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Five Marvelous Hikes for Nature Viewing/Photography in South Dakota

1. Centennial Trail. Located in southwestern South Dakota, this 111-mile trail through the Black Hills, running from Bear Butte State Park through to Wind Cave National Park -- and passing through the Black Hills National Park, Custer State Park, and Fort Meade Recreation Area -- with more than two dozen trailheads and access points. At one point, the trail comes within a mile of Mount Rushmore. Hikers will be rewarded with amazing views of plains, forests, and mountains, as well as a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, bighorn sheep, antelope, elk, turkey, bison, prairie dogs, and mountain goats. The trail was built in 1989 in a collaborative effort among the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks -- and celebrates the 100th year of statehood (1889-1989). If you plan to hike the whole trail, note that water is generally not available along the trail later in the season. (Brochure.)

2. Roughlock Falls Trail. A relatively easy 2.1-mile (RT) trail located in western South Dakota, in the Black Hills National Forest, which winds its way to Roughlock Falls, a beautiful waterfall that flows into Spearfish Canyon from Little Spearfish Lake. Besides the hike, be prepared to take pictures of the falls, view birds (including the rare American Dipper, a bird that can both walk and swim under water) and other wildlife, as well as picnic in the nature area. A beautiful time to visit is late September/early October to catch the beauty of autumn leaves. From Spearfish, take the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway (14A) to Savoy; the trail begins near Spearfish Canyon Lodge, off FDR 222. Public restrooms are at the site.

3. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. A historic trail established in 1978 that follows the route of the great Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) -- some 3,700 miles through 11 states, from the plains in Wood River, Illinois, to the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. In South Dakota, hikers can find the trail in the southeastern portion -- where the explorers first entered the state -- near North Sioux City at Adams Nature Preserve (which offers 7 miles of hiking trails). Other highlights along the journey include hiking through two Native American reservations, the Spirit Mound Historic Prairie (6 miles north of Vermillion), and the Lewis and Clark Recreational Area (near Yankton) at the shores of 25-mile Lewis and Clark Lake, which includes a visitor center and three campgrounds. The South Dakota part of the trail ends west of Pollock at the North Dakota border. (While there, visit the Pocasse National Wildlife Refuge.)

4. Flume National Recreation Trail. A fairly easy varying length, depending on loops, 11-mile (total) trail located at the Sheridan Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, about 15 miles west of Rapid City. Hikers follow the actual flume bed of the Rockerville Flume, part of the state's mining boom, which carried water 20 miles, from Spring Creek (west of Sheridan Lake) to the placer diggings, near Rockerville. The flume operated until 1885 and enabled minters to take more than $20 million in gold from the mountains. Features of the hike include Spring Creek Canyon, two flume tunnels, Spring Creek Loop, and Boulder Hill (a vista offering views of the eastern Black Hills and Badlands). Sheridan Lake is a 375-acre lake great for fishing. From Rapid City, take US 385 to the campground, which also offers access to the Centennial Trail. (Brochure.)

5. Horsethief Lake Trail. Located two miles northwest of Mount Rushmore, along Highway 244 near Keystone, in the Black Hills National Forest in southwestern South Dakota, this trail is a moderately difficult 2.7 mile trail that starts at Horse Thief Lake (named because a gang of horse thieves used to operate there) and wanders through heavy forests offering peeks at granite peaks and twisting spires, small streams, and crosses two saddles with scenic views. The trail leads to a junction with Grizzly Bear Trail, which offers a chance to visit the Black Elk Wilderness. Parts of this trail are almost non-existent, and you may face a few other obstacles, but the view from the top is absolutely worth it. There is camping, picnic areas, and toilets at Horse Thief Lake. Best hiked from April through October.


Bonus: Rail-Trails Highlights: South Dakota has 4 Rail-Trails totaling about 143 miles, with 1 project with a potential of 100 miles of trail. The favorite -- as well as one of our Top 10 Rail-Trails in the U.S. -- is the George S. Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile crushed stone surfaced trail that follows the former Burlington Northern Railroad route that was used for reaching gold mines, running through the heart of the Black Hills in southwestern part of the state, from Deadwood to Edgemont, incorporating nearly 100 converted railroad bridges and 4 tunnels. Named for the former South Dakota governor who was a champion of trails before his death, this trail has 15 trailheads (with parking, toilets, and tables). Trail users will witness great ponderosa pine forests, rugged mountain terrain, prairie lands, grazing cattle, and rocky canyons.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.

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