Stay in the loop!

Want to know when we share big things? Subscribe today & keep up-to-date with our posts.

The Custer State Park Trail Challenge

Summer of 2018

This summer we decided to take on the trail challenge put forth by Custer State Park. Each year the park challenges locals and tourists alike to hike eight trails within Custer State Park. On each trial there is a bronze medallion with a symbol and the name of the trail on it. The goal of the challenge is to either take a picture of each medallion or do a rubbing on the trail challenge handout they have available at any of the park’s visitor centers.

Custer State Park Trail Challenge.jpg

We picked a Saturday in July to head down to Custer State Park with a couple friends and start earning our pin! We decided to tackle the trails on two different days based on the geographic location of the trails. When we arrived at the park, mid-afternoon on a Saturday, it was pretty hopping with vehicles because all the bison were in one area of the park. It was really fun to see all the babies with their mamas so close to the road! Being locals, we were able to dodge the traffic jam and take a back road to the trailhead for Prairie Trail.

Prairie Trail

Prairie Trail.jpg

I have hiked this trail before and have always enjoyed it because there are a few stream crossings, which works well when hiking with a dog! In addition, there is a variety of elevation gain/loss but not a lot, so you get to enjoy a variety of views! On this particular day it was super hot so we were very glad when we climbed out of the trees and made it to the prairie portion on the hike. That strong South Dakota breeze never felt so good! We found the trail challenge marker in the prairie and we all had to stop and get a picture. Our dog, Pippie, was the model for the pictures and you can tell she loved it! After an enjoyable three mile loop, we headed back to the vehicle to drive to Stockade Lake.

Stockade Lake Trail

Stockade Trail.jpg

I didn’t know what to expect for a hike when we arrived at the Stockade Lake Trail but I was pleasantly surprised because there wasn't anyone else there except our group, and there were a ton of wild raspberry bushes! The one and a half mile loop hike actually took us a lot longer to complete because we kept on stopping to snack on the sweet berries! The trail itself has a couple magnificent views of the hills and has a bit of elevation gain/loss, more than I was expecting! From there we headed over to the Badger Clark Historic Trail.

Badger Clark Historic Trail

This one mile loop trail takes you through a walking history of Laureate Badger Clark, a South Dakota poet. There is a few spots with a little bit of elevation gain/loss, but overall the trail is easy and very informative!

Legion Lake Trail

The Legion Lake Trail was next on our list and is an easy one mile loop that takes you around Legion Lake, which is a popular spot for swimming! When we finished the quick loop, we headed into the restaurant to grab an ice cream cone! It was a cold, sweet treat on a hot day that was thoroughly enjoyed before we headed to our last hike for the day, Lover’s Leap!

Lovers Leap

Lovers Leap Trail.jpg

This trail was, by far, my favorite hike of the day because of the amazing views you are awarded with once you make it to the top! It was really interesting to see the fire damage from the forest fire that happened in December of 2017. All along the trail there were burnt trees and holes in the ground where tree bases and roots used to be. The shapes were so interesting and some of the holes were pretty deep! I had never seen anything like it before.

This three mile loop trail is moderately strenuous but absolutely worth the hike! Be extremely aware of poison ivy when you are going by the creek in the tall grasses. We all had long pants on, besides my husband, and he ended up getting a little bit of poison ivy on his legs. When we made it back to the vehicle, I used wet wipes to wipe down his legs as well as our dog. We were camping out that night and we didn’t want any of the oil from the plant to end up on us or our gear. I wore rubber gloves (a staple in my first aid kit) when cleaning his legs and my dog so I would protect my hands. I didn’t end up cleaning near his sock line well enough and that is where he got the poison ivy.

The excitement on the evening was when we came across a HUGE bison in the middle of the trail right after dusk. He had left us a big, fresh, present in the middle of the trail, which is how we knew to look for a bison nearby. We were at a pretty steep spot so we had to down climb to go around him.

We made it back to the vehicles and headed to a beautiful spot to camp in the Black Hills National Forest for the evening!

Sunday Gulch

Sunday Gulch Trail.jpg

The following Saturday we got up super early and headed down to Sylvan Lake to finish up the trail challenge. It had torrential rained the night before but I didn’t really think much of it. Well, we get to the Sunday Gulch Trailhead at that was where this little adventure began....a ranging creek was flowing along the first half of the trail, all down through the rock steps, on either side of the trail and was up to our knees in some spots!. Check out our YouTube page, Unnamed Adventures, for videos of the trail. It was scary in a few spots because the current was so strong I was afraid our dog would be swept off the trail and between the rocks. She was a little trooper though and made it through the 2.8 mile loop trail unscathed! We got into our vehicle and headed down the road a little ways to the trailhead for Little Devils Tower.

Little Devils Tower

Little Devils Tower.jpg

Due to the absolutely stunning views from the top of Little Devils Tower, this is one of my favorite hikes in the Black Hills. Can you guess what the other one is? Black Elk Peak, of course!

This trail is strenuous and involves some scrambling over rocks to get to the top. The wind once we reach the peak was very strong so after taking some great pictures and more video, we hunkered down between some rocks for a quick meal.

The granite rock was harsh on Pippie’s paws so I put her booties on for the way down. People we passed kept on saying how cute she looked! She sounded like a little mountain goat though…*clippity clop, clippity clop*!


Cathedral Spires

Cathedral Spires Trail.jpg

While hiking back down the trail, there is an adjoining trail for the Cathedral Spires. We took that fork in the road and headed down to finish off our trail challenge. We were rewarded with the antics of a few mountain goats high up on the spires! They were awfully cute and we enjoyed watching them for a little bit!

Once we reach the last bronze medallion, we cheered and headed back up the trail and back to our vehicle! We then drove to the visitor center to show them our pictures and rubbings so we each could collect a Custer Trail Challenge pin!

What to Bring when hiking in the Black Hills

A few things to note when going for a hike in the Black Hills: it is always a good idea to be prepared because you never know what you will come across. Having a day pack with plenty of water, at least two liters, snacks, an extra layer, rain jacket, first aid kit, headlamp, bear spray (it also works against other animals, like bison, or humans if danger arises), hat, and proper footwear. The weather can change so quickly and it is so important to be prepared. On one day of our hikes there was sweltering heat. On another day it had torrential rained the night before so everything was very wet and it was a bit chilly out. We were fine with a long sleeve shirt at lower elevation but as we climbed to the top of Little Devils Tower is became cold with the wind. So having a rain jacket and/or warmer layer was important!

If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of gear recommendations check out American Hiking Society.

For maps of all of the trails in the Custer Trail Challenge click here!

Meet the Author

Amy Karras

Amy Karras and her husband, Jake, write an adventure blog, Unnamed Adventures! They have lived in Rapid City for the last two years with their two dogs and love hiking, backpacking, skiing, and photography! ​Being adventurers at heart, they have always enjoyed traveling, meeting new people and seeing new sights! They live their lives for the next dream fulfilled! ​Their life motto is to “Find Your Unknown”! Find them on Instagram at UnnamedAdventures.

latest blog posts

Amy Karras
Guest Blogger

Amy Karras and her husband, Jake, write an adventure blog, Unnamed Adventures! They have lived in Rapid City for the last two years with their two dogs and love hiking, backpacking, skiing, and photography! ​Being adventurers at heart, they have always enjoyed traveling, meeting new people and seeing new sights! They live their lives for the next dream fulfilled! ​Their life motto is to “Find Your Unknown”! Find them on Instagram at UnnamedAdventures.

View More

Latest Blog Post

  • Winter Fun In Custer State Park
    January 16, 2020 - Kelsy
  • Top Visitor Questions from 2019
    January 8, 2020 - Kelsy
  • Trip Worthy Events in 2020
    December 23, 2019 - Kelsy
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Hibernation Is Overrated For The Critters Of The Black Hills
    December 5, 2019 - Anne
  • 5 Reasons I Love Downtown Rapid City
    May 31, 2019 - Anne
  • Get Your Hike On
    March 25, 2019 - Anne
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Rapid City's "Little Secret"
    November 20, 2019 - Chris
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Planning A Meeting In Rapid City Is Easy - And Adventurous
    November 13, 2019 - Tyson
  • 5 Reasons Meeting Planners Love Rapid City
    February 6, 2019 - Tyson
  • Amazing Rush Season 2: Day One Adventures
    October 27, 2017 - Tyson
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The Best Of Both Worlds
    November 5, 2019 - Cody
  • Construction at Mount Rushmore? More Like Enhancements
    September 3, 2019 - Cody
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The 7 Wonders In and Around Rapid City, SD
    October 10, 2019 - Allie Bast
  • Latest Blog Post

  • IN HISTORY: 1st Custer State Park Buffalo Auction, Feb. 12, 1966
    August 23, 2019 - Black Hills Knowledge Network
  • In History: First Blast On Crazy Horse Memorial, June 3, 1948
    April 5, 2019 - Black Hills Knowledge Network
  • IN HISTORY: Rapid City Founded, Feb. 24, 1876
    February 22, 2018 - Black Hills Knowledge Network
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Summer In Rapid City
    August 1, 2019 - Stephanie
  • Latest Blog Post

  • An Oz Experience: Flying With The Oldest Balloon Company In The USA
    July 26, 2019 - Danielle
  • My Daughter's First Time At Storybook Island
    June 7, 2019 - Danielle
  • Big, Bold Flavors Where The Buffalo Roam
    December 8, 2017 - Danielle
  • Latest Blog Post

  • 10 Must-Do Adventures In And Around Rapid City
    July 3, 2019 - Chris Brinlee Jr.
  • How To Get The Most Out Of A Black Hills Adventure
    August 17, 2017 - Chris Brinlee Jr.
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The Most Exciting Social Event Of The Summer
    May 10, 2019 - Jennifer
  • Get Lost, Play Tag…Be Brave
    May 8, 2019 - Jennifer
  • Make Unbearably Perfect Memories at Bear Country USA
    March 2, 2018 - Jennifer
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Outdoor Campus West: Free Family Fun!
    April 24, 2019 - Shiloh
  • Experience the Magic at Storybook Island
    December 5, 2018 - Shiloh
  • Add Some Color to Your Life
    April 25, 2018 - Shiloh
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Mount Rushmore Questions You’ve Been Dying to Ask
    February 8, 2019 - Michaela
  • Top 5 Trails Within 30 Minutes of Rapid City
    March 8, 2018 - Michaela
  • Rapid City from Michaela’s point of view.
    October 17, 2016 - Michaela
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Rapid City Myth Busting
    January 25, 2019 - Sarah
  • Downtown Shopping
    January 3, 2019 - Sarah
  • My Favorite Parks and Monuments
    January 29, 2016 - Sarah
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The Custer State Park Trail Challenge
    October 26, 2018 - Amy
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Our Family Vacation To South Dakota
    September 21, 2018 - Liz Beatty
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Black Hills Powwow: A Kaleidoscope of Color
    September 5, 2018 - Kris Monroe
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Wild Adventures Out West
    July 12, 2018 - Kevin Stinehart
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Rapid City Blog: Spearfish Canyon
    June 25, 2018 - Aiden Lynn-Klimenko & Madison Perrins
  • Rapid City Blog: Trail System
    November 14, 2016 - Aiden Lynn-Klimenko & Madison Perrins
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Top Picks For Outdoor Adventure At 9 Parks & Monuments
    April 11, 2018 - Lisa
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The Mount Rushmore of Summer Vacations
    April 9, 2018 - Ginny
  • 8 Great Reasons to Love Spring in the Black Hills
    January 29, 2018 - Ginny
  • Four Ways Rapid City Lives Up To The Hype
    June 23, 2016 - Ginny
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Refresh Your Adventure At Rapid City Microbreweries
    January 16, 2018 - Stephen Sebestyen
  • Latest Blog Post

  • In The Spirit Of The Season: The Story Of Devils Tower National Monument
    October 10, 2017 - Amanda Hitchcock
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Rapid City's Wildside
    October 5, 2017 - Adrian Munoz
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Rapid City - Reptile Gardens, Bear Country USA, Watiki Water Park, Outdoor Campus West
    July 7, 2017 - Heather & Pete Reese
  • Custer State Park Jeep Tour, Chuckwagon, Buffalo, Antelope!
    July 6, 2017 - Heather & Pete Reese
  • Rapid City Day 3 - Mount Rushmore, Adventure Park, Cave Exploring!
    July 6, 2017 - Heather & Pete Reese
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Beginners Guide: Being A Tourist In Your Backyard
    June 2, 2017 - Tessa
  • Latest Blog Post

  • The adventure of a lifetime in Rapid City
    March 20, 2017 - Ellen and Mike
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Basil, Tomatoes, Olive Oil, Wine…Just A Few Of My Favs
    January 27, 2017 - Stacie
  • 1,200 Degrees of Taste Bud Paradise
    January 15, 2017 - Stacie
  • Latest Blog Post

  • A Black Hills Winter
    December 23, 2016 - Jesse
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Travelin with Tiff: Rush Mountain Adventure Park
    December 13, 2016 - Tiffany
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Downtown Trails and Recreation
    July 5, 2016 - Lisa
  • Latest Blog Post

  • 3 Mountain Bike Rides to Jump Start Your Black Hills Adventures
    May 20, 2016 - Craig
  • Latest Blog Post

  • Shredding in the Black Hills
    March 10, 2016 - Bill