Joined: 19 May 2010
Posts: 43 | TRs
|We're on a long road trip to see some family in the midwest, and since we've stopped for a few days in the Black Hills, I wanted to take the opportunity to hike in the area. I couldn't find much good information online. I am spoiled by the WTA/NWHikers killer combo. But I stopped in a local shop in Rapid City called Roam'n Around and had a great chat with the owner who is section hiking the trail. She gave me some good suggestions, and I ended up buying a book.
Not sure if I am allowed plug them or the book, so I'll split the difference and just give names and not links. The book was A Guide to Hiking South Dakota's Centennial Trail by Whetham & Jukka Huhtiniemi, and it's worth the money.
The trail is 100 some odd miles running N-S through the black hills. I was interested primarily in the Black Elk Wilderness and also some of the areas with more prairie and fewer trees. Due to dispersed camping restrictions in Custer State Park, through which the trail runs, and because I didn't want to hike into a campsite next to everyone and their RV, I selected to start at the Calumet Trailhead and work southward into Custer State Park.
There are a number of trailheads in the area, so I mapped them out with directions in an email to my wife. "Dear, I'll probably end up here, except if I get tired, I'll be here, or if I feel especially strong, in which case I'll be here. " I carry an inReach with messaging service when I'm solo, so arranging a pickup spot was possible.
The trail south out of Calumet is rolling hills, and climbed and descended about 2000' over 7 miles. Few of the climbs were long enough to really get into "climbing gear", which made it a bit harder than it sounds. It topped out at around 5800'. There were beautiful ponderosa and birch forests, with the trees turning, and lots of pretty prairie. The trail follows some FS roads here and there, but they aren't very dusty, since grass grows on them due to lack of use.
Getting into the Black Elk Wilderness, the trail became more brushy and rugged. Frankly, it wasn't that pretty - I much preferred to see some prairie here and there. Or I should reframe that thought; it was more familiar looking, and I was hoping for different. I surprised many deer, including one big old buck who stomped his hoof at me.
It's a dry area, and being unfamiliar with the water situation (although the guidebook does outline it at a high level), I carried up to 4 liters at one point. That allowed me to make camp wherever I wanted, and I did - at about 5600 feet in a pass that seemed like it had good views if one scrambled up some rocks above the trees.
Spent the windiest night I have ever spent in a tent. Wow! It didn't get that cold - I am guessing low 40's - but I only have a tarp tent and a quilt, and they did not block the wind well. Brrr. I have had warmer nights at 7000' in the Pasayten in October.
The next morning I continued south past a peekaboo view of Mt. Rushmore, down into Custer State Park. There was a bit more road walking there, but also some very pretty meadows. My wife picked me up at Legion Lake. I sure was hoping the lodge there was open so I could grab a coffee and a sandwich, but no dice. Closed for the season.
26 miles and I'm going to guess around 5000' of climbing through rolling terrain. Very pretty area. I would not call it a destination area for its hiking beauty alone, but if you're interested in the history and americana of the Black Hills, hiking would be a great addition. Or heck, maybe you're from Milwaukee or Minneapolis and want to climb a mountain without going out west.