Black Hills National Forest

Hiking Centennial Trail

Centennial Trail is the perfect way to experience the Black Hills for an hour, a day or a week. Known as Trail No. 89, the trail is a lasting legacy of South Dakota's 1989 centennial year of statehood. Its 111-mile length explores the diversity of South Dakota. This is the longest trail in the Black Hills, with more than two dozen access points at intervals of 3 to 10 miles.You'll experience old growth forests, sunny meadows dotted with wildflowers, towering granite crags and remote canyons. With luck you'll see turkeys, deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and bison.

Location: Bear Butte to Wind Cave
Length: 111 miles
Elevation: 3200 to 5600
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, short segments can be more difficult

The Centennial Trail crosses the prairie grasslands near Bear Butte State Park and climbs into the Black Hills high country, skirting lakes and streams until it reaches Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs. The United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks have combined their efforts to develop this trail.

Five agencies manage Centennial Trail, and each has slightly different user regulations. Hiking is the one use common to all trail segments; portions are open to mountain bikes, horses and ATV's. Mountain bikes are prohibited in Black Elk Wilderness.


Area Hiking Horses Mtn Bikes
Bear Butte State Park yes * yes
Black Elk Wilderness yes yes no
Black Hills National Forest yes yes yes
Custer State Park yes yes yes
Fort Meade Recreation Area yes yes yes

*No horse use on east side of Bear Butte
Motorized vehicle use is permitted on the Centennial Trail between Dalton Lake and Pilot Knob trailheads.

A section of the Centennial Trail crosses the Black Elk Wilderness. Travel in the Black Elk Wilderness is limited to hiking and horses. No mountain bikes or motorized vehicles are allowed. An alternate route which does not enter the Wilderness is available.


Bear Butte: Centennial Trail begins in the north at the top of Bear Butte. The butte is a laccolith formed by molten magma intrusion that has been exposed by erosion of the surrounding prairie lands. At 4,422 feet, Bear Butte rises 1,400 feet above the surrounding prairie offering panoramic views of the Black Hills. Bear Butte is a sacred place for the Native Americans. Be aware of any ceremonies or individual pilgrimages to avoid being an onlooker.

Wildlife: The Black Hills area provides habitat for many wildlife species. Popular species include antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, turkey, and mountain goat There are about 370 miles of trout fishery streams in the Black Hills. Centennial Trail crosses a number of these streams.

Lakes: Centennial Trail passes by or near seven lakes, each with its own special character. Sheridan and Pactola Lakes are popular recreation spots for boating, fishing end swimming. Trout fishing is especially popular. Most lakes are stocked with fish by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks.

Geology: Black Hills geology is very complex. The Hills were formed by the uplifting of the earth's crust millions of years ago. Precambrian rock formations, consisting of slates, schists and granites, form a central core. Harney Peak at 7,242 feet and the nearby Needles are part of this core. Surrounding the central core are rings of sedimentary rocks consisting of sandstones, limestones, and shales in which occur many well known caves, such as Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.

Mount Rushmore: Centennial Trail passes within one mile of Mount Rushmore National Monument. Mount Rushmore serves as the Shrine of Democracy with the sixty foot likenesses of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved into the granite.

Buffalo: Buffalo herds roam freely in Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Buffalo are exciting to watch, but dangerous to approach.

History: The Black Hills are rich in both Native American and early American history. Native Americans have lived here for time immemorial. Custer led an expedition through the area in 1874, two years before his death at the Little Big Horn in Montana.

Trip Planning

Planning will help you enjoy your trip on the Centennial Trail. Find out as much as you can about the area where you plan to use the trail. Drinking water is not readily available along the trail. Many of the streams dry up in early summer. Protect yourself and treat raw water taken from streams and lakes before you drink it. Many of the established campgrounds and picnic areas along the Trail have drinking water during the summer months of June, July and August. During the rest of the year, campground water systems are turned off. Be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather, and for emergencies. Food is not readily available along the Trail. Food may be obtained from stores in the Black Hills area.

Permits, Fees, and Camping

Custer State Park requires the purchase of a park entrance license for vehicles in order to use the Park. Annual and temporary permits are available. Within Custer State Park, camping is only allowed in developed campgrounds. No permit is required to hike through Custer State Park.

Wind Cave National Park requires a free back country permit for those who plan to camp in the back country. This permit describes requirements which must be followed when camping in the back country of Wind Cave National Park. Permits are available at National Park trailheads.

Many of the campgrounds along the Trail charge a fee. Some of the campgrounds also require a reservation ahead of time. The facility list on the reverse of this form indicates which facilities require a user fee and a reservation.

Vehicle Security

Long term parking is available at many of the trailheads as shown on the reverse of this handout. If you plan to leave your vehicle overnight or longer in Fort Meade National Recreation Area, Bear Butte State Park or Wind Cave National Park, please notify the ranger. Doing this will let park managers know why a vehicle has been left at a trailhead.


Open fires are not permitted. An "open fire" is defined as any fire to burn slash, brush, grass, stubble, debris, rubbish, or other inflammable material not enclosed in a stove, sparkproof incinerator, or an established fireplace approved or constructed by public agencies in designated recreation areas. Campfire grates are provided in many campgrounds for campground users.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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