Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Just inside the western border of Custer State Park, Stockade Lake provides various recreation activities. Fishing, swimming, picnicking, sightseeing, and even hiking are just some of the fun things to do at and around this South Dakota attraction. We couldn't wait to try out the Stockade Lake Trail; a 1.5 mile loop around the hills overlooking the lake and surrounding hills.
The trailhead is located on the eastern side of the lake, across the street from the beach and playground area. We parked in the ample space off Stockade Lake Drive, near the public restrooms. We carefully crossed the street to the start of the trail, which was marked by a large sign and map of the path. According to the map it would be a pretty decent loop that began after a short trek up the hill.
The path began immediately behind the sign. It was a dirt trail that led away from the lake and into the woods. The path was marked along the way with bright blue diamonds in the trees.
The trail took us through a lovely pine forest. We followed the path as it climbed the rocky hillside. At the top we had views of The Needles and Cathedral Spires rock formations off in the distance.
Below us, a highway disappeared into the forest. A bench sat atop the hill we had just ascended, providing a fantastic opportunity for a water and treat break while taking in the sights. After enjoying all the views around us, we continued along the trail.
We made our way along the backside of the hill and soon came to where the trail splits and the loop begins. We chose to go clockwise (or left) along the path.
We continued to trek upwards through the woods, steadily gaining elevation as we went. The dogs were enjoying the scenery and all the engaging smells along the way. Chipmunks scurried about the forest, driving the girls into an occasional frenzy. The silence and serenity of the woodlands were polluted by the high-pitched yelps of my dogs yearning to get after some rodents. Thankfully we had adhered to the rules of the trail stating dogs must be leashed at all times, and those little forest dwelling critters would remain safe (just a bit startled).
We followed the trail up the hill, feeling the afternoon sun on us as we got above the thicket of trees. We were still surrounded by forest but could now make out more mountains in the distance. Eventually we reached the top of the hill we had been climbing, which also seemed to be about the halfway point of the trek. This wasn't the mountain's true summit but it was the highest elevation that the trail would reach. A tiny spur path led to a lookout; a rock outcropping that provided great views of the surrounding hills.
We came upon a sign notifying hikers that this adventure was part of the Custer State Park Trail Challenge (complete all the official trails in the park to conquer the challenge). We took a brief water and treat break atop the mountain, just beyond the sign. After a short rest and look at the scenery we continued on our way, still heading clockwise around the loop.
Occasionally the trail would become hard to distinguish. Luckily the blue diamonds in the trees pointed the way.
The path followed rocky terrain through the woods. We had to watch our step carefully; it would be incredibly easy to trip over a rock or twist an ankle out here. The trail was littered with protruding, awkwardly shaped stones jutting out of the ground in this section. We recommend sturdy footwear for the humans attempting this.
Here and there a view of distant mountains or the lake below would pop up through the trees. It was gorgeous but difficult to enjoy the scenery while simultaneously watching out for large rocks in the path.
The dogs remained on high alert for chipmunks and squirrels during our hike. They were really having a fun time on this adventure through the Black Hills. We followed the trail as it wound through the woods, eventually meeting back up with itself. Upon completing the loop we took a left onto the trail that we had originally started from, the one that would now lead us back out.
We hiked back up and over the hill, catching our last glimpses of The Needles in the distance. Squirrels darted around in the golden autumn sunshine. Soon we were back at the trailhead and then the lake. The girls topped off a lovely afternoon hike by sniffing around the area near the water. They weren't allowed on the beach but they could explore the rest of the recreation area grounds.
This fun hike was short but a little challenging; parts of it involved trudging up and along rocky hillsides. It was not terribly strenuous but also wasn't an easy stroll. It was a beautiful trek -the afternoon sunbeams shone through the trees as we walked. The trailhead was also easy to access.
This hike is the perfect thing to compliment a day at Stockade Lake and Custer State Park.