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Black Hills Wilderness, Black Hills SD, April 22-24
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Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Black Hills Wilderness, Black Hills SD, April 22-24 on 04/28/2011 20:55:34 MDT Print View

Three days off during Easter weekend and I’m still stuck living in the Midwestern plains. That’s another story for another time. No early season Utah Canyonlands or Escalante trip this year for me. As I sat in Iowa two weeks before planning this trip the temperature outside was in the 60’s. The morning I hit the trailhead in South Dakota the forecast called for a couple inches of snow, 25 to 35 mph winds, with gusts of up to 50.

I had previously only visited the Blacks Hills of South Dakota once before this trip. Regretfully, that trip involved no backpacking, not even a day hike. I did the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore where you have to pay money to park in a multi-level parking garage, walk through big crowds, and pass a restaurant just to get up close and personal with the four former presidents. The commercialism of the place (and the areas surrounding the small tourist towns) is a big bummer in my opinion. This particular weekend I scored views of this gigantic granite sculpture without paying for parking and dealing with the masses.

After staying at a hotel Thursday night in Rapid City, I left early traveling the remaining 30 some miles to the Grizzly Bear (no bears exist in the Black Hills) Trailhead. The black elk wilderness has many options for day and multiday loop trips. The most popular hike being the trip up to Harney Peak, which is the tallest mountain east of the Rockies.


Grizzly Trail to Lost Cabin Trail to Willow Creek Trail to WCT/ Rushmore Trail to Centennial Trail and back to Grizzly Trailhead

Rushmore from a distance


Tunnel Vision

I captured these views on my way to the Trailhead on the Peter Norbeck scenic byway highway.


Grizzly Bear Creek Trailhead


View 2

Trail Maintenance

The first couple miles of the trail were wide, making it obvious that the path was probably once a road. I found the attempted cover up by these tree limbs to be pretty funny.

Single Track

That eventually turned into this.

Snow Steps

Not really a powder day but I made first tracks anyway.

Granite Castle

One of many distant granite castles.


Starting to climb in elevation now.

Deep Snow

I left my snowshoes at home... The deepest I saw was probably around 2 feet.


I eventually make it to a clearing to take in some views.

To Harney Peak

My original game plan was to bag Harney Peak. but at this point I was still about a mile and a half away from the summit, with 50 mph gusts of wind and 250 mL of water left. On Friday alone I heard 2 different trees take a tumble... somewhere in the forest. I opted to stay off the peak and start going down the hill on Lost Cabin Trail.

This or That

Little Devils Tower

Little Devils Tower


Night one camp. It was a very brisk evening and I was bundled inside my sleeping bag by 7:00 pm. I know it looks rather pleasent in the photo but that sun is mighty decieving.


I awoke to partially frozen water bottles.




The view looking north from the Lost Cabin pass.

Peace Cross

Not my creation, but I appreciated it.


Harney Tower

The view of the look out tower on top of Harney Peak... now regretting the fact I didn't make the push.

Lost Cabin

More Trail





This is how the Centennial trail was posted every quarter mile or so. I came away very impressed by the trail system in the black elk wilderness. I never had to think twice about retracing my steps because of it fading. There was adequate signage and it was easy to keep my eyes up, and not always on the map.


All is calm at camp on night two.


Then the snow began to fly. It snowed on and off Saturday but never enough to accumulate to anything on the ground...


...Until Sunday morning of course.



These were the only views I could see Rushmore of from the Trail. I suppose if I would have ventured to do a little more bushwhacking, I could have gotten more than just Washington and Lincoln.

Edited by timdcy on 04/28/2011 21:16:23 MDT.

Chris Kopp
(ckopp) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Black Hills Wilderness, Black Hills SD, April 22-24 on 04/28/2011 23:03:14 MDT Print View

Tim, nice report!
I'm originally from the Black Hills area (now in San Diego) and it's nice to see a report from there. I was actually visiting my family just to the east of Rapid City this past weekend. I haven't been in that part of the Hills for a while but was shocked by all the beetle-killed trees in some of your photos.

Edited by ckopp on 04/29/2011 09:47:53 MDT.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Black Hills Wilderness, Black Hills SD, on 04/29/2011 08:59:48 MDT Print View

Very scenic. Thanks for sharing.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
RE: Black Hills Wilderness, Black Hills SD, April 22-24 on 04/30/2011 07:23:48 MDT Print View

Thanks for the compliments fellas. The pine beetle kill in this area surprised me as well. Not nearly as bad as what I've seen in the Rockies, but still bad enough. (I deleted a picture showing one particular dead and brown area.) Along the willow creek trail there were hundreds of trees tagged to come down.

Edited by timdcy on 05/01/2011 06:35:25 MDT.

Matthew Marasco
(BabyMatty) - F

Locale: Western/Central PA, Adirondacks
re: on 04/30/2011 10:08:39 MDT Print View

Awesome TR from a region that gets little coverage. If I didn't have finals next week I would have probably be watching Deadwood episodes after reading!

Daniel Siebert
(dan1elson) - F
Nice Report! on 04/30/2011 19:46:29 MDT Print View

Bad Ass! Nicely done timmy!

Bobby Bruinsma
(bdbruinsma) - F

Locale: Black Hills
Passerby on 07/14/2011 21:54:19 MDT Print View

Hey Tim, I passed by you on the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail on the first day. Nice to see your trip went well. How cold was night one? I too was wrapped up in the bag early that night. Well it was good seeing photos of you SD adventures, I hope you have many more.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: Passerby on 07/19/2011 20:42:10 MDT Print View

Hey Bobby,

It was nice meeting you. I'd say that it was well under 30 degrees. I car camped with some friends over Memorial Day weekend at Deerfield lake and we awoke to 2 inches of wet snow Sunday morning... I'm glad the only snow we saw was just the few out of no where flurries here and there.

How did the rest of your trip go?

Bobby Bruinsma
(bdbruinsma) - F

Locale: Black Hills
Re: Re: Passerby on 07/20/2011 10:12:37 MDT Print View

The rest of the trip went well. Being newer to backpacking and that weekend being my first cold weather experience it made it quite obvious that I need to upgrade some of my equipment, like my sleeping bag for instance. Although my bag was rated to handle nights like those, it was a long, cold night for me.
So, do you live near the Hills than? I plan on making quite a few more trips out this year, maybe I'll see ya around again.
I have one questions that's been on my mind for a while and maybe you can answer it. As I start to hike more and more trails in the Black Hills, it seems at every trail head there are signs posted instructing no fires. Although, when I travel through these trails I continually see campsites with makeshift fire rings (made by previous hikers), which were recently used. I see in your photos that you may have found one of those sites as well. My questions is, although it states there are no fires in the NF are there some exceptions to this rule? (ex. keeping them contained in a fire ring...) Like I said, I'm newer to backpacking and may not be aware of any "unwritten rules" that apply on the trails. Not sure if you can answer, but thought I would shoot this your way in case you may.
Sorry for the long rambling reply. Hope to see you out again sometime. Cheers.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Fire rings on 07/20/2011 18:40:54 MDT Print View


I'll be starting a month long thru hike starting tomorrow morning, so I don't have a ton of time to chat, but PM me and when I get back we can discuss the black hills. Have fun out there!