Known officially as Trail #40 L, The Deerfield Loop Trail stretches over 11 miles around the circumference of Deerfield Lake. Deep in South Dakota's Black Hills, this trail can be accessed from several trailheads spread out along the route. On the northwestern side of the lake is the Custer Trails Trailhead. It is believed that Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer actually camped at this location during his 1874 expedition through the area.
To find the Custer Trails Trailhead we headed west on Deerfield Road and took a right turn onto South Rochford Road, just past Deerfield Lake itself. Several miles north of the lake are two different trailheads. The further of the two is the Custer Trails Trailhead, found just a short drive down USFS Road 417. This dirt and gravel road leads approximately 1 mile to Custer Trails, which is also home to a small campground. Upon arriving, trail parking is immediately to the left.
The Deerfield Loop Trail is long, and we had resolved to complete it in sections at our own pace. We decided to start by exploring the west side of the Custer Trails area, and ended up hiking a little loop of our own.
After parking the car we followed the gravel road down to the lake shore. Several small fishing boats sat awaiting their turn in the water. At the end of the gravel sat a small pedestrian gate. Opening like a door to the forest, this walk-through gate led to a small, unmarked (but very distinguishable) fishing trail.
The dirt trail followed the shore for the most part and revealed countless fishing spots as we strolled along. Beautiful views of the scenic mountain lake and surrounding forested hills appeared through the trees along the way. There was an occasional place where the dogs could venture into the water. It was peaceful and exceptionally quiet along this side of the lake.
We followed the unofficial dirt trail along the forested shoreline through a beautiful section of Black Hills. The girls had a great time, happily hiking the path and stopping here and there to sniff things.
Eventually the trail grew faint just as it intersected with (and seemingly ended at) the actual Deerfield Lake Loop Trail, as indicated by the markers bearing "40 L". We decided to keep following 40 L around a small arm of the lake. However, once we reached the other side of the arm the trail became completely overgrown. Heavy spring and summer rains had aided the foliage in transforming the wooded hillside into an impassable jungle. We made it to a large tree bearing the 40 L marker and could go no farther.
Not in the mood for a bushwhacking adventure, we decided that the tree was a good place to turn around. We backtracked around the small arm, catching views of the southern edge of Reynolds Prairie. The plants grew thick in this area and we were happy to make it back to the other side of the inlet.
Wildflowers bloomed all around us as we walked. We continued to stay on Trail 40 L as it led away from the lake and into gorgeous countryside.
The trail followed a barbed wire fence for a short distance. On the other side the southern edge of Reynolds Prairie opened up to distant hills. The girls stopped here and there to check out the scenery, otherwise they trotted along happily enjoying the trail.
Eventually the path intersected with (and crossed) USFS 417 just north of the Custer Trails parking area. From there we simply followed the dirt road back to our car.
Our entire adventure was less than 2 miles long. We couldn't find our exact route on any trail maps, but it was easy enough to piece together. We had made a small loop within the larger Deerfield Lake Loop Trail. It was a gorgeous and enriching hike among fantastic scenery. It was not at all strenuous or difficult, except for where the trail had become overgrown. There we had been thwarted from continuing along the Deerfield Lake Loop, but now we were determined to come back. We look forward to exploring more of this extensive trail and its surrounding areas.
Deerfield Lake is a great place for hiking, fishing, and camping. On the south side of the lake are picnic grounds, including Mountain City which we highly recommend. This lake is a great place to spend a few hours or a few days, enjoying the recreation opportunities that this wonderful area provides.