 85 to 14A. The cities that surround the forest include Rapid City and Spearfish, South Dakota and Newcastle, Wyoming. You can take a drive on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on the way, which is known for its beautiful scenic roadways and giant limestone walls. Check out some of the old mining camps and rail stops in the area or the Roughlock and Bridal Veil Falls for some great selfies to share on Facebook and Instagram.
Many of the smaller roads in the forest are a bit treacherous and you should proceed with caution, especially if you are in a large RV or are pulling a trailer. It is also important to watch out for wildlife that use the roads as their crossing point in many spots out here. In most of the campgrounds you will find rustic roads that are typically narrow and rutted and may take some skill to get through. Low hanging branches and potholes can be a bit tricky when driving a big rig so take it slow and easy.
The Pactola Campground in the middle of mature ponderosa pines on the south bank of the Pactola Reservoir has 83 spacious campsites. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring, and most have enough room for RVs or trailers up to 82 feet in length. These sites are separated into three loops, which are named Loop A, Loop B, and Loop C. Loop A has 26 campsites which can all be reserved online. Loop B has 35 campsites, 21 of which can be reserved. Loop C has 22 campsites, 12 of which are reservable.
There is one restroom with potable water in Loop A, two restrooms with potable water in Loop B, and three restrooms with running water in Loop C. There is a boat launch and beach at the day use area next to Loop C in the middle of the campground and the visitor center is on the south side of the dam. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained during your stay.
Bismarck Lake Campground in the southeastern portion of the Black Hills National Forest. This campground is in the middle of an aspen grove and has 23 campsites, 19 of which are reservable. One is a tent-only site and the other is the host’s campsite. Five of these sites are ADA-accessible. Each site has a fire ring with grill, a picnic table, and a cleared space for entertaining. If you want to be close to the water, choose from sites four through nine, which are within a few feet of the lake.
These campsites can house from a 24 to 57-foot trailer or RV, but you should reserve your spot well in advance to get the size you need. There are restrooms and water access by each loop as well as at the day use area. In addition, there are several hiking and horseback riding trails as well as trails for ATVs and mountain biking. There is plenty to do at the lake from boating to fishing where you can catch catfish, pike, bass, and trout. Pets are welcome as long as they are leashed at all times.
Just six miles west of Custer, in the southern section of the Black Hills National Forest, the Comanche Park Campground is open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. There are 32 large campsites with fire rings and picnic tables, 19 of which can be reserved online. The pad sizes range from 28 to 63 feet long so you should be able to find one that is perfect for you. There are four restrooms spread out around the campground and there is potable water access near campsite seven.
If you like caving, this spot is for you as the closest campground to Jewel Cave National Monument. It is also close to Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park. Inside the campground you can find several miles of trails to explore whether on foot, mountain bike, or ATV. Or you can just kick back and enjoy the beautiful aspen woods while you BBQ and make s’mores around the campfire.
In the middle of a Ponderosa pine grove on the banks of Roubaix Lake, this campground is a great choice for those who want to be near the water. There are 56 campsites, 30 of which can be reserved online. There are four loops of campsites. Loop A has nine reservable campsites, two water hydrants, and one restroom. Loop B has nine sites with all but one reservable, two water hydrants, and one restroom. Loop C has 13 campsites, eight that are reservable, with two water hydrants and one toilet. Loop D has 25 campsites, eight that can be reserved, with four water hydrants and two restrooms.
All campsites have fire rings with grills, picnic tables, and space for a small to medium sized RV and trailer. If you want to be close to the beach, some of the closest sites are in Loop C so if you have not reserved one, get here early to get a good spot. There is a huge beach for swimming and sunbathing and a boat launch for those with a boat.
Dalton Lake Campground is a wonderful little spot on Dalton Lake in the northeast portion of the Black Hills National Forest. Each spacious campsite has enough space for an RV or trailer from 22 up to 45 feet in length and provides a picnic table and fire ring with a grill for cooking. Although there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups, there is a potable water pump by campsite six, and there are two restrooms in the park for your convenience.
The campground also has an ADA-accessible fishing pier, as well as many other great fishing spots along the banks of the lake. If you want to be right on the lake, sites one, three, four, and six are within a few feet of the bank. If you want to have a picnic, there are some picnic areas at the end of the campground road past the host site and if you have a large group, there is a picnic shelter by campsite six that can accommodate over a dozen people with tables and BBQ grills. These campsites are first-come, first-served, so you have to get here early to get a spot. Especially on holidays and weekends. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained at all times.
Be sure to hook the trailer to the RV so you can bring your ATVs because there are more than 3,600 miles of trails and roads to explore in the Black Hills National Forest. You can travel over 700 miles designated to ATV and OHV riders or enjoy the 500 miles of roads that are open to all vehicles. With 21 motorized ATV and OHV trails, you will certainly be able to find your favorite. However, make sure you get a permit and follow the rules of the state of road.
Take a guided tour of one of the popular caves like Jewel Cave in Custer or have one of the more adventurous caving experiences in one of the more rustic caves. There are more than two dozen caves you can check out while you are here with most of them being in Hell Canyon such as Jasper, Porcupine, and Rainbow Cave. So be sure you pack your caving gear in the RV and don’t forget your hardhat and headlamp. Also, you need to register with the state of South Dakota before doing any spelunking.
The Black Hills National Forest is an awesome place to do some rock climbing because there are literally hundreds of climbing spots for both experts and newbies. In the southern section of the Black Hills, Wrinkled Rock Climbers Trail in the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Park is a favorite climbing spot. With a toilet and climbers bivy sites available, you can spend an entire weekend here just climbing the walls. In the north, check out the Spearfish area accessed through one of the 100 miles of trails like Centennial or Mickelson.
Be sure to pack your hunting gear in the camper and don’t forget your hunting license and tags because the Black Hills National Forest has a plethora of different game species. If you are looking for big game you can find mountain lions, goats, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and even bears. If small game is more your thing, you can find tons of rabbits and squirrels in these woods. Waterfowl is also plentiful and there are 30 different camping areas that are specifically geared towards hunters so you can find your favorite spot with no problem.
Whether you want to camp with your horse or just want to go horseback riding, there are three horse campgrounds and over 100 equestrian trails in the Black Hills National Forest to enjoy. In the north, try the Centennial Trailhead which takes you to Pilot Knob, South Boxelder, Elk Creek, and Alkali Creek Trails. In the south, you will find the Norbeck, Highland Creek, French Creek, and Iron Creek Trailheads. Whether you are looking for a short walk in the woods or a long trip over the Black Hills, you can find it here.
You cannot complain about not being able to find a good hiking trail in the Black Hills National Forest because they have over 450 miles of trails from easy to difficult. Some of the nice shorter hikes include the Cliff Swallow Trail #91, Dugout Gulch Trail #77, Little Spearfish Trail #80, and Flume Trail #50. For a fun weekend trip, try the Black Elk Wilderness, Norbeck Wildlife Preserve Trails Systems, the Deerfield Trail #40, and the Centennial Trail #89.