Category Archives: Blog

Riding ATVs/UTVs in the Black Hills

According to the National Forest Service, over 600 miles of designated motorized trails are available within the Black Hills National Forest. Many of the trails are connected by 500 miles of “Roads Open to All Vehicles,” which together, provide abundant opportunities for planning ATV/UTV outings of various degrees of difficulty and lengths, including loop route options. There are currently 20 designated motorized trailheads in the BHNF.

ATV/UTV travel is allowed on designated trails and roads in the BHNF.  You may ride on the highway throughout the area, including Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands if your ATV is licensed, however national parks are closed to off-road use.

In South Dakota, a driver’s license is not required to operate an ATV/UTV unless operated on a public roadway, then a standard driver’s license is required.  Eye protection is required of all users on public/park roads unless a windshield is in place.  Helmets are required of all users under 18 years of age.

ATVs/UTVs may be used on most roads and highways as long as the vehicle is registered and licensed. If you live in a state where ATVs/UTVs cannot be licensed for road use, you may not ride on roads in South Dakota unless you obtain a special road travel permit, available at any county courthouse.

To trail ride directly from Trails End Cabins & Motel, you should have a valid state license plate or SD Temporary Permit and a BHNF Trail Permit. 

 5-15 day Temporary Road-Use Permit

If your ATV/UTV does not have a valid state license plate, a South Dakota “5-15 day Temporary Permit” is available.  These permits are issued by SD County Treasurers under the following conditions:

  1. ATVs and UTVs must have a horn, a rear view mirror and be at least 250 cc in engine displacement.
  2. Permits are issued for a period of 5 to 15 days
  3. Applicants must be in possession of either a valid title or bill of sale
  4. Only one permit per vehicle per year may be issued.

Proof of ownership (a title or bill of sale) and payment of a small fee are required to obtain the permit. The permit allows travel on all state and county roads except interstate highways.

Contact any SD County Treasurer’s Office to complete the process.  Custer County has “Black Hills ATV Permit Info” on their website:

Custer County                   Phone:  605-673-8172

Lawrence County             Phone:  605-578-1862

Pennington County          Phone:  605-394-2163

 BHNF Trail Permits

In the South Dakota portion of the BHNF, you will need to display a valid Black Hills Motorized Trail Permit for riding an ATV/UTV on designated motorized trails.

There are two types of permits available: Annual and 7-day Motorized Trail Permits. Permits are available for purchase online at:  or at any of the Forest Service Offices. You can also purchase permits at Heart of the Hills Exxon Station and Mt. Meadow Resort at Deerfield Lake.  Permit sales support maintenance of the Forest’s motorized trail system.


What’s the Weather Like?

WINTER in the Black Hills is pretty enchanting.  Hill City, on the eastern slopes of the Black Hills, has high temperatures usually ranging from the 30s to the mid 40s.  Our snow doesn’t stick around for long (it’s white just in the shady areas), however, the higher elevations to the north and west have lots of snow!  This makes for great snowmobiling, skiing and photography.

Blessed with four beautiful seasons, our SPRING, April and May, is the best season for viewing wildlife.  The weather can be perfect for outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, with temps ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-70s.  Most of the Black Hill’s rainfall comes in April and May, and there’s a good chance you’ll still see snow at higher elevations.

Ninety percent of all visitors to the Black Hills come in the SUMMER months of June, July and August. Hill City averages 75 to 80 degrees during the day (never has a temperature of 100 been recorded!) and about 50 degrees overnight. Daytime high temperatures in the higher elevations of the hills in summer usually range from the mid-70s to the high 80s.  When you travel east, the Badlands can be very, very hot in summer, with temperatures frequently near or above 100 degrees, and Rapid City also experiences higher temperatures than the hills.

Retirees, hikers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts favor FALL — September and October — when daytime temperatures are usually cooler. Traffic is also less congested after the family vacations have ended.  Many say it is the best time to visit the Black Hills! You can enjoy the gorgeous fall colors, usually at their best in the first week of October. Highs in September and October range from the low 60s to the mid-70s in all regions.

When are you planning your vacation to the Black Hills?  Don’t forget to pack a sweatshirt or jacket!

Doug & Mary Klar