The Lover’s Leap Trail is one the Trekkers always enjoy at Custer State Park! This route is a great option almost any time of the year. It is of moderate length and is family-friendly.
Lover’s Leap Trailhead
The trailhead is located on the south branch of Highway 16A. To reach it you park in the lot for the old schoolhouse which is almost directly across the road from the Peter Norbeck Education Center. It also sits between the Custer State Park Resort and the Coolidge General Store on the south side of the road.
Hiking the Lovers Leap Trail in Custer State Park
This is a great loop trail. You will start with a bit of a strenuous hike up the side of the hill. From there you can choose which fork of the loop to take (we’ve enjoyed the trail both directions). If you choose the left fork, you will continue up a fairly strenuous climb to the overlook, this is also the “Lovers Leap”. If you choose the right fork, you will traverse a more gradual (though lengthier) trek that eventually climbs to the overlook near its end.
We have completed this trail on several occasions, though our favorite route is by taking the right branch at the fork. This trek takes you along the edge of the hill for a distance, on an almost shelf-like trail that gives you a nice view of the area through the trees. Eventually, you will wind your way down through a valley with a creek that meanders through it.
*Be aware, this lower portion of the trail can get rather soggy and muddy during very wet times. You will see various trails that branch off from here, some are game trails, others are used by people just walking from the road and parking lot into the creek to fish. Watch carefully for signs so you stay on the correct trail.*
There are some awesome views available from the lookout point. You will understand how the point got its name when you reach it. Be careful peering over the rocks, it’s a LONG way down from there! 😮 This one got my acrophobia going a bit. There are beautiful views of the pine-covered Black Hills offered from here, however, as well as the South Dakota plains that spread to the east. On clear days, you can even spot some of the rock spires and walls from the Badlands, rising from the flatter grasslands, almost 100 miles away!
Things you will see on the Lover’s Leap Trail
Depending on the time of year, you’re likely to see and hear many different birds throughout your trek. Chipmunks and squirrels may also scold you from the branches of nearby trees for invading their territory. Watch for two varieties of deer, both mule, and white-tail, who call the park home, as well.
You can enjoy this trail almost any time of year, though snowshoes and/or traction devices may be warranted when snow and ice are present. This path is also a great option during the fall when the vibrant yellow of the aspen leaves contrast well against the dark, forever-green of the ponderosa pines.
I would rate this trail as moderate. It’s not overly long and much of it is shaded in the summer so it’s a cooler, hiking option. The path is also fairly wide and well-graded in most places with no real need to scramble over rocks unless you what a better vantage point at the lookout. While this route has a few lengthy climbs, much of it rolls over the lower-elevation Black Hills that are found in this area. Visitors should be aware the park still sits at around 4000 feet or more, so if you are not used to the thinner air at these altitudes, you may notice some lightheadedness or shortness of breath when you exert yourself.
The next time you’re visiting Custer State Park and you’re looking for a shorter, less strenuous hike, check out the Lovers Leap Trail!
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