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Legion Lake Trail

In the heart of Custer State Park is its shimmering jewel -Legion Lake. This small mountain pool is a great place for fishing, swimming, picnicking, and hiking. We parked the car at the sparkling lake, deep in South Dakota's Black Hills. Several people were already positioned around the water, fishing poles in hand. We wouldn't be joining them; instead we were interested in an obscure hiking trail located across the street.

Initial research about the Legion Lake Trails can be confusing. That's because there are 2 different Legion Lake Trails. The 'Legion Lake Shore Trail' is an easy stroll that follows the shoreline around the water. That path is popular and fairly simple. The 'Legion Lake Trail' is the opposite -an obscure loop through the woods across the road from the lake itself.

The fairly strenuous Legion Lake Trail begins in Legion Lake Campground, specifically in the back near site 11E. We strolled through the empty campground, which was closed in the off-season. The trailhead was well marked and easy to find. A map of the immediate area gave us a heads-up of what we were in for.

The mile-long loop began innocently enough, but turned steeply uphill soon into our journey.

The trail grew rocky and arduous after mere minutes of hiking. The path itself became less discernible as we climbed.

Occasionally we would catch sight of Mount Coolidge as it rose over 6,000 feet through the trees across from us.

The ground became crowded with jagged chunks of protruding granite. The trail all but faded away among the rocks. Soon we were unable to tell where the actual path was supposed to be. Thankfully there were bright blue trail markers to guide our way. It was much easier to follow the diamonds in the trees than to look for any type of worn path on the ground.

We trekked higher up the stony hillside, following the markers as they led us around the ridge. Eventually we could see Legion Lake in the distance below us.

After a moderately strenuous hike, we unceremoniously made it up and over the hill. The sun was shining brightly on the other side where we stopped for a water and treat break.

We rested and enjoyed the scenery of the thick woodlands around us before continuing down the far side of the hill. Near the bottom we ran into a connector to the Centennial Trail. We avoided that path and stayed on the Legion Lake Trail, continuing our descent.

The trail widened out and became less rocky. We enjoyed the easy stroll down the last part of the path.

We emerged from the forest behind campsite 11E, just yards away from where our path had started.

The loop had led us up and over the ridge behind Legion Lake Campground, and had taken just over an hour to complete (breaks included). It was a bit strenuous during the initial uphill trek, but it was also a lot of fun. The dogs seemed to like the challenging terrain. They charged enthusiastically up the trail, then led the way back with gusto, before plopping down near an empty table at the end of our hike.

We had a good time on our little adventure, but others may find the rocky terrain to be strenuous. The hike provided a good amount of exercise without having to invest a lot of time. This was one of the more obscure trails in Custer State Park, so there were no crowds to deal with. Much to the dogs' enjoyment, we encountered many more chipmunks than human beings during our trip along the lesser-known Legion Lake Trail.

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