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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Take a Hike

Custer State Park and the neighboring Black Hills National Forest are rife with hiking trails and backcountry excursions, offering travelers a window into the soul of this diverse ecosystem. 

In 'Murder in Custer State Park,' Merritt and her friends hike Little Devils Tower, to Harney Peak...the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the European Alps!  The stunning views atop this precipice showcase the surrounding vista with clear precision, from the rambling valleys, prairie ranges to the needle like spires and granite bluffs and deep forests. 

You can download a detailed list of Custer Trails and Maps from this link

Here is a list of Merritt's Top Five Favorite Custer State Park Trails.

1. Creekside Trail
Difficulty level: Easy
Location of Trailhead: Parallel to US 16A. Runs from Game Lodge Campground to Grace Coolidge Campground. Trail may be accessed at various points along Highway 16A. Length: 2 miles (one way) Time: 1 hour
This hard-surfaced trail follows Grace Coolidge Creek and passes the State Game Lodge, Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, Coolidge General Store and the park office. Users may park at any of these locations to access the trail. Several bridge crossings are bike and rollerblade friendly. The trail is fairly level except for a section near the park office where bicyclists should walk their bikes.

"I enjoy the Creekside Trail as it ambles along the banks of the idyllic Grace Coolidge Creek, through a lush riparian ecosystem.  Mule deer and Bighorn Sheep are often seen foraging Creekside.  The trail starts at the historic Coolidge General Store, which housed newspaper reporters when the State Game Lodge served as the Summer White House for three weeks in the 1920s...While in the area don't forget to stop by the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center to get travel details from my boyfriend Ranger Josh Ford and friend Ranger Suzy Sinclair.  Be alert for Bison, they frequent the State Game Lodge area." - Merritt

2. Lover's Leap Trail
Difficulty-Moderate to Difficult
Location of Trailhead: Across Highway 16A from the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, behind the schoolhouse Length: 3 miles (loop) Time: 2-3 hours Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous This trail begins with a steep ascent through a mature ponderosa pine forest with views of the State Game Lodge and the surrounding area. The trail follows the top of a ridgeline. At the highest point on this ridge is a rocky outcrop named Lover’s Leap. According to legend, it is on that outcrop that two Native American lovers leaped to their deaths. Mount Coolidge, Harney Peak and the Cathedral Spires can be viewed from this high point. West of the trail is an area that was burned in the 1988 Galena Fire. The trail continues down the side of the ridge into the Galena Creek Drainage. Once in the creek bottom, the trail crosses the creek many times. The final portion of the trail passes a residential area and follows a gravel road back to the Coolidge Store. From there, a paved foot pack leads past the chapel and back to the trailhead.

"Glorious views of the majestic Black Hills and wandering prairie below. Watch your steps, our hiking group nearly lost a member, you clung to life on the precipice..." - Merritt

When Hiking:
-Always register with a park ranger and/or tell a friend/family member where you are going and when you expect to return.
-Bring plenty of water
-Wear layers - the weather is volatile on the plains, you never know when a storm might whip up...
-Be sure to bring a camera and enjoy the views.

Every hiker deserves a snack are two Custer Trail Mix Recipes to sustain travelers on their journey of wilderness exploration.

Prairie Mix:
Mix the following ingredients:
Craisins, dried apricot, dried blueberries, sunflower seeds (I prefer unsalted, hulled from the Co-Op/Whole Foods bulk), pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, dark chocolate nibs (organic, fair trade with 55% + cacao), Chex (or organic counterpart; you can toast for ten minutes with your choice of spices, although I just add them to the mix as is); optional pretzels (Gluten Free-Snyder's are a personal favorite or Glutino)

(When measuring I recommend start with half a cup of each, or measure to your preference)

Home on the Range Mix:
Mix the following ingredients:
Sunspire (or organic chocolate variety of choice) Sun Drops
Peanut butter nibs (Reese's Pieces are fine, though for those with allergies, I recommend an organic alternative)
Gluten Free Snyder's pretzel sticks
Chex (corn and rice mix)
Schar Gluten Free Cheddar Bites
Nut mix of choice (I prefer Kirkland's Signature with cashews, almonds, pistachios, pecans - you can decide what nuts you want to add - nuts are great fuel for hiking!)


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