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Horsethief Lake Trail

Horsethief Lake Trail

Horsethief Lake Trail

Page Type: Route

Location: South Dakota, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 43.89084°N / 103.48246°W

Object Title: Horsethief Lake Trail

Route Quality: 
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Page By: panhandletrails

Created/Edited: Aug 2, 2009 / Jan 15, 2013

Object ID: 536150

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Black Elk Wilderness Boundary
The Horsethief Lake Trail (#14) is primarily in the Black Elk Wilderness. It is one of the most scenic trails in the wilderness, since it passes by numerous towering granite spires, small streams, and crosses two saddles with scenic views. The trail leads to the junction with the Grizzly Bear Trail, which is almost the center of the Black Elk Wilderness.

Getting There

The Horsethief Lake Trailhead is at the far end of Horsethief Lake from Highway 244, just west of Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is approximately 3 miles west of Keystone, South Dakota on Highway 244. There is camping, picnic areas, and toilets at Horsethief Lake.

Route Description

Granite formation in the wilderness
A rock spire near the Horsethief Lake Trail
To get to the trailhead, either park and take the trail from the highway parking lot east around the lake to the trailhead, or you can drive to the trailhead parking area on the road just east of the lake.

The trailhead sign will provide you with current trail information and regulations. Hikers are required to register (free) at the trailhead for the Black Elk Wilderness. About a mile down the trail, the Centennial Trail crosses the trail you are on. The Horsethief Lake Trail is 2.7 miles to the end, where you join the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail (#7). From there, you can go back, or go either direction on the Grizzly Bear trail. If you plan to do a loop using some of the other trails in the wilderness, please be sure to get an up-to-date map. These are free at the Norbeck Visitors Center, Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, or the visitors centers at Custer, Hill City, and Keystone.

Essential Gear

The kind of gear you would want to take will vary greatly, depending on whether you are just doing an out-and-back, or are planning to spend some serious time camping or climbing in the Black Elk Wilderness.

The simple and short hikes will probably only require water, good footwear, sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, your trail map, and maybe a hat. A camera is good for all the beautiful scenery you will see on this trail.

If you have any thoughts of going off-trail, be sure to include a compass and maybe GPS equipment. Hiking poles can be helpful. Some hikers feel better about carrying pepper spray for one of those rare encounters with a mountain lion. A small first-aid kit is another favorite of some hikers. If you are doing a long loop, extra socks and rain gear can prove helpful.

External Links

The U.S. Forest Service manages the wilderness, so you can get more information online at: US Forest Service

Black Hills Hiking trail information and map: Horsethief Lake Trail and the Black Elk Wilderness

Wilderness.net also posts information about the Black Elk Wilderness at: Wilderness.net


Stream Crossing on TrailHorsethief LakeArea by Horsethief LakeLakeside TrailBlack Elk Wilderness BoundaryTrailside StreamHorsethief Lake Hikers 2006