Early Morning Hike On The Sunday Gulch Trail
The Sunday Gulch Trail is a three mile loop located inside Custer State Park.
The trailhead can be found on the backside of Sylvan Lake near the dam. There is an almost 800 foot elevation gain during this hike so be prepared for a decent work-out. Pets are allowed on trail with a leash and it’s closed during the winter season.
During your hike you will travel through a spruce tree habitat, walk among colossal boulders and follow a babbling creek. Spectacular views of the Black Hills and small waterfalls will await you on your journey.
The great debate…to go clockwise or counterclockwise on this trail (there were mixed reviews in my research). We went clockwise so that will be my description of the hike. That means it was uphill to start the trail and uphill to finish the trail. After reading my post and doing some research on your own you can decide which you would prefer.
The beginning of the trail starts with a climb. Up, up and up you will go traveling among large rock formations with a small rock scramble or two thrown in for good measure. From our hiking experience here I’ve decided that Custer State Park doesn’t consider it a real hike without a nice climb and a rock scramble lol.
Once you reach the top you will be greeted with absolutely spectacular views. The rock spires and formations known as the Needles can be seen surrounding the area. The views of the Black Hills seem to go on for miles.
There are also plenty of boulders in the area to climb on and have some fun. Just be careful, because Jamey fell climbing down some rocks and took out the cat and dog. The animals were fine, but he walked away with quite a few scrapes.
The trail will go up and down for a bit traveling through Ponderosa Pine, Birch, Spruce and Aspen trees. Views from the ridge can’t be beat. Eventually you will hike down into the belly of the gulch and things will start to level out. The hike at the bottom may not have as many views, but is quite pretty all on it’s own.
You will travel through lush greenery as you follow a small creek. Wildflowers line the trail as birds flutter by and critters scurry across the trail. The smaller wildlife was quite active the day of our hike. We didn’t see any mountain goats or bighorn sheep, but rumor is they have been known to pop up here.
You will have to cross the creek several times, but wooden boards or rock paths make the crossings easy. There are a lot of tree roots and rocks scattered among the dirt path so watch your footing. I tripped at least half a dozen times, but somehow managed not to land on my clumsy butt once.
It’s during the last 3/4 mile of the hike that the real fun begins. You will come across your first little waterfall and a set of cement steps. After that you will walk up and across some slick rock. Handrails have been provided to make the trek a bit easier. You will travel through the woods for a bit more then the adventure truly starts.
This is where you will start your climb back to the top of the trail. Upon entering the rocky glen you will see a lot more of those handrails stuck into the rocks. Slowly start making your way up the steep, rocky incline. It is hard to navigate some of these rock scrambles so the handrails are a huge help.
There are some steps in place in this area, but most of it is just you holding onto the handrails and trying to figure out your next step. There was more than one handrail missing and I could see them lying on the side of the trail. I would of preferred them attached to the rock, because there was more than one spot where they would of been helpful.
Some of the areas were like straight up climbs over large rocks and I wasn’t a fan. Jamey had a blast and he had the added difficulty of carrying the cat and walking the dog. Dexter (the dog) seemed to also be having a blast. He was driving Jamey crazy at times weaving in and out of the handrails making his own path up the rocks, but they figured it out. I mean it was a unique experience climbing up out of that trail, but it took a lot out of me for sure.
This entire section is also surrounded by water. Little waterfalls can be seen by the trail and even passes over it multiple times. Wet rocks mean slippery rocks so you must pay close attention to where you’re stepping. If it’s raining or just rained I would think twice about doing the trail. Waiting for drier conditions results in a much safer hike.
Eventually you will reach the top and conclude your adventure. We chose to do the hike clockwise, because I thought the chances of me falling and breaking something going down would be more likely than going up. It may of took a bit more physical exertion out of me to go up, but I think I made the right choice. I’m very clumsy and I just know I would of slipped trying to scramble down and bonked myself on the head.
So final thoughts…it was one of our top three hikes out of the 9 we did in the park. For a little more effort we got a unique hike with amazing scenery and some fun challenges. If you’re physically able I would say this is one trail in the park you don’t want to skip.
Bonus…You get to walk around Sylvan Lake to get to the trailhead and that place is one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Black Hills,