As part of the incredible trail system offered by Custer State Park, the Sunday Gulch Trail is a must-hike! The trailhead is located behind the large rocks at the back of Sylvan Lake, off the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail.
This loop trail is around three miles long and can be completed in either direction. I suggest taking the right fork at the trailhead. This way, you’ll complete the most difficult portion of the hike first, and you’ll be doing it heading downhill. You will still end your trek with an uphill climb, but it will be far less strenuous than the alternate option. Traveling this direction, the early portion of the trail is composed of steps and large boulders that must be navigated—there is a handrail—as you make your way down the ravine. Once you reach the bottom, the path is relatively easy and flat while you traverse a canyon; until the final climb back to Sylvan Lake at the top.
The trail is beautiful. As you descend into the ravine, granite cliffs tower far above you on both sides, while a bubbling brook accompanies you the entire way. Once you reach the bottom of the gully, you continue following the creek as it winds its way through the canyon. This area is very peaceful as there’s little road noise–the only main route, nearby, is Route 87, and that snakes along the edge of the ridge far above you.
In the hotter months, be prepared for a hot hike! Due to the gulch-like nature of the terrain, cool summer breezes often miss this area. Fortunately, the surrounding foliage provides significant shade opportunities (except when the sun is high, in the middle of the day). As you continue down the canyon, your trek will eventually begin to wind uphill when you commence the final, LONG ascent back to the lake. The path is well-trodden and fairly smooth/free of debris, but it’s a long hill back to Sylvan Lake. You will hear more road noise on this portion of the trail as it parallels Route 87.
Use caution when the path is wet, due to rain or snowmelt, as the creek often gushes across it when the water level is high. Even in late spring, be prepared for the possibility of ice where the route traverses the deep ravine, as it doesn’t get sufficient sunlight throughout much of the day. Traction devices, such as Yaktrax, are highly recommended unless this trail is being completed at the height of summer.
This trek can be managed by smaller children and pets, but they may require assistance with the really rocky portions of the trail. As it combines bouldering with a relaxing jaunt through the forest, this fun hike contains a wide selection of scenery and is a must-see for those wanting a bit more adventure.
Note: this trail is closed in the winter months due to ice buildup from the aforementioned creek.
Below are a few pics of our trek down the trail. Thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for these!