Custer Skywalk Trail Through Big Rock Park
At the south end of 6th Street in the quaint town of Custer, South Dakota, the edge of the city blends seamlessly into the forest. A wilderness area complete with hiking paths, lookout points, and a disc golf course cover the wooded hillside overlooking the little village below. Known as Big Rock Park, this area has several trails leading in and out, and is easily accessible from various city parks in Custer.
We parked at Harbach Centennial Park, a small city park located between Washington Street and French Creek Drive. The Custer Skywalk Trailhead sat just across the street from the park. Before venturing into the wilderness, we took a quick walk around Harbach Park. A gazebo sat near the middle. We strolled down and back through the little area. An old train car sat on display at one end. After some brief exploration of the park, we made our way over to the trailhead for the Custer Skywalk.
A big sign showed a map of the trail system running through the area. A large log awning marked the Custer Skywalk Trailhead and entrance to Big Rock Park. The awning was flanked on either side by giant sculptures. General Custer's likeness sat on the left (called "George") and a Native American dignitary sat on the right (called "Chief"). Both statues had signs explaining some local history and the meaning behind the artwork itself. The dogs waited impatiently for me to finish reading the information; they were eager to start up the trail.
Just beyond the log awning, a giant staircase began to ascend into the forest. This dirt path contained many steps as it climbed through the woods.
We continued our wild climb through the forest along a wintry staircase. Thankfully the weather was very favorable for December and the steps weren't covered in ice -just snow. We still had to tread carefully, but long log railings lined much of the path making the journey easier.
Tall pine trees blocked out most of the sun as we hiked. After making our way upwards through the woods, the trail eventually approached the first lookout point. It was a small, covered wooden shelter overlooking the town below and the mountain range that made up its backdrop. This spot was officially known as Sunrise Point.
The distant hills stood tall before us, and a sign pointed out the names of the different peaks. From up here, the dogs enjoyed looking out over the scenery. The little town of Custer was spread out below. We sat in the shelter for a few minutes enjoying a water and treat break while taking in the views.
Eventually we were ready to move on and hopped back on the trail. A sign near the lookout indicated that a left turn would let us continue up the path to Big Rock Lookout, while a right would lead us back the way we came. We were all in the mood to keep going, so we followed the signs up to Big Rock Lookout.
The trail curved to the right and had now become an old dirt road heading up the hill. After a short walk we came upon another sign telling us to take a right off the main path and follow a gently sloping set of steps towards Big Rock Lookout.
To the dogs' excitement, squirrels and chipmunks darted around this part of the forest. This entire time we had been hiking uphill, and we were now reaching the summit. At the top of the broad, snowy staircase we reached a natural landing. A picnic table, bench, and garbage can sat near a towering rock wall. The sharp profile of the Big Rock formation jutted out in front of us.
Leading to the top of the huge rock formation that made up the summit was one final staircase. This was a wooden staircase, steeper than the others we has climbed along the way. It was the last thing to conquer on our trek to the top of the mountain; it led to Big Rock Lookout.
The dogs were eager to climb this last staircase and see what awaited them at the top. The steps were sturdy and well-built. Metal grating along the sides protected dogs and children from slipping off the stairs, which was a very smart feature to have out here.
At the top of the stairs was a small platform that made up the lookout. The views were fantastic. We could see even more of the town of Custer below us, and the hills stretching out in the distance as far as the eyes could see.
A wooden railing lined the lookout platform. Beneath it was more of the metal safety grating. The girls could look out over the world with no danger of falling off the edge of this high perch -it was absolutely fabulous! They enjoyed the views without worry while I snapped a few pictures from this lovely vantage point.
I really appreciated the safety-conscious construction of Big Rock Lookout. The dogs seemed to like it too -they pressed their little faces right up to the metal grate and took in the scenery around them.
We all enjoyed the views together, safely inside the enclosure of the lookout. We hung out at the top for a while, taking advantage of the fact that we had the perch all to ourselves on this lovely winter afternoon. The scenery was gorgeous -evergreen trees covered snow-dusted hills rising in the distance. The golden afternoon sun bathed everything around us. This was well worth the hike to get here.
Eventually it was time to move on, and after a few last looks around we made our way back down the steps. Patches of snow littered the stairs but thankfully there was a sturdy handrail to assist us on the descent.
Back at the bottom of the staircase, the girls decided they would like to explore this part of the forest. They sniffed along the base of Big Rock, their noses working furiously. Enticing odors led them through the wilderness (presumably the scents of whatever creatures made their homes up here).
After exploring the forest for a few minutes the girls were ready to get back on the trail. We made our way back down the gently sloping steps that had carried us up to the base of Big Rock.
At the bottom of the steps we decided to continue along the trail that looped around the hill. We followed a snowy path through the pine forest. After a short hike, we came upon another fork and another directional sign. We took a left along the trail, now making our way back towards Sunrise Point.
We went back to the lookout at Sunrise Point one last time before making our trip down the hill. Ursa especially appreciated another chance to check out the views. She and Maggie looked out over the city below.
We sat in the lookout enclosure as the sun gently fell behind the hills. This was a great place to relax and take in the scenery.
As the sun ducked below the trees it was time to make our way (somewhat reluctantly) back down the hill. This had been a wonderful spot to enjoy the afternoon, and it was hard to leave such beautiful views behind.
We carefully made our way back down the various steps and staircases. The snow crunched under our feet and paws as we hiked.
The trek down went much faster than the hike up. In only a short time we were back at the bottom, once again under the large log awning. We took a final gander at the statues before loading back into the car, headed off to our next adventure.
This wilderness park was a fantastic place for hiking with the dogs. It was located on the edge of the city, making it easy to find and access.
Some people or dogs may find the uphill hike difficult, especially with the abundance of steps.
These stairs can be snowy or even icy in the winter, so it's best to use caution when traversing the Custer Skywalk during colder months.
We ended up spending about 2 hours in the park -exploring the trails, enjoying the lookouts, and taking in the scenery. We all had a fantastic time in Big Rock Park, trekking through the forest and viewing the surrounding hills. The trails themselves weren't very long, we just took our time on our adventure.
This park is popular with trail runners, dog walkers, and disc golfers. It isn't always crowded, however, and we just happened to have the vistas all to ourselves during our visit.
This is a lovely park with trails that are easy to follow. It's a great place to take the dogs out for some exercise and enrichment and also catch some fantastic views of the beautiful Black Hills.