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Exploring Black Hills Breweries, One Hike at a Time

By now it's no secret that the Black Hills are a treasure of hiking opportunities for all tastes and experience levels, from leisurely afternoon jaunts to demanding multi-day hikes. Sure, the beauty, fascinating geology, and abundant wildlife give us plenty to brag about, but now we get to add an increasingly exciting craft brew scene to that list. And what better way is there to celebrate after a day of hiking than a cold, satisfying, and well-earned beer, often poured by the guy or gal who brewed it?

So, this autumn I took on the arduous task of visiting these breweries, from well-established to up-and-coming, after hiking the closest/most relevant (in my opinion) trail to each. What I found was a vibrant and motley crew of talented, inspired brewers and beer nerds humble but driven in their quest to pull magic from malts and, in the process, make the rest of the beer-drinking world take notice.

Hike: Crow Peak
Difficulty rating: Difficult.
Trailhead is 7 miles southwest of Spearfish on Higgins Gulch Rd.

Paha Karitukateyapi, or "hill where the Crows were killed" in Lakota, is, like the rest of this state, rich in history. The path leading up to this Spearfish overlook is not a terribly long hike (3.25 miles one way), but with a fairly steep gain of nearly 1,600 feet, it's definitely a climb (you'll get up to 5,760 feet and be ready for that drink). More than worth it, though, I promise; it's a must-do of the Northern Hills, and one of the better views this part of the state.

Then drink at: Crow Peak Brewery
125 W Hwy 14, Spearfish. crowpeakbrewing.com

Since opening over a decade ago, Jeff Drumm and staff have been commanding nation-wide attention and are by now synonymous with South Dakota craft beer. It's not enough to boast the state's three most widely-distributed microbrews (their IPA, porter and cream ale) but they also turn out a number of inventive and satisfying seasonals. Stop in for anything from chili ales to spruce tip-seasoned browns to rum- and whiskey-barrel-aged creations, and kick back in front of their growler-shaped fireplace.

Hike: The Homestake Trail
Difficulty rating: Easy.
Lead trailhead is above city dog park, 300 Washington St; Deadwood trailhead is at Powerhouse Park, 50 Water St.

As the Black Hills' newest and the Northern Hills Recreation Association's first recreation trail, this lovely three-miler follows old railroad grades connecting the towns of Lead and Deadwood. Open to hikers and mountain bikers, it's a nod to our mining and prospecting past; on the Lead side, you actually climb above the Homestake Open Cut. Rolling through the hills above the two towns, this is a pleasant, peaceful trail with smooth, easy tread and plenty of great views. Start from Deadwood if you'd like a little more climb or from Lead if you want a little less. Really though, if you have the time, do both.

Then drink at: Dakota Shivers Brewing
717 W Main Street, Lead. dakotashiversbrewing.com

Don't let the smallness of this Lead microbrewery deceive you; in fact, it's part its charm. Linda and Steve Shivers opened their mile-high operation in 2015 and offer up a fine variety—the 5280 Pale Ale and Dark Matter RyePA standing out in particular. Cozy up to the bar in their warm, inviting taproom, stay for a couple drinks, and don't be surprised if you befriend all the regulars before you leave.

Hike: Bear Butte
Difficulty rating: Moderate to Difficult.
Trailhead and Education Center are 8 miles northeast of Sturgis off Hwy 79.

Towering above the rolling prairies outside Sturgis stands the proud and unmistakable Bear Butte. It is not only a Registered Natural Landmark, but also serves as the northern terminus of the Centennial Trail. What look like smooth, flowing contours from far away transform into craggy, lichen-dusted outcroppings lining this short but sweet (3.5 miles round-trip), moderately steep—yet hugely enjoyable—climb. The fluttering mosaic of prayer flags tied into trees along the path are a reminder that this is a sacred and somber place where many indigenous people have long come to pray and leave offerings, and visitors should act accordingly.

Then drink at: Knuckle Brewing
918 2nd Street, Sturgis. www.theknuckle.com

In 2014, this Sturgis brewery appeared on the scene to finally give Rallygoers and locals alike a hometown craft beer option. No-nonsense, blue-collar-styled, and stationed right downtown, the Knuckle is impossible to miss. Drop by and grab a pint of their flagship Knucklehead Red or Pipe Welder Porter. Full food menu available as well.

Hike: Hansen-Larson Memorial Park Trail
Difficulty rating: Easy to Difficult.
1510 Omaha St, Rapid City.

Whether you're aware this terrific hiking/mountain bike trail system inside Rapid City limits exists or not, anyone who's driven through town has surely seen the large and prominent ‘M' painted on the westside hills above it. Interwoven up and through the juts of rock formations and ponderosa pines are over 20 miles of trail, rated easy to difficult, depending on your flavor. Yeah, not only do you get a hike without having to leave town, but you'll also be rewarded with one of the best views of the city.

Then drink at: Lost Cabin Brewing Company
1401 W Omaha St, Rapid City. www.lostcabin.beer

To those not paying attention, this Rapid City brewery seemed to materialize out of nowhere and hit the ground running last year, cranking out top-notch beers like it had been here all along. Come chill at this cool, dog-friendly taproom across the street from M-Hill and sample any number of their flavorful brews; no matter your taste, seems like they've got something for everyone. Recommended: Turkey Hill Saison, Lord Grizzly Scotch Ale, Smokewagon Coffee Stout, and whichever current barrel-aged offering they've got on tap.

Hike: Skyline Wilderness Trail / Dinosaur Park
Difficulty Rating: Easy to Moderate.
2215 Skyline Drive, Rapid City.

Up near the twinkling red lights of the area's communication towers on the hills above Rapid City lies 150 acres of undeveloped urban wilderness. Mere blocks past the historic West Boulevard district finds pine and oak forest, limestone outcroppings, and of course, the famous concrete dinosaurs overlooking the town and the Black Hills beyond. Spend an afternoon hiking the upper rim of town, and like other trails in the area, keep your head up for mountain bikers.

Then drink at: Hay Camp Brewing Company
601 Kansas City St, Rapid City. haycampbrewing.com

Once you've viewed the prehistoric giants of Dinosaur Park, amble on over to nearby Hay Camp Brewing and get yourself a glass of their Dino-Sour Pale Ale so you can see what all the fuss is about. Sour beers are certainly having their moment right now, and these gents have one you ought to try. Karl Koth and Sam Papendick recently moved their improbably tiny nano brewery into a gorgeous, custom woodwork-adorned taproom downtown, complete with buffalo hide booths, events space, and a music venue. If sour's not your thing, don't worry: with session ales, traditional and experimental IPAs, and their flagship Victory Stout, you'll find plenty to enjoy.

Hike: The Flume Trail / Boulder Hill
Difficulty rating: Easy to Difficult.
Flume/Calumet trailhead is off Hwy 385 at Sheridan Lake Campground; Spring Creek Loop/Boulder Hill trailhead can be reached from Sheridan Lake Rd, and is 2.8 miles south on Forest Road 358/Boulder Hill Rd.

One of the Hills' very own National Recreation Trails, the Flume is a handsome 11-miler that starts south of Sheridan Lake and ends just west of Rockerville, and can be hiked all the way through or broken up into a number of smaller, more easily digestible outings. Whether you do the entire thing, the easy 3.5-mile-long Spring Creek Loop, or the more difficult two-mile up-and-back climb of Boulder Hill (5,335 ft), you'll be treated to a wonderful array of spruce and pine interspersed with aspen and oak, and still be able to spot remnants of mining operations from the late 1800s.

Then drink at: Miner Brewing Company
23845 Hwy 385, Hill City. minerbrewing.com

Located three miles outside of Hill City, Prairie Berry Winery's craft brew offshoot recently celebrated its fourth anniversary and has by now established itself as a mainstay of its own in the Black Hills. Brewer Sandy Vojta maintains a handful of trusted standbys on draft and keeps the locals on their toes with a constantly interesting, constantly changing lineup of seasonals such as Campfire Cocoa Stout, Pomegranate Gose, and Rhubarb Cider. Lucky you, the winery's kitchen is right up the hill and will in no time at all send down a hefty grilled sandwich or housemade focaccia pizza, hot out of the oven and into your face. Luckier still if you happen in on a night they've got live music booked.

Hike: The Mickelson Trail, Hill City section
Difficulty rating: Easy.
500 S Newton Ave, Hill City.

The small town of Hill City prides itself as the county's oldest existing community and is known to locals as the Heart of the Hills. It's hard to argue with a place tucked into such stately surroundings, boasting proximity to some of the area's most famous attractions. So, naturally, it's a great spot to jump onto and hike however much you'd like of the Mickelson Trail, a 114-mile-long path following old rail bed through the Black Hills. Start from the Burlington trailhead at Tracy Park and head north, making your way briefly through town and past Major Lake before folding into the forest towards the pretty Newton Picnic Area.

Then drink at: Sick n' Twisted Brewing
23851 Hwy 385, Hill City. sickntwistedbrewery.com

This brewery—located minutes outside of Hill City—is certainly geared towards the Rally-going crowd, based on the décor and innuendo of product names. With eighteen beers on tap, they offer a large variety with a majority being seasonal releases. Look for the Aces and Eights, a well-balanced amber, and the Smashed, a single-malt, single-hopped pale ale with strong evergreen notes, refreshing as a hike through the Hills.

Hike: Wind Cave National Park Trails
Difficulty rating: Easy to Difficult.
Wind Cave Visitor Center is at 26611 Hwy 385, Hot Springs. Norbeck Trailhead is north of Visitor Center off Hwy 89.

Just outside the Southern Hills lives one of the state's many gems and rightly popular destinations, Wind Cave National Park. While a tour through the magnificent depths is definitely recommended, it's worth devoting time to hiking at least some of the 30 miles of trail around the park, too. Explore the prairie grasslands and creeping edges of forest in a sort of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' by piecing together different trails to form customized loops or out-and-backs. My favorite? Start on the Lookout Point Trail (#4) at the Norbeck Trailhead to see rippling waves of grasses, thickets of ponderosa pine and grazing bison. Follow the Centennial Trail (#6) back west along Beaver Creek and past copper-colored limestone bluffs for a moderate 4.5-mile loop; try the Sanctuary (#5) and Highland Creek (#7) Trails for a longer, more challenging but immensely satisfying hike.

Then drink at: Hwy 79 Brewing
27631 Hwy 79, Hot Springs. highway79brewery.com

After your Wind Cave fun, head a little further south through Hot Springs to Hwy 79 Brewing. Here you'll find a rustic, relaxed taproom with 32 draft choices, four of which (with a couple more occasional seasonals) are brewed on the premises. This down-home joint opened in 2015 and the atmosphere is somewhere at the intersection of where big beards and beanies meet Carhartts and spurs. Get the kölsch or Hop Springs IPA if you're ordering off the restaurant menu; the brown porter or coffee stout if you're just sipping.

 

About the Author

Christopher is a native-born South Dakotan who has lived and traveled in many different places, but calls the Black Hills home. He has worked as, among other things, a fine-dining chef and filmmaker, and finds joy in books, backpacking and craft beer.

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