Updated: Aug 12, 2019
In the northeast corner of Custer State Park is one of the most beautiful little lakes in South Dakota. Around Sylvan Lake is the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail; a 1 mile loop. It begins with a wide path near the parking areas and follows the shore. Granite formations tower over, surrounding the water.
As you make your way towards the back of the lake things become a little more interesting. Large stepping stones lead you on a short detour away from the trail. A cement walkway leads out over the water for a fantastic view of the lake. Look in the other direction and you'll realize you're on top of the very tall dam that's holding this lake in place. The strong granite mountains behind the dam are part of the stunning view from this spot.
Back on the trail you'll pass through a narrow walkway between tall boulders, leading to the backside of Sylvan Lake. Once behind the lake you can see the dam from the bottom. The trail goes up and over huge rocks and even passes a small waterfall hidden in a granite crevice.
The biggest contrast along the trail is that while the sun shines bright on the lake, the backside is a shady snow trap. There are places behind the dam that hardly see sun and once snow hits, it stays. It makes for a very interesting hike, going from glaring sun across the water to feeling like you've stepped into a Christmas card moments later. Just watch your step (and your pooch's) as there can be unexpected patches of ice.
One of the biggest thrills for the dogs was the abundance of chipmunks running around. They were everywhere, which was beyond exciting for the girls. The dogs also had great fun climbing up the various boulders and looking out at the world below.
Be sure to keep your dog leashed at all times. It is part of the park rules anyways, but also just good common sense in a wild area like this.
Once back around the lake, there are lots of places to fish, picnic, or swim. Although dogs are not permitted on the marked "beaches", they are allowed everywhere else. There are dozens of little spots along the shoreline or tucked among the huge granite formations that make it easy to find a place to enjoy the lake. Picnic tables and benches are scattered around the area.
This is a beautiful and fun place to stop. The trail is really enjoyable and has some amazing scenery along the way. The girls had a fun hike and then were delighted to play in the water. This is a popular lake, and you are likely to pass several people on the trail. However, it is quite easy to find a private spot along the shore to call your own for a little while.