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Gorgeous scenery, abundant wildlife and friendly people: What's not to like about the Black Hills?

While spending four days getting re-acquainted with the Black Hills, I was delighted to find that most of it – all the best parts – were still the way I remembered them: gorgeous scenery, heart-stopping wildlife sightings, laid-back, friendly people, and just about every outdoor activity you could think of. Among them:

Custer State Park: From its rolling prairie grasslands to dramatic granite “needles” piercing through Ponderosa pine forests, the 71,000-acre park is worth a trip. More than half of the 66-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway winds through the park, including the popular Wildlife Loop Road in the southern part, where traffic jams are common when the bison are grazing nearby. Take an hour to picnic at, or hike around, pretty little Sylvan Lake. If you want to get out on the trails, you can make the 7-mile round-trip hike from Sylvan Lake to the top of Harney Peak. At 7,255 feet, it’s the highest peak in the state. Info: www.blackhillsbadlands.com/parks-monuments/custer-state-park

George S. Mickelson Trail: I spent part of a day cycling the old railroad bed-turned-bike trail. The 109-mile trail never exceeds a 3% grade, so no Lance Armstrong hill-climbing chops necessary. I rented my two wheels at Rabbit Bicycles (175 Walnut Ave., Hill City, [605] 574-4302, from $25) adjacent to the trail. The 22-mile segment from Hill City to Rochford is pretty, most of it following the fast-running Rapid Creek and through a couple of old tunnels blasted from rock.

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Deadwood: Fans of the Emmy-winning HBO series “Deadwood” might be tempted to check out the town, if for no other reason than to visit the grave sites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary) at Mount Moriah Cemetery (10 Mount Moriah Drive; $2 admission). www.cityofdeadwood.com/index.asp). In the summer, Wild West shootouts are re-enacted on Main Street hourly; at Saloon No. 10 (657 Main St., Deadwood, [605] 578-3342), actors relive the last few minutes of Hickok’s life at the poker table before he was fatally shot by  Jack McCall. Gambling was legalized in town in 1989, so you won’t have to look hard to find a slot machine or card table. Info: www.deadwood.com

Spearfish Canyon: A great drive is a 19-mile journey through the narrow canyon north of Deadwood that follows Spearfish Creek, another popular fishing destination featuring waterfalls and lovely picnic spots. Info: www.scenicbyways.info/byway/10761.html

Badlands National Park: When Frank Lloyd Wright visited the park in 1935, he wrote, “I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands.…an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” The spires, pinnacles and gorges about an hour east of Rapid City were sculpted by wind and water and are home to bison, antelope and a prairie dog “town”; on my visit, cars were pulled to the side of the road to watch a group of more than a dozen bighorn sheep. Info: www.nps.gov/badl

TO LEARN MORE

Black Hills & Badlands, www.blackhillsbadlands.com

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