View rock spires and trees on Sunday Gulch Trail
Trips

Custer State Park Sunday Gulch Trail

Of the many things to see and do in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park is at the top of my list. Its beauty rivals that of many national parks. The best way to experience Custer State Park is on foot. And a hike on Sunday Gulch Trail is a great way to explore the dramatic landscape.

Vertical rock spires

The Sunday Gulch Trail is located in the Sylvan Lake area of Custer State Park.

At Sylvan Lake, a series of trails circle the lake and weave throughout the rock spires, including routes connecting to Harney Peak (the highest point in South Dakota but located outside the park).

Sylvan Lake surrounded by trees in Custer State Park

The Sunday Gulch trailhead is located at the back of Sylvan Lake. It is an approximately 3-mile loop trail. Since the trailhead is located at the back of the lake, the hike is really longer than 3 miles.

Sylvan Lake with rocks behind the lake

I read about the trail before our trip and decided that the best way (for us) to hike Sunday Gulch Trail was counter-clockwise. So, we walked around Sylvan Lake and took the north trailhead.

Boulders at the beginning of Sunday Gulch Trail

The trail begins with a steep descent over boulders crossing a stream several times.

Railings over boulders on Sunday Gulch Trail

The water in the stream varies throughout the year, so you could get wet. However, we hiked at the end of July, so we did not encounter that problem.

Creek between boulders

This section of Sunday Gulch Trail requires extra caution. However, there is a railing for steadying yourself.

Railings over boulders on Sunday Gulch Trail

Once down in the gulch, we enjoyed this less demanding section of the trail. And the shade made the hike more enjoyable.

Path through the woods

One of the unexpected highlights of the trail was the wildflowers. The colorful flowers were striking in the second half of our hike.

Yellow and purple wildflowers

In the case of this loop trail, what goes down must come up. So, the last portion of the hike is strenuous. Also, there is not as much shade.

Rocks in tress on a hill

However, the payoff of this more difficult portion of the trail is the majestic rock formations. These spires tower overhead.

Rock formations in the trees

The views from the top near the end of the trail are spectacular.

View of Sylvan Lake

Sunday Gulch Trail is rated as hard or strenuous. And, trust me, it is. But, its dramatic scenery is worth all of the effort. So, just take plenty of water and allow plenty of time to enjoy this otherworldly journey.

Rock formations in the trees along Sunday Gulch Trail

Check out my South Dakota page for more information on Black Hills travel. And be sure to check out 8 Must-See Sights on a Black Hills Vacation.

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