Fall Colors Coming to the Black Hills National Forest

Photo: Herb Ryan/Herb Ryan Photography

September 19, 2017

Custer, SD – Fall colors will be showing up soon across the Black Hills. Forest Service officials encourage the public to get out and enjoy the outdoors and see nature’s beauty.

“The best viewing for fall colors on the Forest is usually late September to early October,” said Scott Jacobson, Public Affairs Officer, Black Hills National Forest. “Local people, and people from all over the country come here to see the spectacular colors of red, orange and yellow, mixed in with the green pine forest.”

Northern Hills (areas near Spearfish, SD)

  • Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is renowned for its natural beauty and history framed by towering limestone canyon walls. The byway is a favorite fall color drive when the aspen changes in September. This byway is the best place in the Black Hills to see waterfalls, such as Bridal Veil Falls. Creeks run through the canyon, and many hiking trails are available for those who want to stray from the road. Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway follows an old railroad grade that was abandoned after massive flooding in 1933. Old rail stops and mining camps include Savoy and Elmore.

Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower is located north of Deadwood, SD. The famous Deadwood Sheriff, Seth Bullock, built the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower in 1919 as a dedication to President Theodore Roosevelt, his close friend of many years. The tower offers a 360 degree panoramic view from the top.

Southern Hills (areas near Custer, SD and Newcastle, WY)The Old Baldy Trail is a 5.7 mile loop with a 0.7 mile spur trail to the summit of Old Baldy Mountain.  The trail meanders through stands of quaking aspen, paper birch, and ponderosa pine. To access the Old Baldy Trail from Spearfish, travel south on FSR 134 for approximately 13 miles to the trailhead which is on the west side of the road. From Savoy, travel south on FSR 222 for 6 miles to the intersection with FSR 134, and travel north on FSR 134 for approximately 1.1 miles to the trailhead.

Vanocker Canyon, outside of Sturgis, SD, is also a nice drive and there are several pretty areas along the way.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway – Named for South Dakota’s former governor and US Senator, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway offers 70 miles of outstanding sights including Mount Rushmore, The Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road and Custer State Park. Visitors may spot mountain goats, bison, deer, elk, bighorn sheep and turkey. The Norbeck overlook provides views of Harney Peak and many lakes are near the byway. For those wishing to see more than the road can offer, the byway has several trailheads which lead into the backcountry of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Black Elk Wilderness.

Central Hills (areas near Rapid City, SD)

  • Flag mountain offers a beautiful lookout over the Black Hills and vehicles can drive right to it. The drive meanders around the Rochford area where Fall colors are plentiful. You can see Reynolds Prairie below, a portion of a rare Montane Grassland ecosystem and find several grassland bird species such as grasshopper sparrow, bobolink, bluebirds, ospreys and eagles. Several Native American sacred sites such as Hat Mountain and Pechla can be seen from the mountain. In the far distance is Harney Peak. (Directions: Take Deerfield Road (306) to 303 (towards Rochford), then NFSR 189 approximately 2.2 miles to road to Flag mountain.)
  • Newton Fork road displays many colorful aspen stands and makes for a wonderful drive on a Fall day.
  •  For a drive a little more off the beaten path, FSR 190 to Whitetail Peak also offers plenty Fall color viewing areas.
  •  Forest personnel recommend a drive to Black Fox Campground from Rochford (FSR 231) which is accessible to most vehicles. In this area, is a botanical area and has many shrub species such as willow, chokecherry, red-osier dogwood, and service berry, to name a few, that turn purple, red, golden yellow in front of a mix of aspen, pine and spruce. From Black Fox, personnel suggest going south on 233, where there are limestone outcrops, beaver complexes along with many fall colors.
  •  Mc Intosh Fen, another rare ecosystem is exceptionally beautiful in the Fall. To get there, drive 233 to Castle Creek (1303) then head east to Deerfield Lake (loop) along the Castle Creek road. The roads are graveled for the most part but can be bumpy and rough in places. Watch out for ATV`s because use is heavy in this area.
  •  The 718 road heads down Deadman Gulch which has exposed limestone outcrops. As you continue down 718 it will start to climb out of Deadman and then up to a mid-slope road overlooking Foster Gulch. This road will lead to 372 and then to the Rockerville/Harney road (County Road 223). It is highly recommended that you bring a MVUV map since there are many user created trails that are un-marked. It is a beautiful drive for the off-road explorer.

 Northwestern Hills (areas near Sundance, WY)

  • Warren Peak road runs through the middle of the Emerald Forest with full easement. Please be aware that the Emerald Forest is on private property. To get there, take Warren Peak Road past the end of the pavement to Blacktail Road (FSR 838). The Emerald Forest is south of Blacktail junction.
  • Dugout Gulch Botanical Trail #77 is an 8 mile non-motorized loop located approximately 5 miles south of Beulah, WY on the Bearlodge Ranger District. Alongside a creek, the trail meanders through stands of paper birch, ironwood, and hazelnut trees. Sheltered under these trees, one may find several plant species including Rattlesnake Fern, Common Solomon’s Seal, Canadian Enchanter’s Nightshade, and the Oval-leaved Milkweed. Also lingering in this area are several sedges – Meadow Sedge, Fox-tail Sedge and Rosy Sedge. Stop and admire the beauty at one of the benches overlooking the creek along the trail.
  •  Grand Canyon (FSR 875) off of Moskee is another great area in the Fall.
  •  Sand Creek (FSR 863) is also a nice drive which will take you up to Moskee.
  • Forest personnel also recommend Cow Creek to Beaver Creek – To follow this route, drive to 843 (Farrall road) to FSR 833, to FSR 831 to FSR 841 (which would then loop back into FSR 843 if hanging a right on FSR 841).
  •  Another great Fall viewing area, with good access, is Cement Ridge Lookout.  The Lookout is accessible from Sundance to Moskee Road 207 (Exit 191 off interstate), head to Grand Canyon (FSR 875), to Rattlesnake (FSR 804) and then to Guidinger Hill/Cement Ridge (FSR 850).

A Few Fall Driving Safety Tips:

  • Watch for wildlife. Wildlife can run along and across roadways without notice.
  • Observe the rules of the roads such as posted speed limits and no passing zones.
  • Park vehicles in designated parking/rest areas. Do not block gates.

For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills.

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