Izzy's Insights: The Southern Black Hills
From Great Outdoor Store
Recently Emily and I (Izzy or Israel) posted the first episode of "In 2 Camp Chairs” an interview series featuring staff members sharing their expertise on a specific area of wilderness. For the first episode, we talked about me growing up in the southern Black Hills, more specifically Custer. Shameless plug, check out the store’s YouTube channel and watch for yourself. Or, read on for a brief written synopsis! I don’t consider myself an expert guide, but I’ll do my best.
Let’s start with an important piece: where to sleep. My favorite car camping spot is campsite 22 or 25 at Center Lake campground. I may be biased because I have some sentimental value attached to these sites, but for as long as I can remember my family would camp here over my birthday. These spots are great because they are more secluded from all of the other sites. Got rowdy neighbors? The white noise of the Grace Coolidge Creek (behind the campsites) drowns out those other campers. Center Lake, in my opinion, is the best lake for swimming and kayaking. It is a smaller lake, so it warms up quicker than the other Custer State Park lakes. Center lake is not large enough for recreational boats, which means there’s no wake, too. The best!
Wondering where to get your steps in for the day? A hidden gem of a hike along French Creek in Custer State Park is called The Narrows is my choice. This trail makes it feel as if you are the first to discover this wild place. French Creek gently flows through Custer State Park and into the French Creek Natural Area. There is no marked trail through this area. SO if you’re up for an adventure and a little trailblazing you have total liberty to be your own pathfinder by following the creek or finding the tracks of previous hikers. The trail crosses the creek many times. In dry months, the first mile or so of the creek flows underground leaving a dry path. The Narrows is actually where the creek pinches together and access is limited to climbing over the cliff (a steep 60 feet) or swimming/wading (100 feet) through the creek. During the hike there is the opportunity to see wildlife, wildflowers, fish for trout and maybe run into some poison ivy (so be on the look-out). Overnight backcountry camping is allowed with registration. If you need more information on The Narrows you can always stop by the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center. At this point you’re probably asking, “So Izzy, how do I find this fun little trail?” On the West end of the park you can find the trailhead 3 miles from Blue Bell Lodge on North Lame Johnny Road or on the east end 4 miles south of the State Game Lodge on Wildlife Loop Road.
So there you have it those are my top two places to either stay or visit in the southern black hills. So if you are heading to the hills for a quick 2 day trip or taking an extended weekend you have both a great relaxing little campsite and a fun hidden gem of a hike. Which you can’t go wrong with either of them!