Hiking The Lovers Leap Trail
The Lovers Leap Trail is a four mile (possibly three the numbers vary depending on which resource you read) loop trail located in Custer State Park. It has around 400-600 feet elevation gain (again numbers vary depending on where you look) and leashed pets are allowed on trail.
You can find the trailhead near the State Game Lodge behind the lodge and a chapel. There is a small parking lot, but it fills up fast since it is one of the most popular trails in the park. You could also park at the Peter Norbeck Education Center and walk across the street to the trailhead.
The trail begins with a steep ascent through a ponderosa pine and oak forest. You will then reach a fork and have to make a decision. We chose to do the trail counterclockwise. It will pass the little residential area and campground in the beginning and then flow into the Galena creek area.
We chose this way, because it gets the residential area out of the way at the very beginning leaving nothing but nature views the rest of the hike. If you go clockwise the start requires a pretty good climb while this way was much more level.
If you go counterclockwise there is a climb up to lovers leap about 3/4 of the way through the hike, but it’s still not as intense as the climb up at the beginning if you go the other way. I prefer my steep climbs to be downhill.
For a good portion of the trail you will be following the small creek and will have to cross it multiple times throughout the hike. Most crossings had wooden boards or strategically placed rocks so it wasn’t difficult to traverse. Wet rocks may be slippery though so just use caution or you might end up with some wet footsies or even a wet toosh.
The Galena Creek Drainage area is quite lovely. We saw multiple deer enjoying a cool drink from it’s waters. Bighorn sheep are known to frequent the area as well, but we had no luck spotting one.
BEWARE of poison ivy though, because it is everywhere along the creek. I am highly allergic so I made sure I wore pants and touched nothing during the hike.
After making your way through the creek area you will have to walk up that hill I mentioned earlier. Don’t worry though, it’s not that intense and will just get your heart pumping a bit. Walk the ridgeline for a few before reaching it’s highest point, Lover’s Leap. A wooden sign with a quote from Badger Clark marks the spot so you know you’ve reached your destination.
Now according to legend it got it’s name because, this rocky outcrop was the spot where two Native American lovers leaped to their deaths. Carefully climb up the rocks and be greeted with some pretty amazing views from the top. On a clear day Mount Coolidge, Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires can be seen. Enjoy your views, but be aware of your surroundings as well. It’s a long drop to the bottom if you slip from the edge.
After taking in the views from the overlook you will continue along the ridgeline. As you travel along the trail you will see evidence and regrowth from the 1988 Galena Fire and 2017 Legion Lake Fire. Though some parts of the forest may not look as great now as a result of the fires the views from the ridgeline are still pretty great.
After finishing off the ridgeline you will start the long descent back down to the fork and then down some more to the trailhead. We really enjoyed this trail and besides that one hill it was pretty easy. If you have the time and are looking for an interesting and fun hike within the park look no further than the Lovers Leap Trail.