Winter activities at Eagle Cliff

Much like the location of my previous post, Eagle Cliff, a recreation area located on National Forest land just outside of Lead, SD, also provides outdoor leisure opportunities year-round.  The rec area is located around 10 miles west of Lead, SD on Hwy 85, just west of Cheyenne Crossing and the southern mouth of Spearfish Canyon.  It is comprised of a series of 21 trails with multiple trailheads and over 27 miles of possible trail combinations.  While this area is open year-round it is primarily used for winter recreation.  It is available for mountain biking, running and hiking in the summer but is not maintained at all and tends to become extremely overgrown.  When we’ve biked there in the past the grass has reached my knees or higher (while on the bike) in some locations.  Both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available in this area in the winter, though there is only one groomed ski trail.  Similar to the Big Hill trails near Spearfish, this area usually receives some of the largest amounts of snow each winter so even if the ground is bare in Spearfish, Rapid City or other lower elevations, there’s a good bet there will be snow in these higher elevations (often times, A LOT of it).  It’s not unusual to step over the top of gates in the winter that you walk through in the summer,  or to see the trail signs that are at eye level in summer at boot level in winter.

The Eagle Cliff trailheads are Dead Ox, Raddick, Bratwurst, Lily Park and Sunny Meadow.  My personal favorite for snowshoeing is Raddick, while I prefer Sunny Meadow for cross-country skiing.  You can make a multitude of loops connecting various trails in this area but for snowshoeing we’ve preferred the Raddick Gulch Trail to Roller Coaster Trail loop.  It’s less than 4 miles in length and it incorporates undulating hills and a beautiful landscape.  This area is fully forested and doesn’t offer much by way of views, but as it’s protected from the wind, it is usually warmer here and the snow blankets the trees providing an iconic winter landscape.  This is literally my favorite place in the Hills to snowshoe.  Watch for signs that the various forest inhabitants that frequent these sheltered spots leave behind in the snow, including mountain lion tracks/scat.  Once we were able to surmise where a big cat had traveled through the fringes of the trees to stalk a herd of deer in the meadow below.

Sunny Meadow is–as its name suggests–an open meadow, perfect for skiing or snowshoeing in the winter and biking in the summer (just watch out for the cows and their leavings in the warmer months).  It’s an absolutely beautiful area with open, rolling hills surrounded by National Forest land.  Because it is so open, this expanse can be rather windy and chilly in the winter, and due to lack of shade the sun beats down unmercifully here in the summer, so plan accordingly.  The only complaint I have regarding this beautiful space is that it is near snowmobile trails (though fortunately they aren’t allowed in the ski/snowshoe area) and their noise tends to shatter the serenity of this snowy landscape.

See below for some lovely pics of the Eagle Cliff area taken by the talented Mr. Trekker:

This is near Raddick Gulch looking down into the valley where we saw evidence of a mountain lion stalking a herd of deer
The Winter Wonderland at Eagle Cliff
One of the old forest roads available for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing
“Here kitty kitty kitty”!



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