Hiking, Biking and Horse 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.
|.5 mile south of US Highway 16A on Badger Clark Road.||1 hour||1 mile||Moderate|
South Dakota Centennial Trail
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.
Iron Creek Trailhead
The trail leaves the trailhead and leads south, crossing SD Highway 87, and traverses a small hill. It continues to follow the trail markers through this gently rolling section of the park.
There are several small stream crossings. About 6 miles from the trailhead, the trail crosses US Highway 16A near the Legion Lake Lodge and campground. Continuing south from the highway (across a small stream) and following the trail markers up the hill to the right, this section of the trail enters an area burned in the 1988 Galena Fire. The trail then continues to the Badger Hole, home of South Dakota's first Poet Laureate, and the Centennial Trail's Badger Hole Trailhead. Throughout this area is evidence of past logging activity.
|North of SD Hwy 87, Needles Hwy on Camp Remington Road (CSP 345)||3-5 hours||7.3 miles to Badger Clark Trailhead.||Moderate|
Badger Hole Trailhead
The trail begins at the Badger Hole Trailhead (1 mile off highway 16A on Badger Clark Road) then leads west to the Badger Hole Cabin. The trail later heads south past a cabin 0.3 mi and ties into the Centennial Trail.
Taking the fork to the south (left), you will climb out of the bottom then descend a short rocky slope into Heddy draw, crossing to the south and climbing the divide. From the top of this hill the trail descends into the French Creek Natural Area.
The trail will be very steep and rocky, passing through a muddy area near the bottom. At the bottom of the hill, the trail turns right and follows French Creek, crossing the creek several times before reaching the Centennial Trail's French Creek Trailhead - this is the most strenuous section of the Centennial Trail within Custer State Park.
|1/2 mile south of Us Highway 16A on Badger Clark Road (CSP 9).||4-5 hours||4.2 miles to French Creek Trailhead||Moderate to strenuous|
French Creek Trailhead
Follow the trail markers west through Horse Camp and across French Creek. Just before crossing the creek a second time, the trail turns left and goes uphill.
After descending the other side the trail crosses the Wildlife Loop Road and continues to the south - this section of the trail enters the open grasslands and is home to large herds of bison. Bison are dangerous any time of the year, but especially in the spring when there are new calves and in the late summer when the bulls are in rut.
The trail passes through a self-closing gate and continues south to the border of Wind Cave National Park and the Centennial Trail's Highland Creek Trailhead - please ensure that the park gates are closed after passing through the border fence.
|3 miles from Blue Bell Lodge on North Lame Johnny Road (CSP 4)||5-6 hours||10.3 miles||Moderate|
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. The hard trail surface makes this trail stroller, wheelchair and wagon friendly.
|Parallel to US 16A. Trail may be accessed at various points along Highway 16A.||1 hour||3 miles||Easy|
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 of the Galena Fire of 1988 (to the west of the trail) and the Legion Lake fire in 2017.
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). From there a paved footpath leads past the chapel and back to the trailhead.
Poison ivy can be encountered at various points along this trail, especially in years with higher precipitation.
Across Highway 16A from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, behind the schoolhouse
|2-3 hours||3 miles||Moderate to Strenuous|
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 Wildlife Loop Road, 13 miles from the State Game Lodge or 5 miles from the Blue Bell Entrance Station
|2-3 hours||3 miles||Moderate|
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 mile south of US Highway 16A on Stockade Lake Drive||1-2 hours||1.5 miles||Moderate|
Two trailheads within Custer State Park mark trails leading to Black Elk Peak and additional trails within the Black Elk Wilderness. However, there are several trails that explore the granite outcroppings unique to the Sylvan Lake area.
These trails 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 Hwy (Hwy 87)||2 hours||1.5 miles to Cathedral Spires||Strenuous|
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.||2-3 hours||2.8 miles||Strenuous
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 suitable for strollers.
|Sylvan Lake, the trail may be started at various points along the lakeshore||1 hour||1 mile||Easy|
Trail 4 - Spur Trail to Little Devil's Tower
|1 mile east of Sylvan Lake on SD Hwy. 87 (Needles Hwy)||2-3 hours||3 miles round trip||Moderate to strenuous|
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. Once you enter the wilderness area, look for blazes on trees. Trail maps may be obtained at the Visitor Center, Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, Wildlife Station Visitor Center, or any Resort Lodges as well as US Forest Service offices. While most people travel these trails to get to Black Elk Peak, the entire system offers many more hiking opportunities for those seeking solitude.
This is the most traveled and easiest route to Black Elk Peak. The trail is marked with blue diamonds within Custer State Park, which turn into blazes on trees in the wilderness area.
|Sylvan Lake Day Use Area north of SD Hwy. 87. Trail 9 begins just across the footbridge leading to the swimming beach.||4-5 hours||7 miles round trip||Moderate|
The trail starts at the Sylvan Lake Day Use Area and goes to the Little Devils Tower trailhead, or on toward Black Elk Peak. The trail is marked with blue diamonds within Custer State Park, which turn into blazes on trees in the wilderness area. To go to Black Elk Peak, follow Trail 4 until it ends at Trail 3. Follow Trail 3 until the intersection with Trail 9, which will take hikers to Black Elk Peak. Trail 4 will also take you past a spur trail to Little Devils Tower. Watch for the trail intersections, as they are easy to miss, especially on the return trip.
|Sylvan Lake Day Use Area north of SD Hwy. 87. Trail 4 begins at the furthest southeast corner of the day use parking area.||4-5 hours||6.5 miles round trip||Moderate
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 Wildlife Loop Road||10-12 hours||12 miles||Moderate|
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 highway 16A, across from Grace Coolidge Campground; North end: Adjacent to swimming beach at Center Lake||2-3 hours||3 miles||Easy to Moderate|
There are three horse trail trailheads within the park; Fisherman Flats Trailhead, Badger Hole Trailhead, and Horse Camp Trailhead. Custer State Park trails are marked with brown fiberglass posts and blue diamond while Centennial Trail is marked with fiberglass posts and gray diamonds.
Trails to the south include Big Tree Draw, Robber’s Roost, and Lame Johnny Trails. Trails to the east include French Creek Trail and Rimrock Trails. Trails to the north include Heddy Draw, Calkins Draw, Galena Trail and Coolidge Tower Trails.
Marked trails are intended to be a primer for our first time visitors; however, we encourage guests to obtain a topographical map from any of the visitor centers or Blue Bell Resort.
Please note that some trails follow near or on well-traveled roads.
All out-of-state horses are required to have a valid, clean health certificate within the last 30 days, and a negative Coggins or ELISA EIA test within the last 12 months. SDCL 40-14-2. All documents must be on person.
The Centennial Trail is 22 miles as it passes through the park. It is not a loop trail but bisects the park from North to South. Three trailheads are located along the trail. Iron Creek Trailhead on the northern boundary, Badger Hole near Legion Lake and the French Creek Trailhead near Horse Camp.
The Centennial Trail is marked with brown fiberglass posts and gray diamonds.
Trail 1: French Creek and Mount Coolidge
Alternative Trail to ride up Calkins Draw:
Trail 2: Big Tree and Robber's Roost Draw
Trail 3: Parker Canyon
Racetrack Butte and Buffalo Corrals