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It’s More Than Just Fall In A Forest

Accepting the end of summer can be a difficult thing for most people, unless those people live near the Black Hills National Forest. Here, we embrace it with open arms because fall in our area is one of the most beautiful times of the year. It’s more than pumpkin spice lattes and blanket scarves, although I do enjoy indulging in both of those. It’s cooler weather. It’s fresh, crisp mountain air. It’s more than just a forest, it’s a feeling that encompasses every stick, stone, stream and visitor. I would consider the Black Hills a place to play and explore year-round, but if you have an option, visit in the fall. Try out these activities and it will become your favorite season here too.

Go For A Drive

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

 “You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles an hour. To do the scenery half justice, people should drive 20 or under; to do it full justice, they should get out and walk.” – Peter Norbeck

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway was built to preserve the natural beauty of the area while allowing a way for people to view it. This 66-mile double loop encompasses the famous Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road which are both known for their outstanding views and sharp twists and turns. Roll down your windows and take in the smells and sites of fall as you cruise (slowly) along this epic display of Black Hills beauty.

Vanocker Canyon

Taking you 17 miles deep into the heart of the Northern Black Hills is Vanocker Canyon Road. This drive is surrounded by colorful aspen, birch and pine trees, tall canyon walls and exhilarating sites around each turn. It is one of the lesser known drives to visitors in our area but is a truly beautiful road to experience. Take time to get out and explore the views of this area up close by trying out some of the hiking options located along Vanocker Canyon Road like the Centennial Trail #89!

Spearfish Canyon

If you’ve never heard of Spearfish Canyon, I want you to pause for a moment. Click this link and scroll for a while. While words can inspire you about a place’s beauty, images will do better. But also know that like many things in life – pictures don’t do this place justice. The drive alone through these limestone walls will take your breath away. But the hidden gems along this 20-mile stretch of road are what makes it magical. Ignore TLC, in this canyon you’ll be chasing waterfalls. Bridal Veil Falls, Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls are mother nature’s master pieces. Gorgeous in every season, but glowing a little extra when surrounded by gold, red and orange during autumn.

Pack A Picnic

Spring Creek Picnic Area

I had to do a little digging to find the real name of this picnic spot. In my family we call it “Mom’s picnic spot”. Growing up we would grab some fried chicken, pile into the convertible and head up to this special spot to spend time as a family. It’s still one of my favorite places to visit because of those memories but also because it’s a beautiful place to relax, take in the colors of falls and listen to the sounds of the creek.

Jenny Gulch Picnic Area

Jenny Gulch Picnic area is another favorite of mine because it overlooks the one-of-a-kind Pactola Reservoir. This picnic spot offers a tranquil retreat where you can enjoy the forest and views of this mountain lake. Walk the path along the shore line when you’re finished eating, maybe bring some fishing poles or a pup that loves the water.

Dalton Lake Picnic Area

Now for the hidden gem, Dalton Lake. This tiny Black Hills lake is an isolated area that serves as the perfect spot for a peaceful picnic. Relax while enjoying the sounds, sights and smells of fall in the forest.

Go For A Hike

Easy: Little Elk Creek Trail (5 miles out and back trail)

Little Elk Creek trail is a favorite leisurely hike of mine. My dogs love it too because the trail runs along the creek allowing them to play in the water and cool off every five seconds. When you combine the sounds of the creek with the fall colors it makes for one great trail.

Moderate: Boulder Hill Trail (3.3 loop trail)

Boulder Hill allows you to surround yourself with Black Hills beauty, as well as provides great overlook point. Parts of this trail walk you through rows and rows of aspen trees which radiate golden colors during the fall. It’s spectacular.

Moderate: Crow Peak Trail (5.9 miles out and back trail)

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sore after our Crow Peak hike. However, this steady incline is worth the effort for the view at the end. This hike’s summit elevation reaches 5,760 feet and the view is outstanding. Enjoy the crisp and cool fall air as you make your way through the fall colors out onto a magnificent summit opening.

In the hills is my favorite place to be this time of year. The best time to view the fall colors in the Black Hills National Forest is late September to mid-October. If I still haven’t convinced you, spend the next three minutes and twenty-eight seconds watching this and maybe you’ll feel differently. Be sure to check out each spot you’re looking to explore on Black Hills National Forest’s website for any closures or updates. Not all trails and roads are open year-round so plan accordingly.

Meet the Author

Kelsy Peterson

Raised in Rapid City and lucky to call it home, this outdoor enthusiast loves to explore the Black Hills with her husband and two dogs. When she’s not at work you’ll find her out hiking, at a local ice cream shop, or perhaps home taking a nap.

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Kelsy Peterson
Social Media and Content Manager

Raised in Rapid City and lucky to call it home, this outdoor enthusiast loves to explore the Black Hills with her husband and two dogs. When she’s not at work you’ll find her out hiking, at a local ice cream shop, or perhaps home taking a nap.

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