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Home Away From Home

A Colorado Native’s perspective on the Black Hills of South Dakota

When I moved from my Colorado home to the Black Hills of South Dakota, it’s safe to say I had mixed feelings. I had visited before and I enjoyed the area enough, but I didn’t know how I would feel about leaving the Colorado mountains behind. Hiking them was just a part of who I was. Bent trees along the Boulder Creek trail were like street signs to me. Certain rocks near Fairplay had names that only I knew, and on more than one occasion, mountain lakes beckoned me to their private sunset premieres as a reward for spending the day slogging to them.

At first, my assumptions of the Black Hills and Badlands region as compared to Denver precluded my connection with the area, but as I wandered out to explore my new home, my panic of separation quickly faded, and I found myself enjoying a transformative experience.

The Black Hills are far older than the Rocky Mountains, and with a terrific geological story, too. Black Elk Peak, the tallest point east of Rockies, sits at just 7,244 feet nowadays, but it was once as tall (maybe even taller) as the mountains in Colorado. It has settled down in its old age, and in my opinion, for the better. The 7.1- mile trail winding up its side is popular, so there is concentrated foot traffic in the summer, but I’m told this peak has a wide window for hiking that strays into off-season, weather permitting. I’ll admit that given this information I was presumptuous of not only the difficulty but also the satisfaction that I would find up there compared to the 14,000 ft peaks back home, yet I was admittedly stunned as I stood at the edge of the clear reservoir at the top. The view is absolutely gorgeous from every direction, and I was happily motivated by the challenge of the special incline.

Elsewhere in the Black Hills National Forest I’ve often found myself skirting around creeks and rivers in solitude, and on paths that are far from ordinary. In one of my more memorable excursions, I remembered marveling at the fish-populated pools and the impressive limestone slabs that bordered my trail, but what really caught my attention was the condition of the place, the culture in the Hills is deference to the wild. There was no trash, and there were hardly any people. It was as if I were the first person in the world to breathe in the pine-saturated air, or to trek on the grass-pricked trail. I was enthralled by this idea, that the path I took wasn’t pounded into an upper crust to serve as an anvil for constant footfalls.

All this to say I’ve been amazed at what I’ve enjoyed here. New places are meant to change you and open your mind. If this winter is as magical as this summer has been—and I am confident it will be—I suspect I’ll have many exciting and beautiful adventures ahead. The cross-country skiing, I hear, is particularly outstanding, and with a reputation for snowfall, I’m wagering this South Dakota winter’s going to be every bit of exciting, just like it is in Colorado.

To start your adventure, visit Experience the Black Hills & Badlands – South Dakota.