States like South Dakota are often viewed as drive-through and fly-over states with few things, beyond maybe Mount Rushmore, worth seeing. You’ll be changing your ‘tude when you see this incredible hiking spot.
Sunday Gulch Trail is a 3 mile loop trail located at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. It’s often overlooked due to the more popular Harney Peak trail also being located at the lake. The trailhead to Sunday Gulch Trail is just behind the Sylvan Lake dam after a short walk around the lake.
This is a difficult trail with the most difficult part right at the beginning. You have to walk over large boulders that can be very slippery, then descend a few sets of stairs to get to the bottom of the gulch. Hand rails are attached for added safety, but still use caution when walking across the rocks. This part of the trail can also get flooded in the Spring and early Summer, so hiking sandals are recommended.
Hiking poles are also recommended due to the rough ground and steepness of the trail. In places along the trail, water can be as deep as your knees after a heavy rain. And, let me warn you that the water will be cold! Ice remains along the trail for fairly long into the season.
You will pass by towering moss-covered granite walls before reaching the gulch. Once down inside the gulch, the trail crosses and re-crosses a stream a few times. Footbridges, logs or rocks can be used to cross the stream. Or, if you’re hot, you can just splash across the stream if the water isn’t too high!
Keep in mind that, since you have to descend into the gulch, you also have to ascend to get back out! The hike back to the lake is also mostly uphill, so if you’re not in good shape, you might want to skip this hike.
Since the hike is relatively short, you can also hike the Harney Peak trail the same day if you’re not too worn out from that climb out of the gulch. You can also jump into Sylvan Lake to cool off if you’re hot after the hike.
The trail is closed from November through April and there is a fee to get into the park. You can download a map of the trails here. You can also find more information about Sunday Gulch Trail can be found on this website.