Updated: Aug 10, 2020
There are a lot of peaks to climb in South Dakota's beautiful Black Hills. Just a few miles north of Norris Peak is another dog-friendly hike to the top of a wide mountain (known as Peak 5136). This obscure destination is easy to get to, fun to hike, and has beautiful views from the top.
We headed north on Norris Peak Road outside of Rapid City. Just south of where it intersects with Nemo Road is an unmarked forest service road that curves up and to the left. Some older maps refer to this now-closed road as USFS 166.1B. It's gated to restrict vehicle travel but a sign (leaning against a nearby boulder) welcomes hikers and other non-motorized travelers.
It was misty when we began our hike, but the fog lifted shortly after we got started.
We parked the car among some interesting purplish rock formations below the gate. The closed forest service road made a wide trail that immediately began climbing the hill. After a short walk we came upon an intersection with USFS 166.1I (which was marked).
We kept straight on our path up the hill, on what started out as a misty afternoon. Much to our luck the fog lifted as we climbed, and the sun emerged by the time we reached the top. On either side of us were protruding rock formations as we made our way up the hill. We stopped for short breaks along the way. It was a steady ascent, but not terribly steep or difficult. The path was snowy and slushy at times, which slowed us down a bit as we made our way up.
When we made it to the top it was sunny and mostly dry. The hill was broad with the highest points being along its north and northwest ridges. The dogs enjoyed exploring the area before heading up to the summit.
The views from the high cliffs were stunning. We could see Bogus Jim Creek to the south and Box Elder Creek (and Nemo Road) to the north. The girls enjoyed the scenery and looking out over the valleys, streams, and hills. There was abundant evidence that the area was frequented by deer, which made the dogs' hike even more exciting.
We navigated around downed trees and protruding rocks when the road faded away near the top of the hill. We made our way around the large hilltop, experiencing all the different vistas.
After thoroughly exploring the top of the hill and its various lookouts, we made our way back down. The trail was very dog-friendly. Old forest service roads generally make great hiking trails, especially when walking two dogs at once (they tend to be nice and wide).
The hike up the small mountain wasn't very lengthy. Most of our time was spent wandering around the perimeter of the hilltop. When we made it back down to the trail intersection we had passed on the way up, we decided to keep exploring.
Coming down the mountain we took a left on USFS 166.1I heading (generally) north along the path. After a little while the road became a single-track trail through the forest. We passed by several homemade hunting perches in the trees. Soon it became clear that we were headed in the direction of Box Elder Creek.
Sure enough, when we reached the creek the trail came to an end (as far as we could tell). The girls gazed at the water briefly before deciding they had seen enough and were ready to head back. The trail was easy and not too long. On a more pleasant day the dogs would have enjoyed playing in the creek after their hike, but on this occasion the water and weather were just too cold. We followed the trail back to the intersection and then took the main path back to where we had parked the car.
This was a fun place to explore. There was plenty of enrichment for the dogs, and this was a good adventure for a chilly day. There was an abundance of tall grasses and exposed rock features making it less-than-ideal for exploring in warm weather.
This spot isn't very well known; while we were there we had the mountain to ourselves. It can be a difficult spot to locate, as it isn't marked in any obvious way, and is on very few maps. But, this old forest service road led us to a hilltop worth exploring and views worth experiencing.