Moreover, the Black Hills has something for virtually every type of ATV user. Many US Forest Service roads are open to ATV travel although the hills have now been closed to off-road use except on designated trails. Also:
- The large Black Elk Wilderness is closed to all but hikers -- not even a baby stroller is permitted. Closed areas and roads are usually signed or gated.
- Some wildlife or other forest management areas are closed seasonally, usually from December 15th to May 15th. A few are closed all year. Off road ATV and UTV travel is restricted to marked trails only.
- National parks are closed to off-road use: You may, however, ride on the highway through Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands if your ATV is licensed.
- As with all public lands, motorized vehicles must be equipped with spark arrestors.
- Finally there is a great deal of private land interspersed throughout the Black Hills National Forest. Private land is often posted with "NO TRESPASSING" signs. Private land owners generally guard their rights.
- A USFS "Motorized Vehicle Trail Permit" must be displayed on all off-road vehicles using the Black Hills National Forest trails and Forest Developement Roads. A seven-day permit costs $20 and an annual permit cost $25.
- ATVs and UTVs may be used on most roads and highways as long
as the vehicle is registered and licensed. This mostly applies
to South Dakota residents. If you live in a state where ATVs
or UTVs cannot be licensed for road use, your ATV may not be
used on roads in South Dakota unless you obtain special road
travel permit available at any county courthouse. (ATVs and
UTVs may not be used on Interstate Highways.) Certain optional
equipment and a minimum size of 200cc is required for ATVs and
UTVs to be licensed in South Dakota or to obtain a temporary
- An unlicensed ATV or UTV may be operated in highway ditches
provided no damage is caused to the ditch.
- A driver's license is not required to operate an ATV unless the ATV is operated on a public roadway, then a standard driver's license is required. The rider need not have a motorcycle endorsement to ride four-wheeled ATVs.
- Visitors at most South Dakota State Parks must have licenses on both South Dakota and out-of-state vehicles. A valid park entrance license is also required. If an ATV is not licensed or have a temporary road permit and/or does not have a valid park entrance license, then the vehicle must remain in the truck or on the trailer.
- ATVs and UTVs operated in state parks must be equipped with a horn, mirror, headlight, brake light, brakes and a license plate and operators must be 14 years of age or older and possess a valid driver's license.
- Park visitors can only operate vehicles on designated park roads in South Dakota state parks and recreation areas or in the state ORV area. Park visitors are not allowed to operate vehicles on trails, shorelines or beaches.
- Drivers must obey all traffic regulations.
- 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.
- ATV riders may legally ride "two-up" on a single seat vehicle, however the practice is discouraged by ATV manufacturers unless the ATV is specifically designed for two-up riders.
- Some ATV trails are limited to vehicles less than 52-inches
wide. This means that UTVs wider than 52 inches cannot be
used on some ATV trails. This width includes mirrors or any
other accessories extending beyond the vehicle.
- AVTs may not be used "off-trail" and trail blazing in the Black Hills National Forest is prohibited.
- South Dakota allows a once-a-year temporary road use permit
for ATVs or UTVs that may not be licensed in their home states
but otherwise meet South Dakota standards for licensing.
Permits are valid for a period of not less than five days nor
more than 15 days and may be obtained at any South Dakota
county courthouse. Proof of ownership (a title or bill of
sale) and payment of a fee equal to $1 per each day are
required to obtain the permit. The permit allows travel on all
state and county roads except interstate highways.
The most recently printed Forest Service map of open forest service roads is effective December 1, 2010, and is to remain in effect until superseded. An on-line version of the map is available at:
Black Hills Forest Travel Map
The on-line map is in .pdf format is is difficult to read. The printed map, available at forest service offices and at vaious retailers is also less than useful as it shows only the roads and trails that may be used. Because "closed" roads are omitted from this map and signage in the Black Hills is far from complete, it is difficult to know where you are when using this map. The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the map contains absolutely no topographical features. (Even major streams are omitted.) In our opinion, as botched efforts go, this is world class.
As of this writing there are very few officially sanctioned ATV, ORV or dirt-bike trails in the Black Hills. However, there are numerous ad hoc trails in the Black Hills which may no longer be legally used.
Part of the proposed travel management plan deals with user fees, which are either $20 for a seven-day sticker or $25 for an annual sticker. At present the State of South Dakota does not collect user fees, however the State of Wyoming does.
Tours and rentals
To our knowledge there is no currently operating ATV tour provider in the Black Hills Hills National Forest. Over the years, several have come and gone.
Guided fishing, hunting, and trail ride activities can be legally provided only by Forest Service "partners" who operate under special use permits. Commercial guides (called "outfitters") are required to pay fees, meet stringent criteria. They are also are restricted to specific routes and must provide detailed information about their operations, such as the size of each group and the date and times of each tour.
The 2012 "outfitters" list for the Black Hills National Forest contained no ATV trail guides or tour operators. This is not surprising since these rules and conditions are complex, restrictive and expensive.
For these reasons, if you want to ride in the Black Hills you will probably have to guide yourself. You can often receive help in planning a self-guided tour from various ATV rental operators who can provide you with maps, directions and advice. They may even know a trail-wise local who may want to ride just for the fun of it.
If you have your own ATV or UTV you might be able to get some advice at your hotel or campground. We help our guests at the Roosevelt Inn, and other places may do so as well.
For additional information you may contact the following:
Information about most of the Black Hills Forest:
Black Hills National Forest Service Office
25041 N. Highway 16, Custer, SD 57730
Phone: (605) 673-9200
The Forest Service map of the entire Black Hills with various roads and restricted areas marked is now out of print.
Information about South Dakota state lands:
South Dakota Game Fish and Parks
523 East Capitol Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501
Parks and Recreation information 605) 773-3391
Wildlife Division -- Wildinfo@state.sd.us
Parks and Recreation -- ParkInfo@state.sd.us
Custer State Park-- CusterStatePark@state.sd.us
Buffalo Gap National Grassland
Phone: (605) 745-4107
Custer National Forest
Phone: (605) 797-4432