Wyoming’s Bear Lodge Mountains

In this post, I review a weekend we spent in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming.

 

The Trekkers tried out a new spot recently, the Bear Lodge Mountains, also known as the Wyoming Black Hills.  We stayed at the Reuter Campground.  It is easy to reach, as it is less than two hours from Rapid City.  It is also just a short drive north of Sundance, WY (and I-90).

This was a typical, rustic, National Forest campground.  Potable water is available in-season, there are campfire rings and picnic tables at each campsite, and the campground offers vault toilets.

The campsites were decent, this was one of the first times we had an “inner “site so it was closer to other campers.  Usually, we go for “outer” sites but there were none available by the time we made reservations.  This meant we had to deal with more noise from other campers which is something we are usually able to avoid.

This campground wasn’t my favorite.  It was fine, the were plenty of large and shaded sites, but the host wasn’t as available or on top of things as we usually experience. (As an example, the trash DEARLY needed to be changed when we arrived.  It’s usually not a good idea to have full trash cans at a campground, at the START of the weekend, in the height of summer. 😝  She also seemed to have a hard time remembering who she had and hadn’t checked in already. 🙄)

We noted another campground in this local area was actually closed and was looking for a host.  It seems that campgrounds may be experiencing the same lack of available employees that so many other businesses around the country are right now.

Hiking in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming

We enjoyed several different hiking trails in the area.  Though many were overgrown, they were very well marked with signs and markers.  Just watch out for ticks, snakes, and thistles in the tall grass. 😯

Carson Draw Trail including the Carson Draw Spur #1, the Carson Cut Across, and the Reuter Springs Trails

We made a loop out of a portion of the Carson Draw Trail, which we then took to the Carson Draw Spur #1, then went on to the Carson Cut Across, and then the Reuter Springs Trail…

The Carson Draw Trail offers a lengthy and groomed cross-country ski trail in the winter months that is around five miles long.  I think this would be a lovely area for skiing.  We may also return for a day trip this fall to check out the leaf colors.  We saw several aspen groves that would likely be lovely.

Looking down Reuter Canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail

Unfortunately, going in this direction means that the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail is almost completely an uphill hike.  It isn’t overly steep, it’s just a long hill.  It was a former forest road so it is plenty wide and graded though it was rather overgrown.

The Carson Cut Across was much nicer.  It was short (less than a mile) with only a small amount of elevation gain.  It was also nicely shaded and more like a typical, single-track, hiking trail.

Even though it meant a long uphill slog on the Carson Cut Across, I would recommend taking this loop counterclockwise as we did.  It means prettier views of the Wyoming prairie and grasslands opening up before you, on your way down the hill, as you exit Reuter canyon on the Reuter Springs Trail.  Also, portions of the Carson Draw Spur #1 trail were VERY STEEP as you went downhill shortly before it reached the Carson Cut Across.  I was happy we didn’t have to hike UP that!

Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower

Warren Peak Fire Lookout

The Warren Peak Fire Lookout Tower works in conjunction with the Cement Ridge Tower, which sits to the southeast, on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming. (I discuss that lookout here).  It offers 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and prairie.  On a clear day, you can see portions of Montana, Wyoming, the mountain Crow Peak in South Dakota, Devils Tower just a scant 20 miles away, all the way to the Bighorn Mountains much farther to the west!

Devils Tower as seen from the Bear Lodge Mountains:

Cliff Swallow Trail

So, I am NOT trying to be a Negative Nellie here but we did NOT see ANY swallows OR their nests on this trail! 😝  The only place we could have possibly seen them was one overlook fairly early into the hike where we saw some cliffs across the canyon.  They were probably a good half-mile away though and we couldn’t see any birds using the binoculars.  We’ve definitely seen more of these cool featherlings on other trails that don’t even advertise themselves as “Cliff Swallow” trails. 😝  So I’m gonna have to give this trail a rating of…FAKE NEWS! 😂

This trail can also be done in a loop.  I would again recommend taking it counterclockwise.  Going this route you start at the bottom of the canyon and travel along the bubbling, Beaver Creek.  The trail went through some very lush greenery, with lots of deciduous trees and ferns (this also meant it was VERY green…and humid. 🥵)  There was also little breeze down in the canyon and there were TONS of cobwebs strung amongst the greenery that spanned the trail (thanks to Mr. Trekker for taking one for the team on this one and going first, to knock them all out of the way.  See guys, THIS is how you woo a lady. 😉)

Cook Lake as seen from the Cliff Swallow Trail

As you continue down the trail you ascend some mild switchbacks that take you up the hill.  Here you will notice a transition to a drier, ponderosa-pine-forest-environment that is more typical of the Black Hills.  There was also a blessed breeze at the top and it was less humid (though there could be more sun depending on the time of day as you’re traversing the canyon rim at this point).  Our experience was the entire trail was a mix of sun and shade and we were there around the middle of the day.

Again, I strongly suggest you take this loop counterclockwise.  The ascent of the hill is more gradual and you’ll have nice views of the lake as you emerge from the canyon.  If you go clockwise the trail goes straight up the hill! 

This isn’t a bad trail at all, older kids could certainly handle it. It was definitely shorter and easier than the Carson Draw/Carson Draw Spur/Carson Cut Across/Reuter Springs loop (thankfully because it was also HOTTER that day! 🥵)  That trail wasn’t bad either, though.  I would probably give both a rating of “moderate”, just on opposing ends of the spectrum.

Cook Lake

To finish the second day of hiking, we took a back road out to Devils Tower, just because it was close and we could. 😉  Also, the Devils Tower General Store sells ICE CREAM! 🍦😀😀  

That monolith points to ice cream! 😁
Sleepy puppy after hiking!

In general, these Hills seem to be more lush and overgrown than is typical in the South Dakota Black Hills.  They reminded us more of the lusher ecosystem you find in the northern portions of our Hills.

Not sure if this may indicate they are wetter and may mean they have fewer wildfires here on average (as you don’t hear about them much.)  This could also explain why we found there were fewer good lookout/viewpoints here, many of our open spaces in the Black Hills come from burn scars. 😝

I found I didn’t like the Bear Lodge Mountains quite as much as the Black Hills we know and love.  They were more rustic and less developed.  They actually reminded me a bit of State Forest State Park in Colorado (you can read about that little-known location here and here!)  It seemed less organized, you were kind of left more on your own to figure things out.

It wasn’t nearly as busy and touristy as the South Dakota Black Hills though this also meant it was far less crowded. (Admittedly we only experienced a small corner of this area.)  It made me think of a green island rising from the sea of brown that is the dry grassland of eastern Wyoming. 😇

Have you ever been to the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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For a unique adventure, check out a little-known and lightly-traveled corner of the Black Hills, the Bear Lodge Mountains!

 

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Barnes Canyon Trail in Custer State Park

In this post, I review a newer, not well-known trail in Custer State Park.

The Barnes Canyon Trail is a relatively new hiking option located within Custer State Park.  It is a great path as it is broad and easy to follow (being that it used to be a road). 😉  Because it is so wide and well-graded it is appropriate for almost everyone in your party.

Where in Custer State Park is the Barnes Canyon Trail?

The trailhead is located on the eastern edge of the park, near Custer State Park Airport.  It also connects through to the Badger Clark Memorial Trail which is located off of Route 16A, found farther west, and deeper within the park. (I discuss this portion of the trail in another post.)

How long is the hike?

The hike is around 10 miles in total length (4.7 miles in each direction).  You only have to traverse as much of it as you want, of course.  The road is out-and-back and was once used for forest and logging access. (It has now been closed to motorized vehicles.)

Many old maps show that the trail makes a loop. We didn’t see any obvious evidence of this on our hike.  We found on several websites that the loop can be difficult to follow as one of the sections is heavily overgrown, not well-maintained, and not well marked. If you want to try the whole loop be my guest, but be sure you have good maps and a compass with you as it may require some bushwhacking of your own trail.

This road is basically what the entire tail looks like
 What will you see on the Barnes Canyon Trail?

The route includes hills and dips, but traveling east to west it generally traverses uphill. It isn’t a very steep or difficult trek, however, so it should be appropriate for almost anyone.  In several places, it offers nice views of the surrounding prairies and wooded hillsides.  While the majority of the trail mostly runs through forestland, you do cross a few meadowy areas, as well.

One nice thing about this trail is that it allows you to get out into the middle of Custer State Park.  Here it is quiet and far from the many tourists that are frequently in the area.  You may spot many different wildlife on your trek including deer, buffalo, elk, and bighorn sheep, not to mention a wide variety of birds and other forest critters.  This is also a very quiet hike as the trail does not run near any major roads.  Use your time here to soak up the tranquility, peace, and natural sounds of the forest.

When is the best time of the year to hike this trail?

This trail is appropriate to use at any time of the year, though it could be difficult to reach in deep snow or very muddy conditions.  Also, if you attempt this hike during the colder months, you may want to bring traction devices, such as Yaktrax, to help you manage any icy sections that may form in shaded areas, especially on hills.

If you’re looking for a great trail that isn’t difficult but offers some beautiful views of the flora and fauna that make up the amazing scenery of the Black Hills, check out the Barnes Canyon Trail in Custer State Park!

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Want a great hike that is family friendly and will help you see the quieter side of Custer State Park? Check out the Barnes Canyon Trail!

 

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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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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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“Secret” Hiking Trails off Sheridan Lake Road

In this post I review several “secret” hiking trails that are found off of Sheridan Lake Road, not far from Rapid City.

For the final post in my series of easy-to-reach, local hikes I’m going to discuss several “secret” hiking trails that are located off Sheridan Lake Road, just west of Rapid City. (They aren’t really a “secret”, they just aren’t as well-known as other local trails).  It is a bit harder to describe how to reach these, as they don’t have signed trailheads (though they do sit right near the road and their parking lots are obvious).  I will do my best to give accurate descriptions.  All of these routes can be used by hikers, bikers or horses, and are appropriate for winter sports.

“The Stratobowl, the Quiet Side”

The parking lot for this trail is found just south of the Victoria Lake Road/Sheridan Lake Road intersection, where the road makes a sharp turn.  It’s really just a dirt turnoff with room for only a few cars.  Just past the parking area there is a gate that blocks the old forest road, but you are permitted to walk through it.

This is an easy hike as it just follows an old, fire road on an out-and-back route.  It takes you to the cliffs on the northern rim of the Stratobowl, which I’ve discussed before.  Be aware, this route has very little shade.  As it is so exposed to the sun, it can be a very hot hike when the weather is warm.  Also, we have seen herds of big-horn sheep near the cliffs, so if you hike with dogs off-leash, make sure to watch for them.

In my opinion, of the several routes I will be discussing today, this trail offers the best views of both the Stratobowl area as well as the canyon that Spring Creek flows through.

“The Sheep Place”

We call it this because there is a sign near the trail that lables it as a “Big Horned Sheep study habitat” (funnily enough, we have never seen a sheep here 😝).

The Trailhead

This trail is located almost exactly seven miles from the Catron Boulevard /Sheridan Lake Road intersection.  The parking area is on your left, before you round a curve and see a sign for the Peace Ranch.  Right before you reach this parking area you will pass another small, parking lane on the other side of the road.  There are trails here, as well, that are mainly used by mountain bikers (though hikers can also use them).  They eventually meet up with the Coon Hollow Trail system that I discussed several weeks ago.

The Hike

This is a great, local trail.  We have always enjoyed it as a quick place to take the dog for a walk on a Sunday afternoon or when you just want a quick jaunt on a cold, windy day.  It’s also a good place to sneak in a short hike before a summer thunderstorm (we have raced the thunder back from here on several occasions!)

A series of old fire and forest roads offer several different out-and-back options in this area.  Be warned, there are no real maps that cover these trails and the roads aren’t reliably signed.  On one hand, if you pay careful attention, you shouldn’t lose your way.  On the other, if you aren’t paying attention, it is easy to get turned around.  Also, the area is surrounded by private ranchland, so it is important to stick to the roads and be respectful of any “private property” signs you may see.

Three Options

The first old road that breaks off to your left is the shortest of the routes.  It will take you to the edge of a cliff on the northwestern edge of the Stratobowl.  If you continue past that fork, the next road you come to is longer.  It will also, eventually, wind you to the edge of the Stratobowl, but the views aren’t as good as those from the first fork as they are obscured by trees.  I have heard a rumor that there may be a way to loop these trails together, but if it exists we haven’t found that route yet.

There is another unnamed trail that continues straight after the second road forks to the left.  It eventually works its way all the way down to Spring Creek.

You can’t always access this option as there is a gate that is sometimes closed.  I’m not actually sure who controls it (if it is private landowners or the Forest Service).  Either way though, if the gate is closed, please respect it and don’t use that route. 

This trail is the longest of the three options, and the steepest, as it works its way down the cliff face to the creek, far below.  We have yet to complete this entire route but it is on our “to-do” list.

I would rate the first two options as “easy” as they stick to the forest roads and have very little elevation gain.  The third is more “moderate” because it wanders into the woods and requires more strenuous hiking when ascending and descending the cliff face. The easier routes are more exposed to the sun, so they can be quite warm in the summer.

The above trails are fairly well known, so expect to have some company on your trek.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews of these many routes found near town.  If you’d like to read about the other trails in this series, you can click the links below:

Boulder Hill Trail
Flume Loop Trail
Coon Hollow Trail
Little Elk Creek Trail
Stratobowl near Rapid City
Willow Creek Trail Black Hills

Have you enjoyed any of these trails?  If so, let me know in the comments!

 

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Hiking the Boulder Hill Trail

This week I review another trail found not far from Rapid City, the Boulder Hill trail.

This week I will continue my series of local, easy-to-reach hikes that are not far from Rapid City, with the Boulder Hill Trail.  One thing I like about this route is that it mostly meanders through the forest, so its fairly well-protected from the wind, rain or snow (until you get to the top).  This makes it a good choice for times when the weather is less-than-great.  It’s also eerily beautiful in the fog.

Getting to the Trailhead

You will find the trailhead on Boulder Hill Road, about halfway between Sheridan Lake Road (west of Rapid City) and Highway 16 (south of town.)  You can get there from either route. The road is dirt but it is wide and well-graded, so it is suitable for any passenger car in good conditions. If the weather is very wet or snowy it could become impassable.  Usually though, a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle can be manage it.  There is a sign at the trailhead, but you won’t see it until after you enter the parking lot, as it sits right near the woods. This is the same parking area that is used for the Flume Loop Trail that I discussed in a previous post.

The Pup and I enjoying the trail.

One unique aspect of this hill is that you can actually drive to the summit.  There is an old forest road that makes a spur off of Boulder Hill Road.  It isn’t marked, so you may miss it if you don’t know where you are going.  We’ve seen passenger cars use the road, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Even during good conditions it is rutted and washed out in places, and it can sport deep mud holes when it’s been wet.  We were glad we had Mr. Trekker’s 4WD truck the one time we drove up. It’s not a long route or overly technical, but I find the hike to be far more enjoyable.

With all the rocks at the summit you can see how the hill got its name.

The Hike

This hike is a bit more challenging than others I’ve written about recently.  I would rate it as “moderate”.  It is not difficult, but it is an uphill climb to the summit of the mountain almost the entire way (at least on the way up 😉).  About half-way along, it joins with an old, forest road for a short time.  It quickly exits back onto a narrow trail into the woods again, though.

Where it meets the road is also where it joins with the other section of the Flume Trail (the Coon Hollow Trail) that I discussed in last week’s post.

Don’t be surprised if the scolding of squirrels and scurrying chipmunks accompany you on this hike.  This is also a great place for rock scrambling over the large boulders (hence how this hill got its name).  From the summit, you will be treated to views of Highway 16 as you look to the northeast, towards town.  Like many of the trails that traverse the eastern edge of the Hills, on clear days you can also see the plains that spread east of town.  On REALLY clear days, you can see portions of the Badlands that sit many miles to the east.

From the summit you can see Route 16 heading towards town. You can also see the prairies that extend far to the east.

If you’re looking for a challenging hike that’s easy to reach from town, check out the Boulder Hill Trail!

Is this a trail you’ve hiked in the past?  Tell me about it in the comments!

If you’d like to read about the other trails in this series, you can click the links below:

Flume Loop Trail
Coon Hollow Trail
Little Elk Creek Trail
“Secret” Hiking Trails off Sheridan Lake Road
Stratobowl near Rapid City
Willow Creek Trail Black Hills

 

 

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Little Elk Creek Trail

In this post I review this great, fairly easy trail that’s found not far from Rapid City.

The Trekkers had a blizzard bearing down on them the day after Thanksgiving, so we decided to #OptOutside on the Wednesday before the holiday instead!  We took Puppers on her first trip to Little Elk Creek Trail, which is another great, local trail that is easy to reach.  Just like the other trails I’ve mentioned recently, the Trekkers frequent this one as well.

Getting There

You can reach the trailhead from Exit 44, off of I-90, for Deerview Road.  Take this road to where it crosses Sturgis Road (which runs parallel to I-90  in this area) and then head north on Sturgis Road.  After about 1/2 mile take a left at Little Elk Creek Road.  You will find a parking lot at the trailhead, where the road ends.

The Trail

The trail is around five miles long, one-way, though we’ve never actually hiked the whole thing.  If you follow it far enough, it eventually joins up with a Forest Service road that will take you to Dalton Lake.

You will see cool, “tree tunnels” like these, along the path.

At one point, the trail splits into two routes.  They both go to the same place, and after about a mile they end up joining back together again.  One of the trails stays “low”, and I think it is actually a bit more challenging, as it runs right along the creek bed.  With this option you will need to scramble a few boulders along the way, and it can be made more difficult if the creek level is high, or if conditions are icy.

There are also a few scrambles up a short, steep hill or two if you choose the “high” route. However, to me, the most challenging part of this option is that it runs right along a ridge.  The drop-off isn’t quite steep, or high, enough to consider it as being a “shelf”, but it has gotten my acrophobic heart pumping a time or two. (This is especially true when you’re walking with a rambunctious pup who is not apprehensive about heights in the least. 😝)

Doggo #1 and I on the trail several years ago

This route is pretty any time of the year, but especially in the fall, which is when we usually go.  The aspen trees that edge the trail turn a vibrant orangish-gold, and contrast well with the ever-green pines that make up much of the rest of the surrounding forest.  As it is much closer to Rapid City, this is one of the better places to see leaf colors without having to drive all the way to Spearfish Canyon, or deal with the fall traffic that is common there.

During the summer this area can get pretty crowded. It runs right along the creek, which can be accessed many places throughout the route.  It is also fairly shaded, so it makes for a cooler option when the weather is warm.  During the winter months, this canyon doesn’t receive much sunlight, so be prepared for icy conditions (especially in the areas where the creek runs very near the trail).  Yaktrax are highly recommended when attempting this trek during that time of year.

Little Elk Creek in the snow!

If you’re looking for a good, family hike, that’s easy to reach and close to town, check out Little Elk Creek Trail, near Piedmont! If you’d like to read about the other trails in this series, you can click the links below:

Flume Loop Trail
Coon Hollow Trail
“Secret” Hiking Trails off Sheridan Lake Road
Hiking the Boulder Hill Trail
Willow Creek Trail Black Hills
Stratobowl near Rapid City

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Flume Loop Trail

In this post I discuss the Flume Loop Trail, found in the central Black Hills.

Along with last week’s post, there is another local trail that the Trekkers frequent, the Flume Loop Trail.  It is found off of Boulder Hill Road west of Rapid City.  You can reach that road from both US 16 (a little way south of the Rockerville area) as well as off of Sheridan Lake Road.  Either direction works, though the Sheridan Lake Road entrance is closer to the trailhead.  This is a dirt road, though it is usually in very good condition and can be managed by any 2WD car. (The exceptions to this would be in snow, or occasionally, due to heavy rain.)

The parking lot where the trailhead is found is the same one you use for the Boulder Hill Trail

A flume is a chute, generally built out of wood, used to transport materials (such as logs or gold) using water.  This trail in the Black Hills travels along a former flume route from more than 100 years ago, during the gold rush.  Today, it is mostly comprised of a wide, grassy, leveled grade along the hillside, where the original structure once stood.  In a few areas, the rotting ruins of the original flume can still be spotted. (On other portions of the trail, you can actually travel through old tunnels in the rock that were created for use by the flume.)

The picture at the top of the post is an example of what a flume would have looked like, NOT specifically of the one in the Black Hills.

 

This is actually another part of the Flume Trail, but it shows the flume bed well. You can see how flat and wide much of it is.

The entire flume trail runs for more than 15 miles throughout the Black Hills from Rockerville, south of Rapid City, to Sheridan Lake, west of town.  Here, near Boulder Hill, the path forms a loop, and it connects to other portions of the trail.

The Hike

This is a great trek!  It can be completed in either direction, though we usually travel it counterclockwise. (My following description of it will follow that route.)  It starts by traversing some lower-lying meadows through the oak and cottonwood trees that grow along the nearby creek .  Watch out for cows in this area during the summer months (or more importantly, what they leave behind. 🤥  This is national forestland, and open grazing is allowed here.)  Also, during hunting season, I strongly encourage people to wear bright colors when enjoying this area as you’ll be sharing it with hunters.

As you continue down the trail you’ll pass a small, dank-smelling pond that is often covered in green scum during the warmer months. 😝   There are some logs you can use to cross the small stream that feeds from it.  Be aware, this area can get VERY mucky in wet times of the year.  After crossing Boulder Hill Road, you then make a short climb up a nearby hillside.  You are now on the flume bed itself.  From here on out, the trail is fairly level, with a few short climbs and descents, and the occasional clamber up some boulders.

The remainder of the trail traverses the pine forest that is more common in the Hills.  Sometimes, as you leave the brighter, open spaces behind, walking into these darker, pine tunnels,  can seem almost spooky.   Not to worry though, the scariest sites we’ve seen here are the local mule deer and rabbits who frequent the area.

This trail is nice because much of it is shaded and in the trees, regardless of the time of day you visit.  We have often used it for a quick, evening escape after work, or when it’s too hot to attempt more difficult, or more exposed routes.  The early portion of the trek is great in the fall, as this is a more leaf-prone part of the forest.  The dusty smells of dried leaves underfoot, mixed with the sounds from the ones still clinging to the trees, that rattle in the wind, with the gurgle of the small creek nearby, make for quite the bucolic, autumn setting.

I would rate this trail as “easy” as it encompasses very little elevation gain.  It can be completed in 1 – 2 hours, depending on your speed and ability level, how many stops you make, etc.  It is appropriate for children of almost any age, and dogs.  Our previous dog enjoyed it, arthritis, bad hips and all, well into the final year of her lengthy life.  Our new pup has put her stamp of approval on it as well.

So the next time you’re looking for a family-friendly trail near Rapid City, consider the Flume Loop Trail!

If you’d like to read about the other trails in this series, you can click the links below:

Coon Hollow Trail
“Secret” Hiking Trails off Sheridan Lake Road
Hiking the Boulder Hill Trail
Little Elk Creek Trail
Stratobowl near Rapid City
Willow Creek Trail Black Hills

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Dinosaur National Monument: the Colorado Side

This week’s post is Part 2 of the Trekkers’ recent trip to Dinosaur National Monument. Today I discuss the Colorado side of the park.

In last week’s post, I reviewed the Trekkers’ recent visit to the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.  Today, I’ll be discussing the Colorado side (as the park spans both states).

Scenic Drives on the Colorado Side of Dinosaur National Monument 

One of the main things we enjoyed on the Colorado side of the monument was the scenic drives.  There are several found throughout this portion of the park, though all but the Harper’s Corner Road are suggested for high-clearance vehicles only.  As I mentioned in Part 1, under good conditions most of these roads are great to drive (honestly several of them were less bumpy than some of the paved, county roads we drove on).  I would have felt comfortable taking any vehicle with a higher wheel base on these (such as my Outback), and we saw several SUV’s.

But I cannot stress enough that we were there in the most ideal weather possible.  According to the park, several of the roads are completely impassable when wet.  This seemed likely as we crossed many dry stream beds that could easily fill with stormwater runoff.  It also makes sense that the powdery dirt that covers the surface of many of these routes could quickly turn into slippery ooze when wet.  Many of the roads also only have one way in or out, so, if you reach the end, and then a rainstorm comes…you may not be able to get back out again.  Several also lead through low-lying canyons which are likely to flood quickly in a heavy rain event.  So please, be wary before attempting these roads if any bad weather conditions are present or expected.

Click here for the NPS website for the park that will have up-to-date info on current road conditions.

Harper’s Corner Road

This is the main road through the Colorado section of the park.  You access it near Dinosaur, Colorado.  This is also one of the only paved roads in the monument.  At the end of it is the Harper’s Corner Trail which offers INCREDIBLE views.  At times you are hiking on an almost knife-edge of rock, with the Green River winding along beside you on one side, and the Yampa River on the other.  Did I mention you are up to 2500 feet ABOVE these waterways throughout the hike? 😮  It got my acrophobic-heart pumping a bit! (It really wasn’t too bad.  I only felt nervous in one spot where you get a healthy view of a chute, down a cliffside. 😋)

I would rate this trail as “easy”.  It’s about three miles in total length (out and back) and it doesn’t have much elevation gain.  Just about anyone wearing tennis shoes should be able to handle it (though I should note the park is at an altitude of over 5000 feet, so “flatlanders” may want to take it slow. 😉)  At the end of the trek you are treated to an AMAZING view down the canyon, and of Steamboat Rock from above, behind which the Yampa and Green Rivers meet.

One of the incredible lookout points from the Harper’s Corner Trail. That’s the Green River far below, you can maybe see how it got its name.
Steamboat Rock, from above…

Echo Park Road

This route takes you from Harper’s Corner Road, east, to Echo Park and its campground.  This area is called a “park”, like several other locations in Colorado.  It is really just a flat, meadow-like area.  It was cool!  (Hint, it’s called “Echo Park” for a reason, I encourage you to experiment with this 😁.)

This route traverses the lower “benches” of land that can be seen from above, when traversing the Harper’s Corner hike.  They are called this as they are wide sections of terrain.  They literally look like benches, or steps, that rim the lower, river canyons. 

The road winds through an incredible canyon where sheer rock towers over you on both sides.  From here you can see Steamboat Rock from the bottom, where it’s much more impressive.

There is a short hike along the river’s edge that is around two miles long (out-and-back).  It takes you to the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers.  There is also a place on this road called Whispering Cave.  It appeared fairly unassuming, at first, as it’s just a vertical slit in the rock wall of the canyon, that you can stand in.  This was until we figured out it’s secret (and how it got its name).  If people stand at either end of this long slit, and whisper REALLY quietly…you can hear each other VERY well (thanks to the unique acoustics of the rock structure).  And it’s far more effective than if you try the same thing outside (we checked! 😉)

Click here for a short video of the drive!

The canyon on Echo Park Road.

Echo Park!
Another view of Steamboat Rock!

Yampa Bench Road

This route takes you from Echo Park Road, east, all the way to US 40 in Elk Springs (though there are a few places you can bug out before you get that far, dependent on road conditions).  This was the most difficult route we encountered.  The drive was beautiful though, with yellow grassland and scrub brush spread before you, all the way to the rock walls that rise above you on two sides.

Even this road wasn’t bad at this time of year, though I could see it being difficult if it was wet.  It was the steepest drive we took and it had the sharpest turns.  This was also the longest route we attempted, by far.  It was fun, but we covered less than half of it (around 20 miles) and that took almost two hours.  This did appear to be the most difficult part of the trek.  According to the map, the rest of it looked flatter and easier (and some parts may have been roughly paved).  We did finally escape, through a blessed hole in the rock wall called Thanksgiving Gorge (I think I know why they give it that name!) just as daylight was waning.  We were rewarded with a herd of elk…and LOTS of cows! 😋

Sunlight is waning on the Yampa Bench Road

Beautiful Canyons in the Colorado section of Dinosaur National Monument

Flaming Gorge Reservoir

On Sunday we took US 191 north of Vernal, UT, to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.  It was named for its vibrant, red cliffs that were cut by the Green River.  It spans both northeastern Utah, and southeastern Wyoming, just to the north.  It is absolutely beautiful, and the dam that created the reservoir is pretty stunning as well.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir
The Flaming Gorge Dam

Gates of Lodore

From the dam, we then continued north on Route 191, just across the Wyoming line, and picked up Brown’s Park Road.  This we took east, back into Colorado.  From here we followed signs to the Gates of Lodore, another INCREDIBLE canyon that was cut by the Green River.  It sits on the northern tip of the monument.  This route was a mixture of well-graded dirt and rough pavement, though any passenger car should be able to handle it, at least in good weather.

I was pronouncing this location like “Gates of Mordor”, from Lord of the Rings, but was quickly corrected by a local.  Apparently its supposed to sound more like “Gates of la-DOOR”. ☺ 

There’s an easy, and fairly short, hiking trail that leads to the mouth of the canyon, from the parking area.  Due to its sheer, rock walls, there is no access through this rocky cleft, except by water craft, on the river itself.

Gates of Ladore!

Crouse Canyon

We returned back to Vernal by way of the Crouse Canyon/Brown’s Park Scenic Backway.  This is another route that cuts through a beautiful canyon, and then a meadowy area.  This road was one of the rougher routes we traveled on and was basically only one lane wide.  This was unexpected as it was listed as a scenic drive in one of the local tour brochures, and wasn’t suggested to be high-clearance.  Our truck handled it easily, but had we known how rough it would be we would have aired the tires down, just for a smoother ride.  In good conditions, any SUV with a higher wheel base should be able to handle it (we passed a CRV or two) but I wouldn’t suggest attempting it in a typical passenger car (just because there were some rocks and ruts that had to be navigated).  My Outback probably could have managed it, but we would have been extra cautious.  The drive was BEAUTIFUL though, with the yellow and orange leaf colors set against the red rock of the canyon walls, which contrasted with the blue of the sky above.  Click here for a short video of it!

We returned home on Monday, via US 40 east, through Craig, Steamboat Springs and Rabbit Ears Pass.  This is the one portion of northern Colorado we didn’t get to see on our trip last year (have I mentioned how much I like tying up loose ends? 😉)  From there we took Route 14 north to Walden, then headed north to Laramie, Wyoming and back to the Black Hills.  FYI, this is a great way to avoid the traffic in the Denver area, and much of I-25, if you’re heading north from northern Colorado!  It offers some great views too!

You won’t find a better time to visit this park than Fall.  Tree colors are bright, crowds are light and temperatures are cool.  So the next time you’re looking for a good autumn vacation spot, think of the out-of-the-way Dinosaur National Monument!

Have you visited this incredible place?  Tell me about your favorite parts of it in the comments!

 

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This is the second half of the two-part series, on the blog, about Dinosaur National Monument

 

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Old Baldy: a Great Place for Fall Colors in the Black Hills

In this post I review Old Baldy, a trail loop near Spearfish, SD that the Trekkers frequent.

There is a great, under-appreciated place to view fall colors in the Black Hills, Old Baldy, near Spearfish, South Dakota!  While it’s beautiful in the fall, the Trekkers enjoy it throughout the year as it’s never crowded.

Where is the Old Baldy Trailhead?

The Old Baldy trailhead is on Tinton Road, about halfway between Spearfish and Lead.  You can get there from either town.  From Spearfish, the easiest way is to take Exit 8 off of I-90, for McGuigan Road.  Take this south to the T-intersection with Tinton Road, and then turn right towards the forest.  Take Tinton Road about 10 miles to the trailhead.  If you’re coming from Lead, take US 85 west (towards Wyoming) for about 18 miles out of Lead, until you reach the turnoff for Tinton Road.  Take Tinton Road about 18 miles to the trailhead.

The road is gravel, however, it is well-graded.  As long as you don’t mind your car getting dusty, any passenger vehicle can handle it under good conditions.  In the winter, though, it is rarely plowed past the Iron Creek Lake turnoff when coming from Spearfish.  A high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is often needed to drive this road under those conditions, and even then it is often impassable unless you’re on foot, skis, or are powered by a snowmobile.

I’m not sure if this area has been getting more snow in recent years (this part of the Hills receives some of the largest amounts of snow during the winter); or if the Forest Service just isn’t maintaining Tinton Road past the Iron Creek Lake turnoff; or if they’re intending it more for snowmobile usage.  But whatever the reason, the road has been almost impassible for much of the winter, lately.  One time, we got pretty stuck attempting to reach the trailhead (we were VERY fortunate we carry recovery gear).

What you will see on the Old Baldy Trail

This loop trail is around six miles in total length, with an additional spur to the Mt. Baldy summit that adds a little over 1.5 miles to the total hike.  There is a “lake” that is signed, though I use that term VERY loosely.  We’ve never actually seen any water in it.  It should be called “Green Lake” because it looks like a meadow.  There is a small stream that runs through the “lakebed”, but mostly you only see grass and cows near here. 😋 (A word of warning, beware of the cows, as well as their “leavings”. 🤥   The National Forest leases this area to local ranchers, so you can find cows anywhere and everywhere near here during the summer.)

The “lake” (yes, really!)
Hey look, we found some water!

The trail winds through pine forests with aspen glens dispersed amongst them.  It also traverses the edges of a few meadows and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.  This area is especially pretty in fall when the yellow of the aspen and green of the pine complement each other beautifully, especially as contrasted against the clear blue, Black Hills’ sky!

Besides the main loop, there is a spur of the Rimrock Trail that can be accessed from here, as well.  This side trail will take you to the rim of Spearfish Canyon.  These are all prime places to enjoy the fall colors the Northern Hills are known for, without having to deal with the crowds you’ll find in the Canyon below.

The trail options here are really just one loop (other than the spur to the Rimrock Trail).  If you go right at the fork, heading counterclockwise, you’ll hit the GORGEOUS aspen glen first,  traversing the only real switchbacks found on the trail on the downhill.  If you do choose this route, the return trip is a little steeper, but I think it’s easier.  There is more open space, so there is also more breeze if you’re warm.  The open areas also provide you with INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding mountains and prairie.  However, if it’s sunny in the summer, this area could be hotter as there is less shade…

Regardless of which fork you choose, the “lake” and the turnoff to the summit of the mountain are at the bottom of the hill.  You know what this means!  No matter which fork you pick, you have to climb back up the WHOLE return trip! 😛  

If you start off on the left branch of the trail, going clockwise, you’ll hit the more open area of the loop on your descent.  Facing this direction, you’ll actually be provided with more expansive views of the surrounding countryside.  Unfortunately, this will mean you have to face the “spirit-crushing switchbacks” (I HATE switchbacks!) through the aspen glen, on the way back up the hill.  Because the trees in this area are thicker, it is also more shaded during the summer months.  HOWEVER, the denser foliage also means there is less of a breeze…phew!  Decisions, decisions!

Either way the aspen glen, especially, is INCREDIBLY beautiful in the fall months, not to mention the surrounding hillsides that are ablaze with yellow from all the aspen trees.  The aspen glen is my favorite of the whole trail in the fall.

Author’s note:  the American Indians who originally gave the Black Hills their name called them this because the pine forests made the Hills look dark from afar.  In recent years, the pine trees have been decimated by pine beetles and some wildfires.  Aspen trees grow EXTREMELY WELL in their wake.  One wonders if a few hundred years from now, a more appropriate name for these hills may be the Aspen Hills, or the Yellow Hills–the color all the aspens turn in the fall. 

This view is from one of the lookout points on the western edge of the loop

These days, if you visit this location, you will see some extensive storm damage.  Multiple tornadoes actually went through here in recent summers!  That’s a rare occurrence in the Black Hills!  One of the storms was especially nerve-racking for me, as the Trekker Parental Units (and Extended Family) were staying at a rental house near Lead at the time. They were outside the tornado’s track–thankfully–but only by about a mile. 😮  Fortunately, the baseball-sized hail that the storm dropped missed them as well!  Helplessly watching that tempest on radar, while I was sitting in sunshine over an hour away, was enough to give me a few gray hairs!

When is the best time of year to visit the Old Baldy trail?

The trails are perfect for both summer and winter recreation IF you can reach them in the winter.  If Tinton Road is passable as far as the trailhead when there is snow on the ground, the actual site can be hard to find as the sign is often buried by snow.  Also, there is usually very little parking as the lane to the parking lot is not plowed.  So, you must make do with parking along the side of the road.  In the past, we have come here multiple times to snowshoe or ski. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to reach the site the last several years.

The difficulty in accessing the trailhead during the winter months is really a shame because it is GORGEOUS under the cover of snow.  The sunbeams shine through the bare branches of the aspen trees while the pristine, white snow, and dark-brown bark, contrast perfectly with the dark green pine trees and blue sky.  Make sure to wear layers, as it can get pretty windy up here since it’s near the top of the mountain.

This is a fun trail for mountain biking as well, heading downhill. 😋  Going back up can be a bit of a pain, especially if you ascend via the eastern leg of the loop, through the switchbacks.  Both hikers and bikers need to be watchful for each other as there are several blind curves and collisions can happen if the bikes round them too quickly.  Horses are also allowed on this trail.  It is imperative that bikers watch for these equines, who could shy and throw a rider, or hurt themselves (or the biker) if a bike came racing around a corner and startled them.

If you’re looking for a fine place to view fall colors in the Black Hills, and you’d like to avoid the usual crowds, check out Old Baldy!  You’ll be glad you did!

Have you ever tried this trail in any season?  Tell me about your experience in the comments!

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Looking for a great place to view fall colors in the Black Hills, away from the crowds? Check out Old Baldy, on Tinton Road near Spearfish!

 

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