So, you enjoy wintry weather but don’t like to climb on ice, are not a fan of sitting in a tire and schussing down a hill, and are somewhat unsure of yourself on skis. That’s okay. Snowshoeing is an ideal way to move around in the wintertime. You can take a relaxing or swift walk through the forest and encounter views you may not be able to get any other way. When you’re in the northern latitudes, you may quickly discover that South Dakota is one of the most attractive places in the U.S.to snowshoe.
South Dakota Snowshoeing Characteristics
South Dakota is a great place to snowshoe for several reasons. Keep these aspects in mind as you add South Dakota to your list of snowshoeing destinations.
Large Amounts of Snow
On average, there are about 150 inches of snowfall in the Black Hills of South Dakota annually. Since snowshoeing is recommended with approximately four or more inches of snow, the amount of snow annually provides plenty of snowshoeing opportunities. Also, during snow-filled winter days, a great way to be outside and get much-needed exercise is through snowshoeing.
Temperatures in South Dakota can fluctuate mightily. Be prepared for a variety of winter conditions. One way to prepare for the cold is to dress in layers. Appropriate base layers, mid-layers, and outer-layers will help to accommodation to changing temperatures and conditions.
In addition to layering, bring more food and water than you’ll think you’ll need. Even in winter, it’s essential to drink plenty of water. Snowshoeing makes you sweat, sometimes profusely, and you’ll want to rehydrate.
With temperature changes, you’ll want to make sure to rest when needed. New snowshoers will quickly learn that developing a new trail where snow has recently fallen is hard work. If you are breaking a new trail in freshly fallen snow, take turns with your buddies on who leads. Also, if you are new to the activity, start on flat land. Once you have mastered that, try some small hills and gradually progress to more challenging terrain.
The webbed snowshoe or more traditional snowshoe design has ties to North American indigenous peoples, particularly the Huron and Cree. Plains Indians, including those in South Dakota, wore snowshoes on winter bison hunts before horses were introduced. Snowshoes were one of the relatively few cultural items common to all tribes wherever winters were snowy.
The manufacture of snowshoes for recreational purposes began in the late 19th century when recreational snowshoeing began. Then, the number of snowshoers tripled during the 1970s. In South Dakota, ski resorts with available land offer multiple snowshoe trails to visitors. Some popular hiking areas today are about as busy in the colder months as they are on warm summer weekends.
Where To Snowshoe near Spearfish, SD
A person can snowshoe almost anywhere, as long as the area has at least four inches of snow. Within a 10-mile radius of Spearfish, South Dakota, residents and visitors enjoy easy access to three main recreational areas.
According to Bonnie Jones, a U.S. Forest Service recreation specialist, “Spearfish Canyon, Big Hill, and Crow Peak are the main areas that both visitors and residents who are serious about snowshoeing head for [opportunities].”
Located outside of Spearfish, SD, Spearfish Canyon is an ancient gorge older than the Grand Canyon. It’s much narrower than the Grand Canyon but boasts walls reaching 1,000 feet over the gorge.
Multiple snowshoe hikes are available in the area surrounding the canyon. For beginners, the Roughlock Falls Trail or Iron Creek Trail offers gorgeous views with minimal miles. Roughlock Falls is a one-mile trail located behind the Spearfish Canyon Lodge. Similarly, Iron Creek is a relatively flat 4-mile trail, ending at Iron Creek Lake.
Big Hill is a trailhead located eight miles southwest of Spearfish, SD, on Tinton Road. The trailhead provides an entrance for anyone wanting to snowshoe up Higgins Gulch. The Big Hill Trails offer loops of varying lengths for both snowshoers and cross-country skiers. The trailhead is on a gravel road, and 4WD conditions are advised.
For a more challenging trek, Crow Peak is a steep 3.2-mile trek. With an elevation gain of 1,500 feet and changing winter conditions, experienced snow hikers should attempt this trek.
George S. Mickelson Trail
In addition to the areas above, an ideal area to explore on snowshoes is one of the state’s longest trails, the George S. Mickelson trail in Lead, South Dakota.
The Mickelson Trail was originally was the Burlington Northern rail line, which took trains from Edgemont, S.D. through the northern Black Hills. The rail line was abandoned in 1983. A group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail’s potential. With the support of then-Governor Mickelson, it became the state’s first rails to trails project, completed in 1998.
The gentle slopes and easy access of the Mickelson trail allow people of all ages and abilities to take in the Black Hills scenery.
Custer State Park
Located about 1.5 hrs from Spearfish, Custer State Park is the first state park in South Dakota and is also the largest park in the state. The natural surroundings of this state park are inviting to hikers and snowshoers. More than a dozen trails are available in the park, and almost all remain open in the winter.
If you do not own a pair of snowshoes, you can borrow them from South Dakota State Parks. The parks have a variety of snowshoe options and are free to check out for a day or a weekend.
Tips To Keep In Mind When Snowshoeing in South Dakota
Different Types of Winter Sport Trails
Some trails are specifically for snowshoeing, while others are groomed for cross country skiing. Trails may also be adorned with markers to indicate directions or the level of difficulty of a particular trail.
Snowshoers trekking down the same path as cross-country skiers can damage carefully groomed cross-country ski trails very quickly. If s stated differently, skinny cross-country skis don’t precisely agree with the big, round tracks made by snowshoes.
So, if you chose to explore ski areas on snowshoes—be sure to pay attention to any separate routes or tracks that might be available to you. If the trail allows both sports, walk next to the cross-country ski tracks so all can enjoy the trail.
Choose Your Snowshoes Wisely
South Dakota’s sizeable annual snowfall can lead to deep, powdery conditions. In these conditions, flotation is critical, so you’ll make to make sure you have the correct snowshoe size. If your snowshoe is too small to support your weight, you’ll end up sinking in deep snow.
By wearing the proper size snowshoe, you’ll still sink into fresh powder, but not nearly as deep as you would in boots alone. Snowshoes come in a variety of lengths; the heavier you are, the larger the snowshoe should be. Traditional snowshoes tend to have a naturally larger surface area and are an excellent choice for carrying heavy loads.
Bring Snowshoe Poles
And now a word about snowshoe poles, which are virtual necessities if you get into snowshoeing. Poles are helpful for balance, especially when ascending/descending hills.
Adjustable poles are best. They can be shortened for uphill travel or lengthened for descending when crossing slopes. Pole length should be adjusted, so your arm is bent at a right angle.
To correctly wear the pole straps, put your hand up through the strap from below. Wearing the straps this way allows you to rely on the strap alone at times to give your hands a rest.
Read More: Are Two Poles Better Than One?
The Northern Black Hills near Spearfish, South Dakota, offers excellent snowshoeing opportunities. The next time you’re in this area, give the sport a try! There are a variety of trail options, and snowshoeing is a helpful activity to realize peace with yourself and with others in this world. It’s also a fun activity to motivate you to combat those winter blues while burning more calories than walking or running. What better way to engage in wilderness-friendly winter recreation and explore the beautiful Black Hills.
We’d love to hear of your experience snowshoeing in this area too! Have you tried any of these hikes? What areas have you snowshoed near the Black Hills?