Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trail or Creek? Sunday Gulch Adventure

Sunday Gulch is described as the most unique hike in Custer State Park due to its path down a steep ravine lined with enormous granite boulders. This ravine handles the outflow from Sylvan Lake, which happens to be overflowing right now from the very wet spring we've experienced. It's a 2.8 mile loop trail that's rated strenuous; sounds like a good way to spend a beautiful Sunday morning!

Sylvan Lake is a boulder lined beauty in the Black Hills.

Sunday Gulch trail starts behind the Sylvan Lake dam,
an interesting feature itself as it is built between existing giant granite boulders.

Metal railings mark the trail as it descends into the gulch between enormous granite walls.

Within moments the trail was completely overtaken by the fast flowing creek.

Once we determined that we'd probably have to get our feet wet we decided to hike the trail in reverse, saving the fording for the end...hoping that the force of the water was not too extreme or that we could find a way over the boulders to bypass the water...if all else failed the hike was short enough that we could retrace our steps!

Now heading clockwise on the trail, we admired the granitic core of the Black Hills jutting out of the lush forest.

Sunday Gulch drops away from us, lined with granite boulders many stories tall.



Spring bloom is just beginning in South Dakota.

The trail dropped steeply through dense forest to the bottom of the gulch.

This American Avocet was a surprise, hopping awkwardly among downed trees near the creek as though it were injured.
Later I read that it is normally found in open wetlands and it lays its eggs on open ground.
Perhaps it was trying to lure us away from its nest.

We were thrilled to see this bridge once the trail started to head up the ravine...

Soon, boulders began to enclose the canyon and metal railings and cement stairs helped us through difficult places.

Hans is dwarfed by the granite walls surrounding us.

Uh oh...missing bridge!




Normally these rocks would be easy to walk across, not this year!

I guess it's time to get my feet wet!

At this point Hans decided to find a way to bypass the trail because he didn't want to submerge his new hiking shoes. He ended up getting a full body workout doing some major boulder scrambling...but he did keep his shoes dry! Since I was wearing old shoes I was thrilled to grab onto the railings and work my way up the creek/trail...it was exhilarating!








I knew I was near the top once I saw other people contemplating the flow!

Scrambling up this trail was a blast...I was sorry when it was over!

Sylvan Lake dam.



That's the dam nestled between the boulders.

Sunday Gulch would be an extraordinary hike any time, but this spring it's truly a unique experience!

20 comments:

  1. Wow! My parents said they'd had a wetter than average spring, and the trail turned creek at Sunday Gulch totally confirms this! Sounds like a great adventure though. Sylvan Lake is my favorite lake in the Black Hills and I love hiking there! I think Sunday Gulch is going on my hiking list for when I visit later this summer.

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    1. All of the lakes in this state park are pretty, but Sylvan really is a gorgeous gem with those fantastic boulders! It will be interesting to see what the water flow level is later this summer!

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  2. What a fun hike and who knew trail stairs could make such great "cascades"! I remember camping below that dam back when I was little. So fun to see the scenery.

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    1. I bet they don't allow camping back there any more...now it's in developed campgrounds only!

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  3. That is a unique trail for now, Im excited to find out this fall if it will still be a trail or a creek. Im sure you had fun threading on a flowing creek. Like Hans I would not wet my brand new hiking shoes either.

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  4. This hike looks so good through your pictures, I have to save it !

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    1. You guys would enjoy this area I am sure!

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  5. This is way too cool of a hike!! I love that you tackled it even with the water. Way to go:) I only wish we were with you. I will definitely be saving this hike. Your photos of those gorgeous granite boulders and the water coming down the steps are incredible!

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    1. Oh, you two would have enjoyed this one! I never knew the Black Hills had so many rocks! :-)

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    2. I'm really enjoying seeing such cool hikes with lots of rocks. We were only in the area years ago with the motorcycle and we weren't into hiking. I'm excited to see the area. Keep up the good work showing us the state:)

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  6. What a beautiful, fun and challenging way to spend a few hours! The boulders and water sure have a way of luring one in. Definitely a hike for the books one day!
    What a great find to see the American Avocet...very interesting. Thanks for the info Lisa.

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    1. Yes, the bird was clearly out of its normal habitat and acting oddly...but probably making the best of an odd situation!

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  7. That is such a beautiful hike -- and so unique with the water flowing over part of the trail! I'd love hiking in the water to cool off at the end of the trail. I hope we have the same experience when we make it there. I'm just loving reading about your adventures in this part of the country that we haven't yet explored.

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    1. This area has turned out even more interesting than we hoped! It's certainly been a great place to spend the spring and early summer.

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  8. WOW Lisa what a GREAT hike. I always buy waterproof hiking boots just so I can do things like this. I'd have been right there with you. It looks like so much fun. How could I not have known about this when we were at Custer State Park? Thanks so much for taking me along. The avocet really tops it off. How cool!!

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  9. That looks like such a fun hike!! Would definitely be grateful for the railings while tackling the cascading water, but it looks very exhilarating :-) The boulders are amazing as well, and certainly make for a more aesthetic dam.

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  10. Sunday Gulch Hike has been on our bucket list since we visited Sylvan Lake. We also put Cathedral Spires Trail on our bucket list. I love your photo of the cascading water coming down the stairs as if it were a natural waterfall. And I loved your photo of the deer and American avocet.

    We were at the Black Hills in August 2014: http://travelbug-susan.blogspot.com/2012/08/wildlife-and-needles-highway-fri-aug-24.html

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  11. Awesome pictures! We just did this hike last week with our 4 year old (and our 1 year old in a pack). There was just a trickle coming out of the dam. I'm glad the creek wasn't rushing like this; the dry boulders were challenging enough for our preschooler to climb up!

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    1. Thanks for reading Sarah! This would have been really difficult with little ones and high water!

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