Hiking Black Elk Peak, Trail #9: the Easy Way!

In this post, I detail the main route up Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills.

Black Elk Peak trail (Trail #9) is one of the most popular hikes in the entire Black Hills.  It summits Black Elk Peak, which is the tallest peak in the Hills (at over 7000 feet in elevation) and it is also the tallest mountain in the entire country east of the Rockies!

In this post, I am reviewing the route that traverses the south side of the mountain.  This is the easiest way up Black Elk Peak.  You can also attempt Trail #9 from the north.  For a review of that trail, which is only lightly traveled and is FAR more strenuous than the southern route (in my opinion it is one of the hardest trails in the entire Black Hills) click here.  

Where is the Black Elk Peak Trailhead?

The trailhead is located within Custer State Park.  It is adjacent to the picturesque Sylvan Lake.  You can reach it from the east side of the main parking lot at the lake, which is found just off of Route 87.

When is the best time of year to hike the Black Elk Peak Trail?

You can hike this trail any time of the year (weather-permitting that Route 87 is open so you can get to the trailhead).  Always remember that because this is the highest portion of the Black Hills, it tends to get more snow than the surrounding areas and that snow tends to stick around longer.  Also, this trail is VERY popular, even in the winter months, so the snow on it gets packed into very slippery ice.  At a bare minimum, traction devices such as Yaktrax are a MUST during the snowy months.

As with the majority of Custer State Park, you can take dogs on this trail.  Please keep them leashed though.  Unlike many other trails in the Black Hills, you should expect to have A LOT of company on your hike, at least during the busy season. 

Black Elk Peak is the new name for Harney Peak

Black Elk Peak is located within the Harney range.   The name of the mountain was changed from Harney Peak just a few years ago so many signs and maps still carry the old name.  The new name honors Black Elk, a Lakota, Holy Man who died in 1950.  The wilderness area that the peak is located within was named after him, as well.

*If you’re interested in learning more about this great man and the rich, Lakota culture, check out the book Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt.  Neihardt wrote this biography after interviewing Black Elk near the end of his life. 

The Holy Man had an incredibly rich life filled with diverse experiences from growing up in a nomadic tribe on the South Dakota Plains to traveling the world with the Wild Bill Hickok Wild West show!  Black Elk was even at the Battle of Little Bighorn where General Custer was killed.  In the book, he discusses how everything changed when “the yellow metal that makes white men crazy”–-his name for “gold”–was found in the Black Hills.

What is the Black Elk Peak trail like?

The trail is quite wide and graded, with very little rock-scrambling required (until you get to the summit).  Due to this, I would give it a rating of Moderate.  The only things that make this trail difficult are the length (it’s over seven miles long, out-and-back, and can easily take 4 – 5 hours to complete) and it sits at a high altitude.  Throughout the entire hike you never drop below 6000 feet, so expect to feel the lower oxygen levels present at this higher elevation.  You will get out of breath and tired more quickly and you may feel dizzy (or like your head is “swimming”.)

The summit can be a little daunting.  As with much of the rest of the Black Hills this area is left primarily to nature.  There are very few fences or barriers between you and the cliff edges that surround the summit of the mountain.  If you are responsible you can very safely enjoy this site.  Just be watchful with small children and pets.

All that being said, this trail is family-friendly as long as you know your limits and take your time.  I would recommend hiking boots (or at least sturdy shoes) for this hike but I’ve seen people do it in simple sneakers and even flip-flops or sandals. 😮

It’s a long way down!

The other concern here is the weather.  It can change incredibly quickly.  It can also be drastically different here than the lower elevations in the rest of the park or the surrounding countryside.  The peak is solely made of granite rock, there are no trees for shade or protection.

While the hike does meander through the Black Hills National Forest, this portion of it was decimated by the pine beetle epidemic just a few years ago so there are many areas that were left bare of trees. So don’t expect a lot of shade to hide you from the sun in the summer. 

There is also little protection from the wind.  If a thunderstorm pops up while you’re on the mountain (which can frequently be expected during the afternoon in the summer months) you should immediately trek back down the trail and get to an area with more trees and protection!

What will you see on the Black Elk Peak Trail?

The panorama that greets you at the summit is unrivaled anywhere in the Black Hills (you’re taller than everything else so there is nothing to block your view! )  We are talking a 360-degree vista of the entirety of Custer State Park, the town of Custer to the south, Rapid City to the north, and the plains that spread to the east of town!  On clear days you may also be able to spot the Badlands, which is almost 100 miles to the east (bring your binoculars!)

The view from 7000+ feet high!

Much like the rest of the park, this route is the perfect place to see the wide variety of flora (plants) and fauna (critters) that call Custer State Park home.  These include mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer (both whitetail and mule), elk, chipmunks, and the squirrels who will chatter at you along the way.  There are also coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats, though you are less likely to see these shy animals. 

Harney Fire Tower

There is an incredibly picturesque fire tower at the top of the peak and to my knowledge, it still bears Harney’s name.  It was built in the 1930s and rumor has it the infamous burrows that can be spotted in other portions of the park are descendants of the pack animals who were used when the fire tower was in service.  The tower is no longer in operation, but it is still maintained and can be climbed!  For more info on the tower, click here!

First glimpse of the Harney Fire Tower!

This trail is not “easy” but it is quite doable for almost any able-bodied hiker.  Plan to spend an entire day at Sylvan Lake and hiking the Black Elk Peak trail, it is most definitely worth that much time!  Enjoy the trail, appreciate the summit and the splendid beauty of the Black Hills that surround you.  This is a fun trek with incredible views and I would encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest in hiking to try it out!  You’ll be glad you did!

 

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Looking to bag one of the most popular peaks in the Black Hills? Read on for details on hiking Black Elk Peak!

 

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Hike the Hell Canyon Trail in the Black Hills

In this post, I review the Hell Canyon trail located near Custer, South Dakota

The Hell Canyon Trail is found in a very scenic portion of the southern Black Hills.  It was once quite forested until it was decimated by the Jasper Fire in 2000 which was one of the worst fires on record, ever, in the Black Hills.  You can still see remnants of this damage (though they have begun reseeding this area, so hopefully it will be returned to the forest in a few years).

Funnily enough, the canyon was named BEFORE it was ravaged by the fire.  The ruins of that event do make it look a bit like a hellscape though! 😮

Puppers and I enjoying the trail along one of the canyon walls that was left bare as a result of the Jasper Fire.

Where is the Hell Canyon Trailhead?

The Hells Canyon trailhead is located in far southwestern South Dakota pretty much in the middle of nowhere. 😉   It is situated 25 miles east of Newcastle, Wyoming, or a little more than 10 miles east of the Wyoming state line.  It is also less than 15 miles west of Custer, South Dakota, basically a mile west of Jewell Cave, on US 16, on the north side of the road.

A word of caution:  if you just put “Hell Canyon” into your GPS it may try to take you to a remote spot south of the highway.  This area is beautiful, but these roads can turn into 4WD roads VERY quickly and easily, especially in snowy or muddy conditions.  You can certainly enjoy driving in this area but do so with caution and at your own risk.  The actual Hell Canyon trailhead can be reached by any vehicle as it is just off of US 16.  No 4WD required!

The paved road at the bottom of the canyon is US 16, you can see how easily accessible the lane to the trailhead is (the dirt road).

What is the Hell Canyon trail like?

Hell Canyon is a loop trail that is about 5.5 miles long and really only covers a small portion of land.  The right side, or eastern branch, of the trail traverses the floor of the actual canyon while the left side, or western branch, is found on the canyon rim.  In many places, you can see the lower portion of the trail from the upper portion.

You can really take the loop in either direction.  During the warmer months, the Trekkers prefer to go counterclockwise, starting with the climb to the top of the canyon wall.  This gets the only moderately difficult portion of the trail out of the way early.  This area also has little to no shade, due to the Jasper Fire, so depending on what time you set out, it may be best to try to do this section during the coolest portion of your hike.

A cool pic of the canyon wall!

The exception to this is if you’re attempting the hike during the colder months and you WANT the sun.  Also, the portion at the back of the canyon that descends the forested part of the canyon wall can become INCREDIBLY icy during the cooler times of the year.  We made the mistake of descending this way once and had to pretty much do the entire thing by crab-crawling and sliding on our backsides to keep from careening over the cliff edge (and this was WITH YakTrax traction devices on! 😮 )

What Will You See on the Hell Canyon Trail?

You will see a variety of ecosystems on the hike.  The canyon floor itself is forested and quite green and lush, with a creek running through it.  The upper canyon rim consists of dry, arid grassland.  This is the portion that was hit by the fire.

A placard at the trailhead that gives info on the fire

On the backside of the canyon (the north end), at around the halfway point through the loop, you will see the ruins of an old CCC camp.  There is also evidence of an old, paved road in this area, as well as some root cellars and small, cement foundations leftover from the camp days.

There are a few places along the canyon rim that can feel a little sketchy to people who are afraid of heights.  As long as you are careful there isn’t a lot of danger on this portion of the trail, but it can be disorienting as you’re basically just staring down a scree slope.

This is one of my favorite parts of the hike. The red rocks of the canyon rim make a VERY pretty contrast to the dark green trees that sit just below it.

If you’re looking for a fun, moderately challenging hike that isn’t very busy, check out the Hell Canyon trail!

 

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Hell Canyon is a lightly-trafficked, moderately-difficult hike that includes many unique ecosystems found in the Black Hills!

 

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Willow Creek Trail Black Hills

In this post, I review the Willow Creek loop trail!

One shorter trail the Trekkers really enjoy in the Black Hills is the Willow Creek Trail (trail #8)!  I like this route so much because it isn’t super difficult.  Anyone can reach the trailhead with any vehicle (in good conditions).  It’s also fairly short with no lengthy or super difficult climbs, so anyone in decent condition should be able to manage it.  This trail is appropriate for all ages, children, adults, and four-legged friends! 

Related posts:  Hiking the Boulder Hill Trail; “Secret” Hiking Trails off Sheridan Lake Road; Coon Hollow Trail; Little Elk Creek Trail; Flume Loop TrailStratobowl near Rapid City

The trail also sticks to the lower altitudes in the Black Hills and doesn’t offer any major elevation changes, which makes it easier.  This route allows you to get out into the Hills, to experience their beauty, to view some of the more rugged parts of the Hills, and to really experience getting out into the wilderness, on an easily accessible and hikeable trail.  It’s almost perfect!

This trail is Puppers approved!
Where in the Black Hills is the Willow Creek Trailhead?

You will find the trailhead at the Willow Creek Horse Camp which is off of Route 244, almost directly across from the Mt. Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch.  It sits about 6 miles to the west of Mount Rushmore and around 3.5 miles east of the junction of US 385 and Route 244.  There is a short lane to reach the trailhead that is dirt, but it is well-graded and appropriate for any type of vehicle (in good conditions.  It may be impassable in deep snow.)  There is also a large parking area with plenty of room for numerous vehicles.

This trail doesn’t “go anywhere” per se. It does connect to the Black Elk Peak trail (trail #9–the hard way!) which is the northern route up the tallest mountain in the Black Hills.  It also connects to the Lost Cabin Trail which is another fun hike in this local part of the Harney Range.

How long is the Willow Creek Trail?

This trail is a 2.5-mile loop, that you can take it in either direction.   I recommend trekking it counter-clockwise.  This means you will face the two steepest, uphill climbs earlier on in the hike when you are most fresh.  Also, if conditions are iffy at all–wet, snowy, or icy–it is usually easier to handle these while climbing rather than on the downhill. (It is better to work against gravity in these situations.)  This left (or east branch) of the trail does have a lesser amount of shade.  When the weather is cool this means it’s more likely to be warmer, though in the hotter months the sun can beat down on you in this section.  

What you will see on the Willow Creek Trail

While the entire trail is fun, the prettiest portion of it is on the right (or western) arm of the loop.  This area is one of the lowest and flattest parts of the trail.  It comprises mostly a riparian habitat (or one that is near a creek).  It’s lush, vibrant, fairly cool, and shaded during the summer months.

Willow Creek!

One of the prettiest parts of this section of the trail is a small waterfall that is formed by the creek.  A short side path will lead you to it.  It is especially pretty when it is frozen in the winter, though use care when walking on and around the ice.

Below is a video Mr. Trekker took of the frozen waterfall:

 

If you’re looking for a fun trail to hike in the Black Hills that is easy to reach and appropriate for almost anyone, check out the Willow Creek Trail!

 

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Looking for a fun trail, that is accessible and is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills? Check out the Willow Creek Trail!

 

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Grizzly Bear Creek Trail in the Black Hills

In this post, I review the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail which is located in the Black Elk Wilderness near Custer State Park!

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy hiking in the Harney Range and the Black Elk Wilderness area of the Black Hills.  Well, the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail is one of my favorite routes in that locale.  Because it is located in the wilderness area, it isn’t maintained as much as the surrounding national forest.  There isn’t a lot of logging here and ranchers aren’t able to use this land to graze their herds, so you don’t have to worry about the “leavings” of cows.  There also aren’t any people living nearby.  Therefore, it’s really just left to Mother Nature.  It’s natural, beautiful, and rugged.

What will you see on the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail?

This path is interesting because it doesn’t really “go” anywhere, per se.  It’s really just a connector trail that meanders through the lower-lying areas of the Wilderness.   This trail isn’t one of the more popular ones in the Black Hills so it’s rarely busy, no matter the time of year.  It also tends to be VERY pretty, as it traverses canyons and valleys.  A bubbling creek also accompanies you along much of the route’s length, which makes a pleasant accompaniment to your hike.  It usually has water in it which can be rare in this part of the country (many local waterways dry up at certain times of the year).

The constant presence of water means this is a more verdant part of the Hills in regards to foliage and it’s a beautiful and colorful area to visit during the fall.  This is also one of the easier trails found locally, with just simple rolling hills to challenge you.  In addition to the lovely foliage, you will also be treated to views of the towering spires and imposing rock walls that the granite the Black Hills is known for, creates.

Puppers and I enjoying the trail!
The aspen trees were lovely!

Where is the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail?

The Grizzly Bear Creek Trail does have a trailhead of its own.  You will find it off of Forest Road 345 after it branches off of State Route 87 (also called the Needles Highway) in the northern portion of Custer State Park.  As it is a connector trail you can also access it from a number of other routes in the Black Elk Wilderness, including the Black Elk Peak (formerly the Harney Trail), the Centennial, the Horsethief Lake, and the Norbeck Trails.

How long is the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail?

The trail is about 13 miles in total length.  If you just want to hike portions of the route, you can do out-and-back treks, or you can connect this path with several other trails in the local area to make a variety of loops.  These can be shorter, day hikes or longer, multi-day backpacking trips.  All of them make for a great way to see the rugged beauty of the higher elevations of the central Black Hills.

Related posts:  Great Hikes in the Black Elk Wilderness; Black Hills Blackberry Trail, near Mt. Rushmore

When is the best time of year to hike the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail?

While the Grizzly Bear Creek trail can be enjoyed at any time of the year, the warmer months are a better time to access it.  It would be beautiful in the winter, though it would be difficult to get to the trailhead as neither the forest road nor the Needles Highway is maintained during the snowy season.  As this is one of the highest elevation areas in the Black Hills, you should also expect to encounter, potentially, feet of snow throughout much of the winter.

This trail is Puppers approved!

Because you are so close to the creek for much of the trail’s route, there are also a number of water crossings along its length.  You should be prepared for this and have either waterproof shoes or footwear you don’t mind getting wet.  Some of the crossings have rocks you can hop across, though the availability of these will depend on the depth of the water, which can vary greatly throughout the year.  These stones can also become mossy and slippery so you should use them with caution.

A bridge across the creek!

If you’re looking for a less traveled but beautiful hike in the Black Hills, check out the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail!

Have you ever hiked this trail?  What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Are you looking for a beautiful hike in the Black HIlls that is also lightly traveled? Check out the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail!

 

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Cement Ridge Lookout Tower

In this post, I review the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower in extreme, eastern Wyoming.

The Cement Ridge Lookout Tower is located in extreme eastern Wyoming, almost on the border with neighboring South Dakota.  It is a National Forest Service fire lookout that is still in active use today.  This is a prime place for 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside and is especially picturesque during the fall.

Puppers and I enjoying the lookout!

From the lookout point, you can see portions of four states, South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Montana.  Expect the weather to be different here than in much of the rest of the Black Hills as this is one of the higher elevations you will find in the Hills.  It is frequently windy here and is usually cooler than the surrounding areas due to its altitude.  It can also be cloudy/foggy, even when the surrounding areas are not.

Mr. Trekler and I once attempted to take Momma and Poppa Trekker here to view leaf colors.  It was a lovely day and we were raving about the view the entire way.  When we reached the tower, however, it was sacked in with fog. 😕 

The view from the lookout tower! This is looking north towards Montana/North Dakota.

How do you get to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower?

There are a number of different routes you can take to the lookout tower.  Some of them require driving on high-clearance, 4WD roads so I won’t be discussing those here.  The easiest way to reach the tower is via Forest Route 222 (also called Roughlock Falls Road) that traverses Little Spearfish Canyon.  This will take you to Tinton Road and eventually Cement Ridge Road.  In recent years the Forest Service has actually put up signs directing you to the lookout, so it is much easier to locate than it used to be.

You will take Roughlock Falls Road west, towards Wyoming, past the turnoff for Roughlock Falls.  Continue until this road meets a T-intersection with Tinton Road.  You will then take a right onto Tinton Road and a short time later make a left onto Schoolhouse Gulch Road. Follow that to the intersection with Cement Ridge Road and follow the signs.

Drivers should be aware that ALL of these roads are dirt.  They are graded, however, and are in quite good condition.  As long as you don’t mind your car getting dirty, any sedan should be able to handle them in good weather.

It should also be noted that in the winter, most of these dirt roads become impassible to all vehicles other than snowmobiles as they are usually not maintained. 

Another pretty fall picture from the Black Hills!

If you’d like to skip the business of Spearfish Canyon, you can access Tinton road from the north from Spearfish (take I-90 to Exit 8 for Mcguigan Road.  Then take that road to the south until you reach the T-intersection with Tinton Road.)  You can also access it from the south.  Take US 85 west out of Lead (towards Wyoming) for about 18 miles.  Tinton Road will be on your right.

This is a fun place to visit almost any time of the year, which also offers amazing views.  Why not check it out?

Have you been to the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower?  What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Looking for a great place to view the northern Black Hills that almost anyone can reach? Check out the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower in Wyoming!

 

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Centennial Trail, Elk Creek Trailhead North

In this post, I review the northbound portion of the Centennial Trail from the Elk Creek Trailhead

Thanks to Coronavirus, the Trekkers’ don’t have any big travel plans this summer 😡.   So instead, we’re trying to take advantage of the opportunities available to us locally in the Black Hills.  To that end, we’re attempting to conquer as much of the Centennial Trail as we can.  In this post, I’ll be discussing the portion of that route heading north from the Elk Creek Trailhead.

Where in the Black Hills is the Elk Creek Trailhead?

The Elk Creek trailhead is located on Runkle Road.  The easiest route to get there is I-90, via the northern portion of Vanocker Canyon Road, south of Sturgis.  The turnoff for Runkle Road is almost seven miles to the south of I-90.  You can also reach the trailhead from Sturgis Road to the east, though the route to get there is longer and will likely require a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle.

What will you see when traveling on this portion of the Centennial Trail?

This trail is quite lovely.  It offers numerous vantage points of sprawling valleys in the Black Hills.  It also provides access to a number of local summits which give you expansive views of the surrounding area.  In summer, you will notice the lighter, spring-green color of the aspen trees contrasting against the darker, forest-green of the ponderosa pines.  In the fall, the contrast is even more noticeable when the aspens turn a bright yellow.

Puppers enjoying the hike!

The trail traverses the northern portion of the Black Hills National Forest which features a wetter climate than the southern part.  This allows for more lush and varied vegetation.  Mr. Trekker says the scene reminds him of his childhood days in New England.

You can enjoy the Elk Creek portion of the Centennial Trail almost any time of year

This is a good trail for both biking and hiking as it is wide and well-graded in most places.  In a few sections, it actually follows sections of old fire roads (and occasionally roads that are still in use, so be watchful for other recreators).  This means you won’t find many places with roots that can trip you up or that require lengthy scrambling over rocks.

This is a good trail at almost any time of the year but especially during the warmer months.  It’s fairly shaded (depending on the time of day) so it’s a cooler option when it’s hot out.  There also aren’t many long climbs as it mostly consists of undulating terrain.  I would give this trek an overall rating of easy to moderate.  The moderate portions come in as there are a few areas where the “ups” can get your heart pumping a bit.

Below are a few more pics from the trail (thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for these!):

The flowers are lovely in the Black Hills in the summer!

A nice view of the Black Hills National Forest

Have you tried out this portion of the Centennial Trail?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Are you looking for a nice hike in the Black Hills? Check out this route, heading north on the Centennial Trail, from the Elk Creek trailhead.

 

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Dakota Point/Centennial Trail Loop Hike

I review a trail loop we made of the Dakota Point, Flume and Centennial Trails in the central Black Hills.

For another great, Black Hills hike check out a loop that can be made of the Dakota Point, Centennial and Flume trails near Spring Creek and Sheridan Lake.  It’s funny because we’ve done each of these hikes several times in the past, we just haven’t ever combined them (mostly because water levels on the creek were high or footbridges were out).  The entire loop is between 3 – 4 miles in total length.

Where is the Dakota Point Trailhead?

We started and ended our loop at the Dakota Point Trailhead which is located off of Sheridan Lake Road.  Dakota Point Road branches off of Sheridan Lake Road and gives access to both the trail and the lake.  You will find it at about 13 miles west of the Sheridan Lake Road/Catron Boulevard intersection on the southwest side of Rapid City.

This is another, somewhat obscure trailhead found off Sheridan Lake Road, but at least this one has a sign!  At certain times, it could be difficult to reach (especially with a regular passenger car) due to mud or snow, as the road to it is not usually plowed (though it is heavily used throughout the year).

What is the Centennial/Dakota Point Loop Hike like?

The first portion of this trail is fairly easy.  You will follow a rolling route up and down some shorter hills.  The majority of it follows old forest roads that are wide, and fairly well-graded.  In a few spots the trek reverts back to more of a  regular trail, but even these are fairly easy to navigate.

You should be aware, while you can navigate this loop from either direction, both arms basically wander down the side of the hill towards the creek and lake.  This means on the return trip, you will be facing a moderately strenuous, uphill climb, regardless of which direction you choose.

The Dakota Point trail leads you to the dam on Sheridan Lake.  This route is very heavily used, especially in the summer.  About 1/2 mile into this trail, you’ll come to a fork.  If you take the right fork, you’ll continue on the shorter route to Dakota Point.  If you take the left fork (which we did) you’ll join the Centennial Trail that runs almost the entire length of the Black Hills.

The Dakota Point trail still had snow on it!

You’ll follow the Centennial Trail for about a mile, traipsing downhill the majority of the time–sometimes steeply–until you join up with the Flume Trail coming from the Spring Creek Trailhead.  If you turn left, you’ll go to the Spring Creek Trailhead, if you turn right, you’ll eventually end up at the Sheridan Lake dam.

There are a number of other trails that break off from the dam that join the Flume Trail, in places, and traverse around Sheridan Lake.  There is also a loop of the Flume Trail that you can join.  As you can see there are many choices for hiking in this area!

Once you cross the Sheridan Lake dam, you will climb the lovely, stone steps, to a picturesque view of the backside of the lake.  You can then continue back to the Dakota Point Trail and make the long climb back to the trailhead.

A frozen Sheridan Lake

Footbridges on the Flume Trail, Black Hills

Once you reach the Flume Trail, be prepared for multiple creek crossings.  There are usually footbridges that allow you to cross with little effort but be warned, they can be a bit intimidating.  They are literally, basically just wide railroad ties that span the creek.

Part of the Flume Trail

There are no handrails on the bridges.  You aren’t that high above the water (though it would probably still hurt to fall) but this can cause an intimidating trip across the bridge if you’re afraid of heights.  Also, if more than one person is on the bridge at a time, they tend to bounce a little which is even more unnerving.  Often times you can cross the creek on foot (unless the water is overly high) but this can be a COLD trip when the weather is cool.  Also, every few years, these footbridges tend to wash out when the creek floods. 😝

To Conclude

This is a great trail loop!  It isn’t overly long though it is moderately-strenuous.  This would be a perfect option for a family hike and it is located close to town so it’s easy to reach.  Why not check it out the next time you’re looking for a weekend hike in the Black Hills?

Have you tried any of these trails or done the entire loop?  What was your experience?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Looking for another family-friendly trail to hike in the Black Hills? Check out this loop that includes the Dakota Point, Centennial and Flume trails!

 

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Hike the Badger Clark Trail at Custer State Park

In this post, I review the Badger Clark Trail, in Custer State Park, in the central Black Hills.

The Trekkers took the Pup to a new trail recently, the Badger Clark Trail at Custer State Park!   Not only did this allow us to experience a different part of the park, but it also meant we could try out another portion of the Centennial Trail that we haven’t hiked yet.

Where is the Badger Clark Trailhead?

The trailhead is found off the Badger Clark Road, which is situated very near the junction of Route 16A (the southern route) and Route 37 (the Needles Highway).  It is also just to the east of the Legion Lake Lodge.  All of these are located within the central portion of the very large, Custer State Park in the central Black Hills of western South Dakota.

The trailhead is found at the parking area for the Badger Hole Historic Site, which was the historical retreat of the poet laureate, Charles Badger Clark Jr., during the mid-1900s.  He enjoyed vacationing here throughout his final 30 years of life.  During the summer months, the home is open for touring, though in the winter, you can only tour the outside grounds. 

The Pup had fun on this trail!

What you will see on the Badger Clark Trail

This is a great trail!  It’s got a few lengthy, steep portions, but for the most part, it meanders along through the rolling Black Hills that comprise this portion of the park.  If you take this route far enough, it will eventually take you to the French Creek Trail and a horse camp on North Lame Johnny Road (the Centennial Trail continues to the south from here).

The trail is quite scenic, snaking through forested hillsides and more arid, grassland areas.  This combination of ecosystems is common in this park.  You can also see some of the burn scars leftover from the terrible, Legion Lake wildfire that roared through this area in 2017.  Some of the scenic views you will see from the trail include the grasslands of central South Dakota branching off to the east, and the green, pine-covered Black Hills surrounding you in all the other directions.

A view from the trail!

This trail is not one of the more popular ones in the park, so it is fairly lightly-traveled.  This is nice as it is quieter and allows you to more easily enjoy the peace and tranquility found in the park’s inner portions.  You also won’t miss anything by taking this lesser-traveled trail as you’ll see much of the same scenery that is available throughout much of the rest of the park.

Trekker shadows!

We didn’t make it all the way to the French Creek Trail or the horse camp.  We decided to turn around where we stopped for lunch.  As it turned out, we lost our trail for a short while near the end (the sign marking where the Centennial Trail branched off had been knocked over by a buffalo, scratching an itch 😮–oddly, this is a common occurrence in this park. 😝)  So, we ended up on a horse trail, instead.

This is about the point where we lost the Centennial Trail…

This is a great way to see Custer State Park!  On your next visit there, be sure to check out this less-traveled trail that will give you easy access to the inner, very scenic portions of the park that not everyone sees!

Have you ever hiked this trail?  What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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If you enjoy a scenic hiking trail where you'll see more animals than people, check out the Badger Clark Trail in Custer State Park in the Black Hills!

 

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Deerfield Trail (Trail #40) in the Black Hills

I review the Deerfield Trail (Trail #40) that traverses a portion of the central Black Hills.

At 23 total miles long, the Deerfield Trail (Trail #40) can be accessed from several trailheads throughout the Black Hills.  It begins at Deerfield Reservoir (there’s a spur trail that actually circumvents the entire lake), crosses the Mickelson Trail at about the halfway point, and eventually, spans all the way to the Centennial Trail near Pactola Reservoir.   It traverses canyons, meadows, valleys and ridges.  Sites that housed old mining camps (and some that are still-operating) and the occasional remnants of an abandoned homestead dot its course.  This includes one squatter’s paradise that was built directly into the rock!  Tailings from old mining sites, remnants of ramshackle cabins and numerous stream crossings–often with charming, simple, log bridges–are scattered throughout the trail’s length.  

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This is one of the forest roads the trail traverses.  It was such an iconic site I kept half-expecting to see a horse and cart saunter by!  😂
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I LOVE the golden leaves contrasted against the still-green grass and the various brown hues of the log and dirt…

Things to See on the Deerfield Trail

img_1922.jpgThe trail runs through several canyons that are similar to those found on Rimrock Trail, that traverses the rim of Spearfish Canyon, and others that you see on the Little Elk Creek Trail, near Sturgis.  The canyons are especially gorgeous in fall as the never-ending green of the spruces, that blanket the canyon walls, contrasts with the yellow and orange of the aspens and red of the plants that frame the creek.  There are also several sections that run along ridges that are reminiscent of those found in the Eagle Cliff and Big Hill areas in the Northern Hills.

This is another trail system that crosses multiple eco-systems, similar to the trails that traverse the rim of Spearfish Canyon.  The canyon sections are lush and green, while the ridge sections are comprised more of a drier, arid prairie.  Treks on the Deerfield Trail can even include a variety of weather depending on which side of the mountain you find yourself.  You may start off your hike in sunny, blue skies, veiled with wisps of cirrus clouds.  By the time you reach the ridgeline, a cold breeze can be blowing darker, heavier clouds in.  Then, after a quick lunch, you can retrace your steps to the other side of the hill and return to a warmer, sunlit forest.

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Things To Do on the Deerfield Trail

The trail is open year-round, for various activities, including horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and snowshoeing/cross-country skiing, depending on the time of year.   Large portions of the route follow old logging and forest roads that are wide and well-graded, so travel is often smooth. (Some of these are still in use so keep your ears and eyes open as you may have company on the trail).

While the entire route could be completed in one attempt with an overnight trip–or a VERY long day-trip (if you had a car at each end)–it is usually conquered in sections (as the Trekkers are attempting).  It should also be noted that some of the trailheads may be difficult–or impossible–to reach in the snowy months (at least with a typical, road-worthy vehicle).  The elevation grade for this trail is moderate compared to many of the other, longer ones in the Black Hills.  While some sections will get your heart pumping, many consist of scenic, tranquil afternoon hikes in the woods.

One of the best features of this hike, for me, is its solitude.  Some portions are more heavily traveled than others–namely the canyon sections–but often times you’ll find you have the trail to yourself (especially in the colder months).  It’s not unusual for the only evidence of others having used the route to be the deer, elk, coyote and often, mountain lion tracks–usually following the deer tracks! 😳–that remain in the mud or snow.  Don’t be surprised if you see the flags of some white-tail deer flying high as they dash out of your way as you traverse the trail.

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Elk print!

Below is a picture from the same area on the trail, but at different seasons (fall and winter).

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A few more pictures from this scenic trail!

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If you’re looking for a peaceful, casual hike through some beautiful countryside, consider giving the Deerfield Trail a try!  Have you hiked portions of this trail?  What were your favorite parts?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Have you been looking for an easy, more lightly traveled, scenic hike in the Black Hills? Read on for my review of the Deerfield Trail (Trail #40)!

 

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Norbeck Trail in Custer State Park

I review the Norbeck Trail, a low-use trail in the higher elevations of the Black Hills, near Custer State Park.

The Norbeck Trail is located within the Black Elk Wilderness.  This is situated within the boundaries of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

How do you get to the Norbeck Trail in Custer State Park?

To reach the trail, take Route 87 to Forest Road 345 (Camp Remington Road), then take Iron Creek Horse Camp Road (which will be on your left).  Watch for signs for the Iron Creek Horse Camp and the Iron Creek Centennial Trailhead as they’re both, also, found on this road.  You will actually park at the horse camp, or just outside of it if the gates are closed (when we were there in mid-April the campground was still closed for the winter.)

What you will see on the Norbeck Trail, in the Black Hills

The trail is comprised of picturesque, rolling terrain.  It’s well-marked and wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side in some places.  There are several water crossings that are small enough that they’re easy to cross but big enough to offer relief and respite on a hot day.  The ecology found along the length of the trail varies greatly from moist, almost temperate rainforest near the base, to dry, alpine forest near the top.  As you trek through these various ecosystems take note of the abundance of spruce trees in certain areas–usually on the northern slopes–that denote a wetter climate (you usually only see this variety in wetter locations in the Hills.)  

What is the difficulty level of the Norbeck Trail?

The route is steep in parts, but the elevation changes are fairly moderate until you near the end of the trail.  Here, it joins with the Little Devil’s Tower Trail and gets rather steep.  This more difficult area is beautiful, though, as it snakes through a canyon complete with rocky, craggy overhangs and caves.  You’ll see the backside of the Cathedral Spires towering over you to your left, and if you turn around you will be treated to beautiful views of the Southern Hills and plains to the south.

A word of advice: never let your focus on completing a trail keep you from looking around–and behind you!  You never know what incredible views you may be missing if you’re solely focusing on the trail in front of you.

The rear view of the Cathedral Spires.

This trail doesn’t really “go” anywhere, per se, it’s more of a connector to other notable trails.   It can be combined with different routes to form various loops depending on how long you wish to spend in the wilderness.   From the trailhead to the junction with the Little Devil’s Tower Trail, the route is a little over five miles (one way), so plan for a full day’s hike when considering this option. 

We really enjoyed the hike as it was not too strenuous (with the exception of the last mile or so) and the ever-changing scenery was beautiful.  There were some gorgeous vantage points and numerous opportunities for wildlife sightings.  This trail is less well-known and, therefore, more secluded.  We did not see another person throughout our 10-mile hike, though a portion of the trek runs near Route 87, for a time, so the summer months may be busier.  Certain areas of the trail also traverse old burn scars so, if traveling in the summer, be prepared for lack of shade and a hot hike in some parts.

You can see the sparseness of the shade in some areas.

As with many other areas in the Black Hills, be watchful for deadfall as well as dead trees that remain, precipitously, standing (and their hanging, broken branches).  These are remnants of the recent pine beetle infestation, and they can fall at any time, even on not-so-windy days.    

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Damage from the recent pine beetle infestation

If you’re looking for a fairly easy day-hike, with nice views and few people, consider the Norbeck Trail!  

Have you ever hiked this more lighter-use trail?  If so, tell me about your experience in the comments!

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Looking for a quieter day hike near Custer State Park? Check out the Norbeck Trail, which is located in the Black Elk Wilderness.

 

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