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Sunday Gulch Trail

Sunday Gulch Trail

Sunday Gulch Trail

Page Type: Route

Location: South Dakota, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 43.84697°N / 103.56691°W

Object Title: Sunday Gulch Trail

Route Type: Hiking

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall

Time Required: Less than two hours

Difficulty: moderate

Route Quality: 
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Page By: panhandletrails

Created/Edited: Sep 10, 2009 / Sep 16, 2016

Object ID: 551943

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Page Score: 74.01%  - 4 Votes 

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Trailside Spring
The Sunday Gulch Trail is located in South Dakota's Custer State Park. The state park was formed in 1919 and spreads out over 71,000 acres of the Black Hills. A small stream flows through the gulch, which was dammed up in the 1890's by Theodor Reder to form Sylvan Lake. Since the trail is in the core area of the Black Hills, granite formations are the most common feature, with tiny waterfalls and rock grottoes along the trail. Many of the boulders are covered with moss or lichens. The predominant vegetation in the area is ponderosa pine, but there are many aspen and birch along the stream, as well as some Black Hills spruce. Wildlife seen in the area includes deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, badgers, raccoons, and porcupines. Hundreds of species of birds inhabit the area.

Getting There

East Trailhead
The trailhead is accessed from Sylvan Lake, which is a few hundred yards from the intersection of highways 87 and 89. Nearby highways include 385 and 16A, and the closest towns are Custer, Hill City, and Keystone. There is a park entry station near the highway junction, and just beyond the station is Sylvan Lake, with a tourist store and cafe. A large parking lot is in front, which is often full in the summer. Hikers often park just across the lake in the larger parking lot that is used by hikers going up Black Elk Peak from Trail 9 or Trail 4.

Route Description

The Sunday Gulch Trail is somewhat unique for trails in the Black Elk Peak - Black Elk Wilderness area, in that it immediately descends for about a mile and a half from 6,145 feet to 5,700 feet on the trails low point, then loops back to the start. It is recommended to hikers to take a counter-clockwise route. But, this is not an enforced rule. Many hikers prefer the clockwise direction, since they find the footing to be safer going down the smooth trail on the western end of the loop, where they do not have to descend boulders, but can instead do the boulders going up on the eastern side of the loop. This is especially true when the boulders are wet. If you prefer to go the counter-clockwise loop, look for the narrow passage between high granite walls near the dam on Sylvan Lake. The other end of the loop is about 100 yards back toward the Sylvan Lake Store and behind a large granite outcropping. That trail comes out to a tiny bridge. Both trail heads on the loop are accessible from the 1-mile long Sylvan Lake Shoreline Trail. The trail is normally only open from June through October. Ice and snow on the boulders makes hiking any other time of the year rather hazardous. The trail loop is about 2.8 miles.

Essential Gear

Just the basics for a 2-hour hike - sturdy footwear with good grips, water, insect repellent, and maybe a hiking stick. The trail is pretty shady, so a hat or sunscreen may not be all that necessary. For camera buffs, there are some great opportunities along this trail.

Red Tape

To access Custer State Park, you must have either a daily or annual park permit. The park does not allow open fires or firearms. Camping is only in permitted areas. Please check at the entry station for the latest updated camping information. While some trails remain open all year, the Sunday Gulch Trail is closed in the winter.

Area Camping

Custer State Parks offers lodges, cabins, RV sites, and tent sites at a variety of locations. You can get information or call in reservations at: (605) 255-4515 You can write for information at:
Custer State Park
HC 83, Box 70
Custer, SD 57730

Or you can click on one of the links below to view more on camping in Custer State Park or one of the nearby towns.

Information Links

Custer State Park

Custer Chamber of Commerce

Hill City Chamber of Commerce

Keystone Chamber of Commerce


Sylvan LakeSunday Gulch TrailTrail ViewEast TrailheadTrailside Spring