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!
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!
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.
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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