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  • J.F. Rowan

The Black Hills of South Dakota! Part 1

Camping in the Black Hills National Forest

We enjoyed our visit near Hot Springs SD, so we were a bit resistant about moving on. We headed a bit north trying to find a nice national forest type boondocking spot. The Black Hills National Forest is quite large so we thought we could easily find a camping spot on the first day. Well, you know what they say about the word “assume.”

Biscuits, Kale Salad and Fried Chicken with Pan Gravy for supper.

It was difficult. We were having a difficult time finding the sites even though we had a map. And when we did find a few, we felt a bit like Goldilocks. Too steep, too wet, too noisy etc. Though perhaps somewhat biased, I think our possibly over-critical site selection process was somewhat justified. After all, we want to pick a spot that we are going to stay on for several days. Ideally, you want to be able to set up camp, especially when it’s off-grid, and not worry about moving again to a new spot every day packing and unpacking your gear every time you stop. As it turned out, our persistence paid off. But I’ll be honest, we had a little help from a new friend.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Setting up camp and an aerial view of the area. Ranches mostly, but lots of forestry land.

Fifteen miles south of Deadwood, we explored several dead-end forest service roads. Dead end roads are usually traveled less and thus quieter and more private. We were having difficulty identifying designated dispersed campsites as they were represented on the map we had obtained from the local district ranger's office. We were just about ready to give up, turning around in a somewhat tight dead end of one service road.


National Forest Trail/Campsite Map

(Click on Photos)

This is a typical National Forest trail map. The small black dots, usually located near forest service roads, are designated dispersed camp sites. Which means that there are no amenities, not even a marking. As we found out, in the Black Hills National Forest, it was very difficult to see where you could actually set up camp. Downed trees, rocks and just uneven ground prevent identification of sites. As they say, "You get what you paid for." Sometimes. This time we lucked out.


On the way out I noticed a homeowner working in his driveway and stopped to ask him a question. Getting out of my truck with forestry map in hand, I yelled to him over his stone wall if I could ask him a question. When he looked up he smiled and said, “Sure, but bring that rig on in so I can see it!” So I did. We spread the map on my hood and I told him that I was having a hard time finding sites on the map.

One of things we see constantly in South Dakota is the gorgeous understory. Easy walking and always surrounded by something green. Just after I took these photos, and put my phone in my pocket, 5 deer scooted across the trail.

He smiled and said that the sites are not maintained and most neighbors discourage any camping. After looking at the map for a bit he decided that he would be more than happy to lead us to a sweet spot just up the road. And so he did. He hopped on his ATV and lead us up the road and right into a great spot with a nice view. And yes, it certainly was exactly what we were looking for. We shook hands and he let us know if we needed anything, all we had to do was ask. Yep, another great person just happy to help. Retired Air Force. Hmmm.

Stay tuned for some of the details of our stay. We made a pretty cool discovery here. All by accident. I'll give you a hint, it has to do with the dead end we turned around in.

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