The Eagle Cliff ski area is located on national forestland just outside of Lead, South Dakota. Much like Big Hill, it is a great place for winter recreation (though it provides outdoor leisure opportunities year-round.)
Where is Eagle Cliff?
The Eagle Cliff ski area is located around 10 miles west of Lead, South Dakota on Highway 85, just west of Cheyenne Crossing and the southern mouth of Spearfish Canyon.
What are the Eagle Cliff trails like?
Eagle Cliff is comprised of a series of 21 trails with multiple trailheads and over 27 miles of possible trail combinations. While this area is open year-round it is primarily used for winter recreation.
It is available for mountain biking and hiking in the summer but is not maintained at all and tends to become extremely overgrown. When we’ve biked there in the past the grass has reached my knees or higher (while on the bike) in some locations.
You can make a multitude of loops connecting various trails in this area. Watch for signs that the many forest inhabitants that frequent these sheltered spots leave behind in the snow, including mountain lion tracks/scat. Once we were able to surmise where a big cat had traveled through the fringes of the trees to stalk a herd of deer in the meadow below.
The Eagle Cliff trailheads are Dead Ox, Raddick, Bratwurst, Lily Park, and Sunny Meadow. My personal favorites are Raddick and Sunny Meadow. I especially like a loop made by taking the Raddick Gulch Trail to the Roller Coaster Trail loop. This route is less than four miles in total length and it incorporates undulating hills and a beautiful landscape.
This area is fully forested and doesn’t offer much by way of views, but as it’s protected from the wind, it is usually warmer here and the snow blankets the trees providing an iconic, winter landscape.
Sunny Meadow is–as its name suggests–an open meadow, perfect for skiing or snowshoeing in the winter and biking in the summer (just watch out for the cows and their “leavings” in the warmer months 🤥). This is an absolutely beautiful area with open, rolling hills surrounded by national forestland. Because it is so open, this expanse can be rather windy and chilly in the winter, and due to lack of shade the sun beats down unmercifully here in the summer, so plan accordingly. The only complaint I have regarding this beautiful space is that it is near snowmobile trails (though fortunately they aren’t allowed in the ski/snowshoe area) because their noise tends to shatter the serenity of this snowy landscape.
These are, literally, my favorite places in the Hills for winter sports. Unfortunately, a few years ago, they closed these areas for snowshoeing (my favorite winter sport). They are now only open for cross-country skiing and Raddick Gulch is a bit too steep for my menial XX-skiing skills. This was because there were issues with snowshoers messing up the ski trails. This is why we can’t have nice things! 😒 (FYI snowshoeing is only allowed off of the main, Eagle Cliff trailhead. There is a large parking lot and a sign for it. 😀)
What activities can you enjoy at Eagle Cliff?
Although both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available in this area in the winter, though there is only one groomed ski trail. Similar to the Big Hill trails near Spearfish, this portion of the Black Hills usually receives some of the largest amounts of snow each winter. This means that even if the ground is bare in Spearfish, Rapid City, or other lower elevations, it’s a good bet that there will be snow at these higher altitudes (oftentimes, A LOT of it)–It’s not unusual to step over the top of gates in the winter that you walk through in the summer or to see the trail signs that are at eye level in summer at boot level in winter. 😮
So, if you’re looking for a great place to enjoy winter sports that is both beautiful and quiet, check out the Eagle Cliff ski area!
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