Custer State Park hiking trails – the best of the beautiful black hills

Custer State Park hiking trails provide some of the best experiences in the infamous Black Hills Forest Area. Located only 45 minutes south of Rapid City, Custer State Park is an easy day trip to add to any South Dakota travel itinerary. So where do you get started? Glad you asked!

Custer State Park Hiking Trails
Custer State Park

The park has two main entrances, one on the west side and one on the east side. Highway 16A is the main road that runs through the park and connects both entrances. You can access most of the hiking trails from this road, as well as an amazing scenic drive. 

If you are a true hiking enthusiast, make sure to leave time to visit the Sylvan Lake area, which has its own entrance, accessible from Highway 89. Here you’ll find Black Elk Peak and Sunday Glutch trail. 

Finally, it’s time to grab your water and hiking boots. The Custer State Park hiking trails await! 

6 Custer State Park Hiking Trails off of Highway 16A

1. Lover’s Leap Trail (3 miles, roundtrip, loop) – Located at the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, this is the first trailhead you’ll see when entering the park from the eastern gate. This loop will take you through a mature ponderosa pine forest and culminate in stunning views of Mount Coolidge, Black Elk Peak, and the Cathedral Spires. If you only do one hike during your trip, make it this one. 

2. Creekside Trail (2 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – A paved trail that follows Grace Coolidge Creek. The best access point is the Game Lodge Area, off Highway 16A.

3. Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area, possible extension to Creekside Trail (3 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – To extend the Creekside Trail, you can continue from its endpoint at Grace Coolidge Campground to the Center Lake Area. Alternatively, you can also access it from its trailhead at the campground. This trail mostly runs through an open meadow. During your hike you can expect great wildlife viewing, focusing on the birds and fish of the area.  

4. Legion Lake Trail (1 mile, roundtrip, loop) – You can access this trail from the Legion Lake Campground, near site 11E. This little gem is a great forway into the ponderosa pines. 

5. Badger Clark Historic Trail (1 mile, roundtrip, loop) – A nice stroll through the forest. You can access the trailhead by turning onto Badger Clark Rd from Highway 16A and then traveling south about .5 miles.

6. Stockade Lake Trail (1.5-mile, roundtrip, loop) – A moderately difficult hike that combines the quintessential ponderosa pine experience with amazing views of Stockade Lake and Black Elk Peak. The trailhead is located .3 miles south of Highway 16A on Stockade Lake Drive. When driving from east to west, this stop is just beyond Badger Clark Rd.

1 Custer State Park Hiking Trail off of Wildlife Loop Rd:

1. Prairie Trail (3-miles, roundtrip, loop) – The best place to view wildflowers, when in season. To access this trail, follow the Wildlife Loop Rd about 13 miles south of the Game Lodge Area. 

5 Hiking Trails by Sylvan Lake

Trail by Sylvan Lake

1. Black Elk Peak (previoulsy known as Harney Peak), Trail #9 (3.3 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – this is the most direct route to Black Elk Peak. The trailhead can be accessed from the day-use area for Sylvan Lake. 

2. Black Elk Peak, Trail #4 (3.5 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – This lesser-traveled path to Black Elk Peak offers offshoots to some of the area’s most dramatic features. Access this trailhead from the day-use area for Sylvan Lake. 

3. Little Devil’s Tower Trail, the first offshoot from Trail #4 (1.25 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – A bonus hike on the way to Black Elk Peak. While hiking on trail Trail #4, look for the turnout labled Little Devil’s Tower. This trail is a fairly steep ascent to the unique rock formation. 

4. Cathedral Spires Trail, the second offshoot from Trail #4 (1.5 miles, one way, hike in/hike out) – Look for this turnout (labeled Trail #4A) beyond the Little Devil’s Tower turnout on the way to Black Elk Peak. This trail will follow a steep ascent  and eventually end at to the Cathedral Spires, one of the best-known rock formations in the area. 

5. Sunday Glutch (2.8 miles, roundtrip, loop) – a local favorite, you can only access this trail in the summer months. During this hike, you’ll find a mix of dramatic granite walls and pine, spruce and hardwood trees. You can access the trailhead by following the Sylvan Lake trail from the parking lot. The hike officially starts behind the dam at the backside of Sylvan Lake and is widely recognized as one of the best trails in the park. 

1 Must-do Scenic Drive

1. Wildlife Loop Road – This 18-mile scenic loop can be easily accessed from both the east and west entrances to the park. Just look for the turn onto Wildlife Loop Road to the south of Highway 16A. Like most wildlife viewing areas, it’s best to take this drive either at dawn or dusk, when the animals are the most active. During your drive, you may see bison, antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wild burros, prairie dogs, and a plethora of birds. Make sure to leave at least an hour to fully enjoy this experience. 

In Conclusion

There are so many Custer State Park hiking trails, you may need a few days to fully explore it all. If you find yourself with limited time, the top attractions are Lover’s Leap, Sunday Glutch, the Cathedral Spires, and Wildlife Loop road. Have more time in the area? Make sure to check out the Badlands National Park.

Above all, enjoy your trip to this amazing travel destination!

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