Yesterday we decided to make our first foray into the Black Elk Wilderness area. The Black Elk Wilderness and Norbeck Wildlife Preserve trail system has eighteen trails ranging in length from 0.6 miles to 8.9 miles. Many are situated so that one can form loops or use them to access peaks.
For this particular hike we decided to start from the Grizzly Creek Trailhead and turn onto the Centennial Trail toward Iron Creek Horse Camp. We chose to go as far as a section of rocky outcrops and turn around, making for a nice easy hike of a little over 1.5 miles. You could also make this hike into a loop, continuing on to the horse camp and following the road back around to the trailhead. From my calculations this would make for a hike of approximately 4 miles.
The trailhead is found on Camp Remington Road (FR 345) along Needles Highway (Hwy 87) in Custer State Park. There are several options to get here. The easiest route is taking highway 16A east out of the city of Custer directly to Hwy 87. Another slightly shorter option, also found along 16A, is taking America Center Drive to Hwy 87. Take a right onto 87 and FR 345 is just a short drive down the road. A lengthier option is to take Hwy 87 from the north off Hwy 16, passing by Sylvan Lake. While this is the more scenic of the drives, part of this route is closed off during most of the winter off season.
Once on FR 345 you will pass by Iron Creek Horse Camp and the Remington Summer Home Group, exiting Custer State Park and shortly thereafter coming to the Grizzly Creek Trailhead on the left hand side of the road. You must register before entering the Black Elk Wilderness area, with forms available at the trailhead. This provides the Black Hills National Forest with important visitor use information.
The hike itself is very easy going and relatively flat. There are several creek crossings, all of which were dried up this time of year except for one which was frozen over. The creek is very narrow in this area, so even with water it would be very easy to cross without worrying about wet feet. The hike takes you through a mix of old growth ponderosa pine, oaks, and aspen. There is some windfall in the area, so be prepared to climb over toppled tree trunks.
After passing by a section of towering granite you hit the Centennial Trail/Iron Creek Horse Camp junction on your left hand side. Here you climb up along the rocks and out onto a ridge with several rocky outcrops to scramble up for a fantastic overlook of the Harney Peak Mountain Range. There are three different outcrops here to climb around on. The second one has the best unobscured view in my opinion.
From here you can either continue on to Iron Creek Horse Camp as a loop trail or do what we did and make it a shorter out and back adventure. Either way I highly recommend this trek. Beautiful views and very easy terrain for those not used to higher elevations.