What is the Black Hills National Forest?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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The Black Hills National Forest in the United States covers 1,071,741 acres in western South Dakota and an additional 175,391 acres in Wyoming. It stretches over a total of seven counties between the two states. On 22 February 1897, the Black Hills Forest Reserve was commissioned by President Grover Cleveland to protect natural resources from fire and irresponsible logging practices. In 1905, responsibility for the forest was assumed by the U.S. Forest Service, which was then a new agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was renamed the Black Hills National Forest in 1907.

Native Americans such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Lakota knew the Black Hills well, and archaeologists believe the region might have been occupied 10,000 years ago. The Lakota called the area Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black.” The name “Black Hills” is derived from this translation.

From far away, the ponderosa pines and spruce trees make the hills appear as a black island on the prairie. The Black Hills cover an expanse measuring 125 miles by 65 miles. Within the range, streams, lakes, reservoirs, gulches, canyons, grasslands, caves and, of course, woodland all are found.


Visitors to the Black Hills National Forest can explore 353 miles of trails on foot, on horseback or by bicycle. The Centennial Trail is the longest, at 111 miles, taking explorers through several types of land: meadow, forest and canyon. Two byways are available for driving tours. When it’s time for a rest, visitors can take advantage of the 31 campgrounds and 32 picnic areas.

Hikers can choose from a great selection of trails and wilderness areas. Challenging peaks and canyons are available for climbers, and there are caves to explore. Boating and water sports are available on the area's lakes.

Hunting and fishing are popular pastimes in the Black Hills National Forest. Fishermen can try their luck in the streams and lakes for game fish such as perch or trout. Hunters can find, ducks, turkey, deer and elk. The Forest Service does not require a permit for hunting or fishing, but both South Dakota and Wyoming do, and a state license is required for these activities.

Explorers will get a chance to see some of the fauna and flora that are in the Black Hills National Forest. Plants native to the Great Plains can be seen side by side with plants native to the Rocky Mountains. Bighorn sheep, elk, bison, mountain lions, mule deer and whitetail deer can be seen along the trails.

In addition to being a popular vacation destination, the Black Hills National Forest also is a source of natural resources. Permits are available from the Forest Service for firewood, transplants, pine cones, berries and Christmas trees. Slate also is available for collection with a permit. Larger logging and mining contracts are tightly regulated by the Forest Service.


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