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French Creek Natural Area

French Creek Natural Area

Lt Colonel George A Custer made French Creek famous during the summer of 1874. It was in this creek that gold was discovered by prospectors of the Custer Expedition. The specks of gold found in French Creek caused a fury of gold seekers into the Black Hills. French Creek is not only noted for its origins of gold - today, it attracts other prospectors, those seeking the golden opportunities to observe and interact with the natural world of French Creek gorge.

The French Creek Natural Area is a 12 mile back country hiking trail. It was established to protect the abundant natural resources within the area while providing visitors the opportunity to experience the untouched beauty of the French Creek Gorge. Keep a sharp eye out for birds, mammals and wildflowers. There is always a chance that you may see Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep scaling the canyon walls, an eagle circling above, or trout darting about in the stream.

French Creek Natural Area A look at entering the area near the East Trailhead.

French Creek Natural Area West Trailhead and parking area.

Hiking Trail

Follow the stream, as the trail is not marked or developed. Hikers generally cross French Creek about 42 times. Approximately 8 miles from Horse Camp the trail diverges from the horse trail at the sign to Fisherman's Flat and becomes less defined. Shortly downstream is the Narrows where the canyon pinches together and access is limited to climbing over the cliff (a steep embankment of 60 feet), or swimming (100 feet) through the creek.

Allow approximately 10 hours for a leisurely hike or 6 hours of straight walking.

Sanitation / Water

  • Carry in only

Safety / Restrictions

Hiking and camping is encouraged. However, due to the natural state of the area, guidelines have been established for your safety, as well as for the preservation of resources. Enjoy the French Creek Natural Area, but please respect its beauty.

  • Use low-impact camping methods: do not dig trenches or build shelters.
  • Where to Camp: allowed within the canyon bottom.
  • Campsites: place at least 50ft from the stream.
  • OPEN FIRES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED!
  • Human Waste: disposal of human wastes should be a minimum of 200 feet from the nearest water source. Human waste must be buried at least 8 inches deep.
  • Pack out your litter: Garbage receptacles are available at each of the trailheads.
  • Drinking Water: Carry in your own drinking water. The water quality of French Creek and its springs is not suitable for drinking.
  • Soaps and Detergents: Keep out of the stream.
  • Footwear and Clothing: Wear appropriate footwear for ankle support and long pants for protection against the dense stands of poison ivy.
  • Weather: Plan for unpredictable weather conditions. Heavy thunderstorms are common in the Black Hills and temperatures can cool down to the low 50's during the summer.
  • Rattle snakes live in the area and poison ivy is abundant.
  • Watch for bison, they can be unpredictable.
  • Pets: must be leashed in designated camping areas. Outside the campground, pets must be under the immediate control of the owner.
  • Firearms: Not allowed in Custer State Park, except by licensed hunters during established hunting seasons.

Park Specs

  • Camping Type: Primitive back country hiking trail
  • Reservations: Not required
  • Open: Year-round
  • Size: 12 miles

Directions

Access from either the east or west end.

West: 3 miles from Blue Bell Lodge on North Lame Johnny Road.

East: 4 miles south of the State Game Lodge on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Maps

Custer State Park Trail Guide

Area Attractions

  • Crazy Horse: 11.5 miles
  • Jewel Cave: 22 miles
  • Mammoth Site: 43 miles
  • Mt. Rushmore: 16 miles
  • Wind Cave: 24 miles

Nearest Town

Custer: 7 miles
Rapid City: 37 miles
Hill City: 9 miles

Fees

Camping fees are subject to sales tax.

Park entrance license required year-round

  • Temporary license (1-7 consecutive days): $15 per vehicle or $10 per motorcycle
  • Annual License: $30

Camping*:

  • $7 per person per night

*Campers need to register at the self-registration station at the east or west trailhead.