South Dakota’s Black Hills are home to memorable people and places, both past and present, and its trails have captured their western spirit.
By Janine Wilder
The Black Hills of South Dakota offer a beautiful place, a magical place—a riding place. The ponderosa pines, so tightly woven through the hills, give these hills their name. The wonderful people we met gave us a renewed sense of spirit and a heightened regard for the land and its history.
A multitude of trails awaits in Black Hills National Forest, in the wilderness areas, and in nearby Custer State Park. You can ride the state’s Centennial Trail and the Rails-to-Trails George S. Mickelson Trail. The national forest offers two horse campgrounds: Iron Creek and Willow Creek. The state park offers French Creek horse camp. Our visit included an overnight stop at the Iron Creek horse camp, located in the national forest and on the northwest border of Custer State Park. The developed campground includes nine sites, as well as water for horses, picnic tables, corrals, and toilets. From the nearby trailheads you can access trails going into the Custer State Park, Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Harney Peak Trail System, and the Centennial Trail. The day we were there we took an afternoon ride to Mount Rushmore National Monument.
The next morning we loaded up the horses and drove nine miles south of the town of Custer, arriving at Plenty Star Ranch. At the ranch office Isa Kirk and her manager, Ramona, a personable young lady from Switzerland, greeted us. The charming ranch and campground was born out of a lifelong dream and has continued to grow through the hard work and foresight of Isa and her husband Jack.
Their facilities offer camping sites with electricity and water or, if you prefer, spaces for primitive camping. There are also picnic tables with umbrellas to shade you on sunny days and fire containers for your comfort on cool evenings. The outdoor stalls are partially covered with pine branches, a look that’s evocative of the local Indian style, and there are indoor stalls available, as well as several pens and paddocks. If you prefer not to bring your own accommodations, there are log cabins and tepees for your lodging. Before we rode out in the morning we feasted on the delicious breakfast buffet in the enchanting farmhouse. Once inside we admired the beautiful stained-glass windows and unique décor of this lovely home.
After breakfast it was time to take to the trails. Isa, Jack, and Ramona showed us the highlights of the area. The ranch is surrounded by the national forest, and located in front of the ranch is the George S. Mickelson Trail, which affords the opportunity to ride the converted railroad for an additional 111 miles. We saw breathtaking views from hilltops, old mines that glittered in the sunlight from mica deposits scattered from the mining process, an area where there was once an Indian sweat lodge, and countless scenic vistas. And for more riding, you can trailer your horses to nearby Custer State Park.
In addition to taking guests for rides on the ranch horses, the proprietors at Plenty Star have special rides for folks who bring their own horses: overnight rides, “Old West” cattle drives, and much more.
One evening Ramona, in between her many tasks, let me join her as she checked on some of the horses in a nearby pasture. Although all the horses on the ranch are special, there are three that are very distinctive. As we walked near the horses, my eyes were immediately drawn to the three young Sorraia Mustangs. How beautiful they were with their trademark bicolor manes and tails, dorsal stripe, and leg stripes.
The expression “where there is a will, there is a way” has never had more meaning for me than it did at Plenty Star Ranch. I would be hard pressed to find anyone who has worked harder to make his or her dreams come true. Isa, Jack, and Plenty Star Ranch are certainly a part of the spirit of the Black Hills.
The expression “where there is a will, there is a way” has never had more meaning for me than it did at Plenty Star Ranch.
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