For many South Dakota tourists, the fun starts after the snow flies. During the winter months, snow and ice transform the state’s rugged bluffs and sprawling prairies into a vast playground, where adventurers of all ages can enjoy countless hours of snowmobiling, cross-country and downhill skiing, sledding, snowboarding, tubing, and ice fishing.
During the winter months, the hiking trails of many of South Dakota’s state parks metamorphose into groomed cross-country ski trails.
Black Hills National Forest offers some of the best snowmobiling trails in the nation. Here, a 350-mile network of marked, mapped, and groomed snowmobile trails swoops through deep canyons, winds through pine forests, and peaks at summits with spectacular lookout views. Although snowmobiling is permitted on most of the Black Hills National Forest’s 1.2 million acres, there are some restricted areas near logging sites, wildlife winter ranges, private property, and cross-country ski trails. Officially, the snowmobile season begins on December 1st, and trail grooming begins on December 15th. Snowmobiles operated on public lands or on any part of the trail system must be licensed in South Dakota or in their home state. Owners of unlicensed snowmobiles may also purchase a five-day permit. Five-day permits, which cost $40, are available at trailside vendors and county courthouses.
Before hitting the trail, review some basic snowmobile safety guidelines. Some tips to keep in mind:
- Wear a full-size helmet, goggles, and face shields to prevent injuries from flying debris and to protect your eyes and face from twigs.
- Refrain from wearing long scarves or loose clothing that may get caught in moving parts.
- Know the terrain and the weather forecast (especially snow and ice conditions) for the area where you’ll be riding.
- Never ride alone.
- Make certain that your snowmobile has a properly operating lighting system. Do not ride in areas where the snow is high enough to cover the headlights, and be sure to clear snow from headlights and taillights regularly.
- Drowning is a common cause of snowmobile fatalities. Never ride in areas where ice thickness or water current is uncertain.