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Center Lake

Updated: May 19, 2020

The wilderness is a wonderful place for solitude. In keeping with the theme of safe social distancing, we decided to head out to one of Custer State Park's most remote lakes. Beautiful Center Lake sits deep in the Black Hills forest and generally sees less traffic than its competitors.

In addition to fishing and swimming, Center Lake is also a great location for hiking. The area is home to a series of very old trails known as 'The Lost Trails'. This system was built over 80 years ago and can be found throughout the forest surrounding the lake. The known pathways have been updated with bright blue markers to guide the way. We found a map of the system after pulling into the parking area on the west side of the lake.

Although not shown on the map, there was actually more than one path around the west side of the lake. The map indicated that we should start by following the marked Grace Coolidge Trail until the path around Center Lake forked off from it. There was also a worn footpath that traversed the hills near the shore. We decided to start by exploring the unmarked trail near the water.

The lake was lovely. The dogs were eager to commence their trek. We began our hike heading south, stepping over rocks and tree roots around the perimeter of the water. The girls were all smiles and busy noses as they traversed this new and interesting place.

The lake was on our left, visible through the trees. The girls stopped on the rocks overlooking the water, taking in the view.

Wooded hills lined the lake shore; it was a beautiful place to be. The old path was a little hard to follow in spots, but there was no danger of getting lost. The large body of water on our left made it easy to keep our bearings.

We wandered up and over the hill above the shore, and soon ran into Grace Coolidge Creek as it babbled behind the lake. The dogs ventured into the cool mountain stream. It flowed away from the lake above, cutting its way deep through the wilderness beyond.

We followed the blue arrows along the creek, leading us behind the south end of Center Lake.

We soon crossed a wooden bridge over the creek and continued along the path towards the increasingly loud sound of rushing water.

A rugged, thunderous waterfall spilled over the backside of the lake, crashing over the rocks below. The dogs were curious about the wild attraction before us.

We sat near the waterfall for a little while, enjoying the charming spot at our leisure. To our surprise, no one interrupted our stay. We took everything in while time stood still, giving us this moment to hang on to. It was absolutely delightful.

From the waterfall, blue arrows were visible through the trees across the creek. We crossed back over where it was shallow and continued along the marked loop trail around the lake. The path took off into the forest, now heading north around the eastern side of the water.

We began to hike upwards through the trees, ascending stone steps through granite boulders. The scenery was beautiful as we climbed higher above the lake.

We had fantastic views of the wooded hills surrounding the water. The girls and I stopped for a treat and water break while appreciating the landscape around us. It was lovely up here and we sat for a few minutes taking it all in.

From there the trail began to wind down the far side of the hill. We made our way along the gradually descending path, following the trail markers as we went.

Soon we emerged from the woods and entered the lake's eastern recreation area. Another Lost Trails sign informed us of where we were, and that we only had to make it around the northern horn of the lake to complete our loop.

Others were fishing along the shore as we wrapped up our hike. Squirrels played in the trees above us as we walked, driving the dogs into a frenzy. We continued along the water's edge, making our way around the north end of the lake.

We completed our adventure, having made it back to the western shore. We sat for a bit under the tall pines, relaxing and basking in the glory of a completed hike. It had been a beautiful, fun trek around Center Lake. Other people fished nearby in silence, afraid to break the peacefulness of this exceptional place.

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