Hiking the Centennial Trail in the Black Hills
Memorial Day weekend proved to be a great weekend out on the Centennial Trail. After 25 miles of hiking, I’d come to the conclusion that no one else wanted to hike on this holiday. It was as though I had the whole Black Hills to my self!
I started hiking at the Rapid Creek trailhead just below the Pactola Reservoir dam. Only 16 miles from Rapid City, it’s a great place to begin or end a hike. Rapid City has all the amenities for the post or pre-hike, like hotels, restaurants, gear, trail food, and maps.
I headed south on the Centennial trail and found the terrain to vary greatly. It started out with a slow uphill climb through pine and aspen forest. After a few more miles it opened up to big, green hills with no trees. It was a huge, open prairie in the middle of the hills. There were no trees and beautiful vistas of Harney Peak and the back of Mount Rushmore could be seen from the grassy hilltops.
The grassy hills soon gave way to the forest as I made my way along Brush Creek. The terrain was once again filled with giant ponderosa pine trees. I stopped and filtered the cold, crystal clear water of Brush Creek into my camel bak. The day was warm and sunny and I still had not encountered another person.
I camped just above Sheridan Lake that night. I found a flat spot on the upper side of a meadow, filled with fresh springs. I had a great view of Harney Peak and the giant, granite spires jutting upward out of the Black Elk Wilderness to the south. The night was very still and clear. I was able to sleep with a light sleeping bag and no rain cover over the tent. It was absolutely and wonderfully peaceful.
The next day I headed south and wound my way around Sheridan Lake. I stopped on the big wooden bridge spanning the spillway and took in the view of all the Memorial Day boaters. Aha! That’s where all the people were. I seceded the lake to the crowd and stuck with the trail. I guess I prefer me and the trees.
After leaving Sheridan Lake, the hill climbs abruptly for about 3 miles. It is a strenuous hike but worth the views. Eventually after about 6 miles you make it to Highway 16, one of the main thoroughfares in the Black Hills. The trail crosses the road at Samelius Trailhead and continues south to Horsethief Lake. I stopped the hike here, just before entering the Black Elk Wilderness.
It was here that I met the only other person on the trail. He was a gentleman, approximately 40 years old and in good spirits. He told me he was three days into hiking all 109 miles of the Centennial trail. I was instantly jealous, but knew that I would be back soon to enjoy the tranquility of the Centennial Trail.
For a map or more information on the centennial trail visit: www.fs.fed.us/r2/blackhills