The Osprey Trail is a fun 2.5 mile path consisting of two loops and a spur trail, all of which follow and overlook the water below. The trailhead is tucked away in the back of the Pactola Reservoir Campground, on the far west side of Pactola Reservoir (also known as Pactola Lake). This beautiful hike through South Dakota's Black Hills is a great way to spend an afternoon.
In order to reach the trail, turn onto Custer Gulch Road from Highway 385. Signs along the way indicate that this is the direction for both the campground and the Pactola Pines Marina (also known as the South Marina). The road curves around the southwestern side of the lake. At the campground we parked at one of two overflow parking lots and walked towards the back to a marked trail.
A sign directed us into the woods and along an old forest service road (marked as USFS 545.1H). After a very short walk we came upon a large sign with a trail map of the area and a small gravel lot that served as the actual trailhead. There are several ways to start the Osprey Trail. We chose the path to our far right -marked as Osprey Trail Loop A. This trail follows the hillside above a section of Pactola Lake's western shoreline.
The scenery was very pleasant along this fairly undemanding trail. The views of the lake below were absolutely lovely. Ursa in particular has always enjoyed looking out over the water and really appreciated the environment as we hiked.
The dirt trail through the woods was easy to follow. It gently curves with the terrain, up and down along the hillside. At the top of the hill we were traversing was a trail marker, indicating we were still on Loop A. As the trail continued left, a small spur led off to the right. We followed it out over the hilltop to more vistas of the forested lake.
After finding a spot to stop for a treat break, we continued along Loop A. We walked past many small coves tucked away; perfect little turquoise colored fishing spots. The majority of the lake was a beautiful light blue, with crystal clear water along some of the longer shores.
We followed the trail for a little while longer before finding a spot along the lake shore where the girls could play in the water. Ursa wasn't too interested but Maggie took advantage. Soon she was wading into the cool clear water along the pebbly shore.
Other people could be spotted here and there spread out around the lake. Other dogs could be seen on distant shores playing in the water, enjoying their day. There were lots of lovely little hidden places just off the trail; a short walk down to the water and all of a sudden you've got a private beach for the day.
When the girls were ready to move on we headed back to the trail and finished hiking Loop A. This loop is only about a mile long, and is the larger of the two Osprey Trail loops. It ends just mere yards from where it began, and only a few feet away from the start of Loop B and the Overlook Trail.
Unlike Loop A, which had large trail markers sticking out of the ground, the other parts of the Osprey Trail were marked with diamond shaped markers in the trees. The start of the walk to Loop B and the Overlook Spur Trail were marked with little silver diamonds bearing the osprey symbol and the number 58. These markers appeared along the entire Loop B route.
Much like Loop A, Loop B also followed a wooded hillside overlooking the lake below. The start of the trail was a nice easy walk in the forest with views of the reservoir appearing through the trees.
After a short walk along the first part of the trail, a fork appeared. A left led to the Overlook Spur, a right to Loop B. We decided to save the Overlook Spur for last and hiked Loop B first. This dirt path through the woods was much like a miniature version of the Loop A hike. It too followed the side of a forested hill overlooking the water.
After completing the short Loop B trail, we took a turn (now a right) onto the Overlook Spur Trail. This was fairly short and straightforward, following northwest along the terrain just above the lake shore.
This was a nice little walk back through the woods past jade colored coves. It ended at a lovely spot with two benches (several yards apart from each other) overlooking the lake. We chose one to rest on and take a break; we had earned it. From the trailhead in the woods, around Loop B, and back along the length of the Overlook Spur was about 1.5 miles. Our hike culminated in a nice rest by the water, enjoying the views of the hills surrounding Pactola Lake.
We would end up hiking nearly 3 miles total by the time we made it back to the car. Overall it was an easy hike though, and not too taxing. We took our time as we went, stopping here and there to enjoy the views or venture down to the water. This was a lovely place to spend some time.
The girls had a great time here. The chipmunks, deer, and plethora of birds kept their interest as we went. Maggie loved playing in the water when she got the chance, whereas Ursa had a good time without venturing into the lake.
It was secluded and beautiful, but not difficult to access. The trail itself was easy to traverse and could be tailored to a shorter or longer length. We did the entire thing in one trip, but that's by no means necessary. It is easy to do it all in one day however, given that there are plenty of opportunities for breaks along the way.
The only downside to this gorgeous hike is that on our adventure, sadly, we didn't see any Ospreys that day.