Big Pine Trailhead Loop in the Black Hills

I review the Big Pine trail near Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota.

One of the Trekkers’ favorite loop hikes in the Black Hills is found at the Big Pine trailhead.  It takes you through some lower elevations of the Black Hills, as well as a scenic canyon. 

Where is the Big Pine Trailhead?

The trailhead is located about 30 minutes from Rapid City on Route 244, approximately three miles west of Mount Rushmore and 1/2 mile west of Horsethief Lake.  If you’re traveling west on 244, you’ll see the parking area for the trailhead on your right shortly after passing the entrance to the Horsethief Lake Campground.  

This loop encompasses part of the larger Centennial Trail which actually travels both directions from this trailhead.  We usually take the Centennial Trail (#89) south until it connects with the Horsethief Lake Trail (#14).  We then take this route back to the Horsethief Campground–the middle portion of the trail also runs along with the Willow Creek Trail (#5).

This loop does require you to walk along Route 244 or through the Horsethief Lake campground, and then hike off-trail through the forest for about 1/2 mile to return to the Big Pine Trailhead.  It is very doable though.  I would suggest staying off the road as it winds a good deal through this area and has no real shoulder, so drivers’ views can be impaired.  You can easily hike through the forest though while keeping the road in sight so as not to lose your way.  The entire trip runs a little over 3.5 miles and takes 2 – 3 hours depending on your speed, how often you stop, etc.

What you’ll see hiking the Big Pine Loop Trail

This is a lovely trail that can be enjoyed throughout the year.  It can be completed in any direction, though traversing it counterclockwise and ending with the Horsethief Lake portion of the trail seems to allow for the least amount of climbing, so that route is the option we prefer.

Traveling counterclockwise on the trail, it starts with an uphill climb.  Then it levels off as it parallels a creek for a peaceful jaunt through a narrow canyon as an imposing rock ledge looms overhead.  I always imagine we’ll spot a big cat sunning itself on the ledges, though we’ve never seen one (we have seen tracks near the creek, however.).  This portion of the trek can become rather overgrown during the summer months.  

A view of the rocks found on the trail near Horsethief Lake

Near the path’s end, the hike takes you through picturesque, rocky outcroppings before you descend with the creek back to Horsethief Lake.  Be warned, much of the Horsethief Lake trail is in a shaded area.  The descent of the creek makes for a delightful frozen waterfall environment that lasts well into Spring, but the nearby rocks that the trail traverses also become layered with ice and can be VERY slippery.  This is not a difficult trail but the ice can make it hazardous even into late spring.  We always bring Yaktrax! with us when enjoying it at that time of year.

The canyon and creek portions of the trek are mostly shaded so they allow for a cooler hike in the summer months and offer lovely color viewing opportunities in the fall.  This trail can also be combined with others in the local area including further portions of the Centennial and Horsethief Lake trails, and the Willow Creek trail, that traverse farther into the Black Elk Wilderness.

If you’re looking for an easier trail option in the Black Hills, get out and enjoy this nearby trail!

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Are you looking for a lightly traveled trail in the Black Hills? Check out the Big Pine Trail, in the Black Elk Wilderness, near Mount Rushmore!


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