Lover’s Leap is a massive granite outcropping above the Galena Creek canyon, nearly 500 feet above the stream below. Because the rock juts out from the canyon ridge, it offers fantastic views of this area of the Black Hills.
The Lover’s Leap trailhead is located in Custer State Park behind an old schoolhouse, across the street from the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center on Highway 16A. This trail is a 3.75 mile loop and will take approximately 2 to 3 hours to complete.
The first mile is moderately difficult as the brunt of the 480 foot elevation gain is within this section. The trail then evens out into an easy hike along the top of a ridgeline. West of the trail visible damage of the Galena Wildfire can be seen, which burned 16,000 acres in 1988.
At the highest point on this ridge is the rocky outcrop named Lover’s Leap. According to legend, it is on this outcrop that two Native American lovers leaped to their deaths. From this vista you can see the Cathedral Spires, Harney Peak, Little Devil’s Tower, and Mount Coolidge. Big horn sheep also frequent this area, which was quite noticeable the day I visited as the rocks were completely covered in piles of sheep droppings.
The trail continues down the side of the ridge into Galena Creek Drainage. Once at the bottom the trail crosses the creek several times. Wood plank bridges are provided for easier creek crossing, as well as rock pathways across the creek if you’re interested in more of a challenge.
The final section of the trail passes through state park employee housing and RV sites, and follows a gravel road which meets meets up with the paved Creekside Trail. This trail runs along the highway and will take you past the Coolidge General Store and back to the schoolhouse.
Be aware that while hiking this trail you may run into a variety of wildlife, including the possibility of bison. Bison can be very dangerous, so give them a wide berth if you happen to come face to face with one.
*UPDATE* November 19, 2016
As of the fall of 2016 this trail has been rerouted to bypass employee housing and the Creekside Trail. The trail is now designed lollipop style. To the left you continue up the original trail to the Lover’s Leap lookout point. To the right is the new bypass trail section that leads toward the creek. You can see below how they “blocked off” the original trail that led to the employee housing area.
I definitely count this reroute as a huge improvement. Never did like having to walk right along the highway just to get back to the trailhead.