Hiking / Biking Trails
Custer State Park's early pioneers, ranchers and loggers have left behind miles of trails and backcountry roads to explore. Several of these trails are shared by hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers. Please be polite to all that you meet and pay attention to postings due to natural resource management concerns.
Badger Clark Historic Trail
The Badger Clark Historic Trail is located behind the historic Badger Hole, home of Charles Badger Clark, South Dakota's first Poet Laureate. The country behind his cabin was very special to Badger and became the inspiration for some of his poetry.
The trail winds through a mixed pine and hardwood forest and along rocky hillsides - a portion of the rock-lined trail was built by the poet himself. Interpretive signs along the trail further explain the trail system.
|0.5 miles south of US Highway 16A on Badger Clark Road.||1 mile (loop)|
South Dakota Centennial Trail
Use: Hiking, Mountain Biking (orange), Horseback Riding (red)
This 111-mile trail spans the length of the Black Hills from Bear Butte State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the South - approximately 22 miles of the trail are located within Custer State Park. This trail offers opportunities to view the natural and cultural resources of the Black Hills.
Three trailheads provide access points to Custer State Park's portion of the trail. The trail is marked with a combination of brown fiberglass posts and gray diamonds fastened to trees. This trail is also used by horse riders and mountain bikers.
The Centennial Trail was officially opened in June 1989, in commemoration of the South Dakota centennial.
This paved trail follows Grace Coolidge Creek and offers a variety of scenery. The trail passes by the State Game Lodge, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, Coolidge General Store, and the Park Office.
Users may park at any of these locations to access the trail. There are several bridge crossings that are roller blade friendly. The trail is fairly level, except for a walkway near the park office where bikers are asked to walk their bikes. This is a trail the entire family can enjoy.
Hard Surfaced Trails (Handicapped Accessible)
|Parallel to US 16A, runs from Game Lodge Campground to Grace Coolidge Campground||2 miles|
Lovers Leap Trail
This popular trail begins with a steep ascent through a mature ponderosa pine forest, with views of the State Game Lodge and surrounding area. The trail follows the top of a ridgeline, and at its highest point is a rocky outcrop named Lovers Leap. Legend has it that two Native American lovers leaped to their deaths from this point.
Mount Coolidge, Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires can also be viewed from this point, as well as the area that fell victim to the Galena Fire of 1988 (to the West of the trail).
The trail continues down the side of the ridge into the Galena Creek Drainage. Once in the creek bottom, the trail crosses the creek many times. Some of the creek crossings are challenging even when the water is low (no bridges are provided). The final portion of the trail passes a lodging area and follows a road back to the Coolidge General Store. From there a paved footpath leads past the chapel and back to the trailhead.
|Behind the schoolhouse (across from the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center) on US Highway 16A.||3 mile (loop)|
This trail explores a portion of the park's rolling prairie grasslands. Native plants and grasses of this area make prime habitat for bison, pronghorn and deer. Vantage points from the flat-topped hills offer panoramic views of the vast prairie of the southern Black Hills.
The Prairie Trail hosts one of the most spectacular summer wildflower displays in the area and has a few stream crossings (usually dry in late summer). Near the end, a portion of the trail follows a small stream through stands of mixed hardwoods.
The trail is marked with brown fiberglass posts and rock cairns.
|Along the Wildlife Loop Road, 13 miles from the State Game Lodge OR 5 miles from the Blue Bell Entrance Station.||3 miles (loop)|
Stockade Lake Trail
Beginning at the trailhead located on the southeast side of Stockade Lake, this trail ascends through a ponderosa pine forest to a ridgeline. This forested area has been actively managed to promote wildlife habitat, increased timber growth, and improved watersheds.
The ridge top offers excellent views of Stockade Lake, Black Elk Peak and the surrounding area. Near the end, this trail crosses over Stockade Lake Drive and follows the gravel road past the boat ramp and back to the trailhead.
|0.3 miles south of US Highway 16A on Stockade Lake Drive||1.5 miles (loop)|
Black Elk Area Trails
Two trailheads within Custer State Park mark trails leading to Black Elk Peak and into the Black Elk Range Trail System.
These trails begin in Custer State Park and enter the Black Hills National Forest and Black Elk Wilderness on their way to the summit. Users are required to register. All three trails are marked with blue diamonds within Custer State Park. There are no blue diamonds in the wilderness area, look for blazes on trees.
Cathedral Spires Trail
This trail features areas unique to the Black Hills area such as the Cathedral Spires/Limber Pine Area, a Registered National Natural Landmark. This is a one-way trail and does not connect to the Black Elk Peak Trail System.
|2.5 miles east of Sylvan Lake on Needles Highway.||1.5 miles (one way)|
Sunday Gulch Trail
This trail offers perhaps the most unique scenery of all the park's hiking trails. Descending into Sunday Gulch the trail crosses the stream several times while passing over large boulders and near magnificent granite walls. Sunday Gulch presents a variety of unique plants rarely seen in other areas of the park. Spruce, pine and a mixture of hardwoods line the trail.
Trail is closed November to May or as marked at trailhead.
|The trailhead is reached by following the Sylvan Lake Trail behind the dam to the top of Sunday Gulch.||2.8 miles (loop)||
(ice may be present along trail into early June)
Sylvan Lake Shore Trail
The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail offers passing motorists an opportunity to stretch their legs on a leisurely walk the whole family will enjoy.
This trail makes a complete loop around Sylvan Lake, and is among the easiest trails in Custer State Park. Enormous granite formations line portions of the lake making it one of the most picturesque in the Black Hills.
While most of this trail is relatively flat, a portion contains steps and crosses exposed rocky areas. Sections of the trail are not be suitable for strollers.
|Sylvan Lake, the trail may be started at various points along the lakeshore||1 mile (loop)|
Natural Area Hiking Trails
There are two designated natural areas in Custer State Park, French Creek and the Grace Coolidge Walk-in Fishing Area. These are areas set aside with the goals of providing scientific, educational and recreational opportunities in a setting that is as pristine as possible.
French Creek Natural Area
French Creek gently meanders through Custer State Park and into the French Creek gorge. The stream flows beneath sheer canyon walls, past mixed stands of pine and hardwood forest and lush native vegetation. Because of the uniqueness and diversity of this area, 2,200 acres surrounding the gorge have been set aside as the French Creek Natural Area.
Although there is no marked trail through the natural area, hikers make their own way along the creek or follow paths of previous hikers. Hikers must cross the creek many times and wet feet are almost assured. During the drier months, the first mile of creek from the east trailhead flows underground leaving a dry streambed.
The area is known for its excellent bird watching opportunities and an abundance of wildflowers. Adventuresome folks will find outstanding trout fishing along the creek.
- Overnight camping is only allowed within the canyon bottom.
- Campsites must be at least 50 feet from the stream.
- OPEN FIRES ARE STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
- Campers must self-register and pay camping fee at the East Trailhead or West Trailhead camping self-fee station.
West End - 3 miles from Blue Bell Lodge on North Lame Johnny Road (CSP 4)
East End - 4 miles south of the State Game Lodge on the Wildlife Loop Road
|12 miles (one way)|
Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area
This gently sloping trail follows Grace Coolidge Creek - the trail crosses the creek many times as it meanders through the valley. Crossings may be difficult (at any time of the year) and wet feet are almost assured.
Flowing gently from the spillway of Center Lake the creek contains six ponds where water is held back by six lowhead dams. The ponds and creeksides offer excellent trout fishing and add to the variety of plants and wildlife found in this unique area. In the spring and summer, wildflowers abound.
The creek was named in honor of First Lady Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge.
South End - Parking area along Hwy. 16A, opposite from Grace Coolidge Campground
North End - Adjacent to swimming beach at Center Lake
|3 miles (one way)|