South Dakota's landscape is ideal for ATV trails.

Exploring the Best ATV Trails In South Dakota

Looking for an incredible experience in South Dakota? This state doesn’t get talked about enough for its beautiful views and incredible trails. There is a ton to do and explore here, and really, South Dakota should be near the top of your list for an incredible ATV trip


Whether you live here or are just visiting on vacation, there is a ton to do and you don’t ever have to be bored when you have an ATV in South Dakota. 


If you’re looking for some of the top ATV trails in South Dakota, want a great time on the trail, and are ready for a little bit of adventure, you’re in the right place.


The Top ATV Trails In South Dakota


As always, it's important to make sure your ATV is ready to go and in good working order before you hit the trails in South Dakota. 


It's also important to check for any weather closures or warnings before you leave and to be aware of difficulty ratings on every trail. 


Remember, even when the weather isn’t bad enough to force a trail closure, any weather can increase the difficulty of a trail. Watch the forecast and plan your day accordingly, you never want to get caught out in conditions that you aren’t skilled enough to handle, or that your ATV isn’t designed to get through. 


Lastly, remember that trail difficulty is always an estimate, not an exact science. If you aren’t sure whether you or your ATV can handle a particular portion of the trail, either don’t take it, or be prepared to turn around if you need to. 


Now, with those warnings out of the way, let’s talk about some of the best places to ride your ATV in South Dakota.


South Dakota offers an array of ATV trails.


Cedar Butte Trail – Badlands National Park


Cedar Butte Trail isn’t a long trail, but it’s one of the most popular ones in South Dakota. Moderately challenging, this route is best for intermediate and advanced ATV drivers who have some experience and know how to handle a lot of different situations. 


This is a shared-use trail, so you do need to be prepared to see other people around, but it’s not terribly likely that you actually will. Despite its popularity, you can get a fair amount of privacy on this route. 


Total length is 1.3 miles, including a loop, with a low level elevation change of 111 ft. 


Sheep Mountain Table Road – Badlands National Park


Badland National Park is well known as being one of the most beautiful places to visit, despite being called the badlands. 


This route is almost 15 miles of incredible vistas, challenges, and just generally a good time. It's an out-and-back route, and also a multi-use area so you might be sharing space with hikers and other off-road drivers. 


However, because of the length of the trail and its location, you'll be able to get plenty of solitude on this route. 


It’s also one of the best places to go if you want to see wildlife in this area. Plus, if you come at the right times, there are some fantastic fields of wildflowers to enjoy along the trail.


Unfortunately, the remote area and the all natural trail design means that there basically isn’t any shade along the trail. 


You will need to pay the entrance fee to get into Badlands National Park in order to access this trail. 


Mount Rushmore KOA Palmer Gulch


Mount Rushmore might be the biggest single attraction in this area, but there is so much to do and explore in this area that you’ll want as much time here as you can get. 


This trail is a 14.3 mile loop, and like a lot of the other trails we’ve already mentioned, it’s moderately challenging thanks to the rocky and heavily wooded terrain in this area. 


There are some easier trails in the area, but it’s going to be more limited. Intermediate level riders with a bit of experience under their belt are probably ready to enjoy more of this area. 


However, while it's relatively unlikely that you'll encounter someone else in this area, you should be aware that horseback riding is a common pastime out here, and there is a chance that you will encounter a horse and rider on the trails. 


It’s a good idea to brush up on ATV etiquette around horses before you hit this trail, just in case. 


Bluebird Trailhead


Back in the Black Hills, the Bluebird Trailhead will take you through a fantastic scenic route through a limestone canyon. There are some incredible views throughout the trail, and go just a little south or east to catch even more views, including McClure Dam. 


Oh, did we mention that this trail will take you past a few ghost towns? Looking for a thematic route for your October family trip? Bluebird has you covered. 


South Boxelder Trailhead


This trail is one of the undisputed best trails available in South Dakota, and honestly, that’s saying something because this state has some truly incredible views and incredible trails. 


That said, this is a high-difficulty and high-complexity trial system. Only advanced riders should take on parts of this trail. 


There are some more family-friendly and novice approachable areas of the trail that you can bring everyone. Of course, it’s especially important to make sure you’re checking the signs and know which areas to avoid if you’re on a beginner run. 


Black Hills National Forest


There are a ton of different trails and trail systems through the Black Hills National Forest, but it’s worth mentioning the forest as a whole. 


This is one of the national forests that outdoors lovers really should not skip. ATV riders really need to visit this area especially when you’re looking for a new adventure or to go exploring the wilderness for quite a while. 


There are plenty of campgrounds around, as well as a wide range of different terrains and places to go. 


It’s honestly a good idea to go to different areas of the Black Hills National Forest because you can see something a little different around almost every corner. 


Spearfish Quarry


This is one of the areas in the Black Hills, but it’s worth its own call out. Spearfish Quarry is a 5-acre gravel pit, along with several drivable trails from old forest service roads. 


This is a fantastically fun area to ride and play in, so it’s a good idea to plan some extra time here. 


Dalton Lake


If you’re looking for somewhere to have fun and do different kinds of outdoor things, Dalton lake is a good place to go. There are a ton of different trails around Dalton Lake. It's a shared-use area, and there are generally more crowds around this area than in other places in South Dakota. 


There are incredible views and it’s one of the best places to see. 


If you enjoy other outdoor hobbies, you can also go camping, hiking, and picnicking all throughout this area. 


Merritt System 


We’ve talked about a lot of different challenging trail systems in this area, but this one of the most challenging trails in South Dakota. There are 41 miles of trails out here, from the Northern Hills to the Central Hills. This network comes from the Gold Rush era, and there are a ton of historical sites that you can see along the trails. 


The top viewing area will let you see Mount Rushmore as well as the Crazy Horse Memorial site. 


Talsma’s Trail Park 


If you are looking for a trail park that is a little more self-contained and gives you everything you need all in one area, with trails for all difficulty levels and experience levels, this is the place for you. 


It’s a family-run business, and there is still a cattle business on this land to this day. There have been three generations of the family running this business, so you’re contributing to a true long-term legacy. 


There are also a couple of play areas to practice your skills, mess around, and learn while you’re here. 


The cost is $30 per machine, with specialized days and events throughout the year. If you’re going to be in the area, it’s a good idea to check the calendar and see if there is something cool happening soon. 


Railroad Buttes


Railroad Buttes is a fun area to explore and drive, and you can pretty much explore freely while you’re here. It’s a public land area, with several miles of trails, a couple of play areas, and a full motocross track to explore. 


Red Lake Trails


Last but certainly not least, there are 20 miles of ATV trails surrounding Red Lake, this is another part of the Black Hills National Forest system, and one of the areas you don’t want to miss. 


This is one of the trail networks that’s relatively easy to ride, and highly accessible. So if you’re looking for a good Black Hills destination for beginners, this is a fantastic place to go. 


ATV Riding In South Dakota: Frequently Asked Questions


What Safety Precautions Should I Take When Off-Roading In South Dakota? 


It's important to take a few basic precautions. First, always wear your protective gear and make sure your ATV is in good working condition before you leave. You should never hit the trails by yourself, and your group should always let at least one other person know when you're going, when you should be back, and when you will be able to check in. 


That way you’re prepared even if the worst should happen, and there will be people who know when to report a problem if they haven’t heard from you. 


Are There Any Unique Rules Or Regulation for ATV Riding In South Dakota? 


The biggest thing you need to know about riding ATVs in South Dakota is that ATV use is prohibited on all interstate highways at all times with no exception. 


It's also important to note that you will need a vehicle to move your ATV from staging area to staging area because even inside ATV parks and park-adjacent campgrounds, you won't always have direct ATV access to the trails or staging areas. 


Are There Any Guided ATV Tours Available In South Dakota? 


Yes! Black Hills Outdoor Fun is probably the most highly recommended tour company in South Dakota, and they have tour options for all skill levels and across a huge variety of terrains and ecosystems in the Black Hills. 


There are other options as well if you’re looking for something a little different. 


Need To Gear Up Before Hitting South Dakota ATV Trails? 


Ready to gear up for your ATV adventure in South Dakota? Check out our top-rated ATV equipment for a safe and thrilling ride!

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