Hiking In the Black Hills
– By MeCuster State Park is considered a gem of South Dakota as a sea of prairie grasslands overlap with granite spires among thick thickets of ponderosa pine trees. This land is a hiker's paradise. Freshwater streams, wildlife viewing, and a variety of trails offer hiking opportunities that please everyone from the expert outdoorsman to the beginner with ambitions.
Trails to Consider
Custer State Park offers premier hiking opportunities including the popular Harney Peak hike. There are four different trail heads for the hike ranging from 2-5 hours hiking time. Though most of the trails do begin in Custer State Park, they enter the Black Elk Wilderness and Black Hills National Forest, so it is important to abide by the rules of the land. The hike is well worth your time and climb as an elevation of 7,242 ft. provides a sense of achievement along with breathtaking views. If climbing isn't your style, the Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area Trail is a wonderful experience. The one-way 2.8 mile trail follows Grace Coolidge Creek and finishes at Center Lake. Be sure to bring your fishing pole as there are excellent fishing opportunities along the way. This is a wonderful hike during the summer months as the many creek crossings are rejuvenating and refreshing. Grace Coolidge Walk-In is a relaxing and enjoyable hike that is suitable for children and those who aren't quite up for an extreme challenge.
Sunday Gulch Trail is tucked away behind Sylvan Lake and sinks into a granite canyon followed by waterfalls over steep boulders. Note that forging this trail should only be exercised during the summer months, as winter snow and ice remains packed deeply until June. This is a difficult hike at times as you will find yourself scrimmaging over boulders and climbing steep hillsides, however; the scenery is simply amazing. Wear sturdy shoes and/or boots on this trail and enjoy what nature has to offer.
If you are looking for a good old fashion back country trail, French Creek is a 12-mile hike with approximately 42 creek crossings. The trail dissipates after the first two miles and hikers are left to follow the creek as a trail guideline. Downstream you will come across 'the narrows' where the canyon encloses and you will be forced to either climb the canyon cliff or swim through the creek for a short distance. Flora and fauna and the transformation in geological formations in this region are impeccable. Hiking the French Creek Trail is experiencing hiking in the Black Hills at its very best.
Preparations and Cautions
Remember you are in South Dakota where weather frequently changes on a moment's notice. Be sure to check the weather forecast before you begin your adventures. Hail and severe weather often rise without notice during mid-afternoons in the Black Hills so it is best to plan your hike morning to late morning or late afternoon into early evening. Pack rain gear, plenty of water, bug spray, a first aid kit, and always remember to tell others where you are venturing in the wilderness. Cellular phone reception is spotty at best in most remote locations, so do not rely on your phone to get you out of a bind. Ticks are a common and do carry disease; be sure to wear pants (preferably with bottoms tucked into stockings), long sleeves and a cap. We share the Black Hills with humans and creatures alike.
Do not approach buffalo when hiking in Custer State Park. They are dangerous and will charge if provoked. Mountain lions live in abundance in the hills, however; you would be lucky to see one on your hike. They are nocturnal beings and very reclusive, yet, in the rare instance you come across a lion there are precautions you should take. Don't run or crouch, doing so will stimulate the lion's instinct to chase. Instead, make yourself appear larger by raising arms, opening your jacket, and throwing rocks and/or stones. Make eye contact, speak in a firm voice, and slowly wave arms. This will convince the lion you are not prey and potentially a predator. In the extremely rare situation of an attack, fight back with any objects you may have and try to remain standing.
Above all, when hiking in the Black Hills, enjoy the beauty and surroundings and tread lightly. There are plenty of hikes to choose from that fit the most physically active to the one who enjoys a stroll through the woods. This jewel of South Dakota offers man hikes and an abundance of beauty.