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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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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Lover’s Leap Trail, Custer State Park

In this post, I review this popular trail found in Custer State Park!

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.*

This trail is Puppers approved!

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.

The Tranquil Trekker surveys the scene!

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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Are you looking for a moderate and shadier hike for your next visit to Custer State Park? Check out the Lovers Leap Trail in the Black Hills!

 

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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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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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Samelius Trail: North on the Black Hills Centennial Trail

In this post I review the hike on the Centennial Trail from the Samelius Trailhead, heading north to Sheridan Lake.

As we were blessed with an almost 70-degree day in the Black Hills this past Saturday (yes, you heard me right and no, that isn’t all that unusual for this time of year) we took the pup to a trail we don’t do very often.  We hiked a portion of the Centennial Trail which travels for more than 100 miles, north-to-south, through the Black Hills.  The route we took was from the Samelius Trailhead heading north, towards Sheridan Lake.

This entire section is around seven miles in total length, one-way, we only did about half of that.  We have plans to complete the other half, from Sheridan Lake heading southward, at another time. 

 

Hiking North from the Samelius Trailhead

The Centennial Trail runs in two directions from this trailhead, northbound towards Sheridan Lake and south, to the vicinity of Mount Rushmore and Horsethief Lake.  These are both decent hikes. We’ve only completed a small portion of the southbound route, so I’ll leave that review for another day.

I would give the hike north on the Samelius Trailhead a moderate rating.  The first mile or so it follows an old, forest road so the path is wide, though it’s a fairly steep, uphill climb.  From there it ventures back into the woods on a one-track trail.  Portions of it are quite rugged as they traverse the rocky landscape that is common in the Black Hills.

This route won’t take you to the summits of any of the major, nearby mountains on its own.  There are several in the local area that you can climb to though, if you’re daring enough to trek off-trail.  Mt. Samelius is one of these.  This section of the Centennial Trail isn’t quite as scenic as some other parts of the route.  It’s a nice hike, you can occasionally catch glimpses of various portions of the Black Hills, and the prairies that stretch beyond them, through the trees.  However, for the most part, it is just a rambling, rolling hike through the Black Hills National Forest–albeit a very pleasant one!  After the initial ascent on the forest road the path levels out into more moderate ups and downs as you traverse the nearby Hills.  The path can be challenging, so you need to watch your step (as I found out when I made a misstep on a small rock….)

I should have named myself the Clumsy Trekker. 🙄  I rolled my ankle the worst I ever have less than a mile into the hike.  At first it didn’t seem that bad.  It really didn’t hurt and there wasn’t any real evidence of bruising or swelling, so I decided to continue on.  After we stopped for lunch at our turnaround point is when the stiffness and pain really settled in and I realized I may have pushed on too far.  We were also several miles from the truck at that point. 😝  Fortunately, Mr. Trekker fashioned a perfect hiking pole, for me, out of a downed tree branch we found nearby.  It made the trip back far more bearable for my ankle.

We were able to catch a few shots of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) and the Cathedral Spires from the trail.  Where we stopped for lunch we were treated to a great view of a portion of the–currently frozen–Sheridan Lake.

If you look closely in the background, you can see a portion of the frozen, Sheridan Lake.

The steepest part of the trail we encountered was near its middle.  We hiked to the top of an unnamed peak and enjoyed a windy snack while peering out over the Hills.  In addition to catching a glimpse of Sheridan Lake, we also spotted the prairies that extend east of the Hills.

Don’t Hike Alone and Always Bring Extra Gear

My ankle injury is another good example of why I stress that it isn’t safe to hike alone.  This isn’t always a popular opinion but I stand behind it.  It is always astounding to me how quickly accidents can happen on the trail, and how silly things can cause them. 😔  I didn’t fall (this time) or slip on ice, I can’t even blame the dog for pulling on me too much.  We were just walking down a dry section of trail that was relatively flat.  It happened to be a bit rocky and I stepped on one of the rocks protruding from the ground wrong, which turned my ankle.  Unfortunately, my momentum was already carrying me forward so I proceeded to–heavily–put my full weight on that ankle, and felt a *pop!* (not to mention numbing shocks running from my ankle bone up my shin and down my foot). 😝

Some may argue that my decision to continue hiking was unwise, and they may have a point.  The Trekkers have had some First Aid training so we implemented what we learned.  The pain subsided fairly quickly, I had full range of motion with my foot and I could put my full weight on it.  This suggested I wasn’t hurt too badly and this wasn’t the first time I’ve sustained an injury like this on the trail. (I have a tendency to underpronate when I walk so this happens easily and regularly to me.)  We examined the ankle and it showed no signs of visible swelling or bruising.  Since it wasn’t really a struggle to continue hiking I decided to continue.  Some of this was also pure stubbornness.  We’ve attempted this trail several times before and have never gotten very far as it always seems to start thundering.  We knew that wasn’t going to be an issue today and I really wanted to continue on and keep enjoying the warm weather, so I chose to plod on.     

The final result of my injury 😛

As we slowly made our way back to the car, I couldn’t help thinking how things would have been different if it had been just me on the trail.  I probably could have gotten back on my own, we weren’t that far out and I wasn’t hurting that badly.  However, if it had been just me and the (barely) one-year-old pup who we still keep leashed at all times…I did ok navigating the route on my own with a walking stick, but if I had needed to be tethered to an energetic pup in addition, that feat would have been far more difficult (especially if the injury had occurred farther along on the trail where the terrain became more strenuous).   So I’ll say it again folks, DON’T VENTURE INTO THE WILD ALONE (and no, your incredibly adorable four-legged companion does NOT count as a hiking partner). 😐

This incident also further demonstrated to me why it’s important to ALWAYS bringing extra gear.  I almost didn’t bring a warm coat that day, just to save weight and space.  Even though it was February 1st the forecast was calling for near 70-degree temperatures and I knew this hike wasn’t exceptionally difficult.  I did end up–wisely–including my winter “puffy” coat at the last minute, as it’s super light and packs well.  I just couldn’t bare the thought of not bringing it along in the middle of winter, just in case.  As it turned out, I didn’t end up using it.  HOWEVER, if my injury had been worse to the point where I had needed to wait for rescue, I easily could have become chilled and potentially even hypothermic if I hadn’t had a warm coat with me (I was sweaty and it was a breezy day).

Accidents can happen on the trail in a split second folks, and it doesn’t have to be in wet, slippery, cold or even difficult conditions.  A fun walk through the woods on a warm day can become a rescue scenario in a matter of seconds.  Please, learn from my experience, ALWAYS BE PREPARED!!!

To Conclude

Don’t worry, almost a week out and the pain in my ankle is almost gone.  The swelling has gone down considerably as well, so I seem to be on the mend.  This is good because I’m TERRIBLE at sitting around and resting. 😉

If you’re looking for a little tougher hike and you want to explore a lesser-known trail in the Black Hills, check out the Samelius Trailhead and have your pick of two portions of the Centennial Trail.

Have you ever hurt yourself while out hiking?  Did you learn anything from the experience?  If so, let me know in the comments!

 

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I give a detailed account of the northbound hike from the Samelius Trailhead towards Sheridan Lake. I also stress the importance of always bringing extra gear, on the trail, and the dangers of hiking solo.

 

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