My parents and of my three siblings live in the wonderful Black Hills of South Dakota. Every summer I return, there's one place that I always visit - Custer State Park!
The centerpiece of Custer State Park is scenic Sylvan Lake. Of all the lakes in the Black Hills, this one is hands down the prettiest. Surrounded by blocky granite formations and forests, this small blue body of water is drop-dead gorgeous. When my folks asked what I'd like to see, this place was foremost on my agenda.
|Sampling the dream desserts at Alpine Inn|
But for an afternoon of sightseeing one must first fortify themselves! Before beginning our grand tour of the "hills" (as the Black Hills are affectionately called by locals) my family made a lunch stop at the Alpine Inn, located in the nearby town of Hill City.
This small Bavarian-themed restaurant serves the best German food around. A favorite of residents and tourists alike, the Alpine Inn is always packed, even during weekday lunch hours. Yes, the food is scrumptious, but the best part of dining here is sampling their out-of-this-world yummy deserts. Denise and I shared a German chocolate waffle, piled high with chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, and mounds of whipped cream.
Bellies full to bursting, everyone needed to work off those calories. My Dad drove to nearby Sylvan Lake, and me, my parents, sister, and daughter all rolled out of the car and made our way to the shoreline path.
|Huge granite blocks line the lake|
A well-graded trail follows the water's edge, encircling the entire lake. Although a very short hike (probably about a mile in length) it packs a lot of scenery in such a small distance. My family headed towards to the lake's dam, while I trailed behind, snapping loads of photos.
|Bridge over the dam|
Sylvan Lake was created in 1881, when a dam was built across steep, narrow Sunday Gulch. A popular recreation area ever since, this place boasts boat rentals, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, a lodge and campground. It's also the starting point for several well-known hiking trails, such as the Sunday Gulch Trail, and the trail to the top of Harney Peak (the highest point in SD).
|Walking back across the rocks|
The dam had a narrow bridge over top, offering visitors amazing views back across the lake, and down into Sunday Gulch.
|Checking out the bridge|
Of course, I had to go out on the bridge and see things for myself.
|Fabulous lake view!|
Yeah, the views were absolutely fabulous! Now you can see why I love coming back here.
|My family back on shore|
And look - there's my family lined up along the bank. Wonder what they're all looking at?
|Couldn't pass up these neat reflections|
Well....I wasn't able to tell what was so interesting. But I did capture some nice reflections of everyone.
|Climbing over the granite|
Below the dam was a large crack in the rock, creating a tunnel for visitors to walk through. One the other side was a long set of stone steps that took visitors down below the dam, into the head of Sunday Gulch. I was really interested in hiking the trail through this gulch. It's supposed to be very scenic. But I'd just taken my parents up Bear Butte the day before, and they were definitely not ready for another strenuous trek.
|More wonderful lake views|
So we stuck to the lakeshore. From Sunday Gulch trailhead, we climbed up a huge granite slab. On top was another lovely view of Sylvan Lake.
|Heading around the opposite shore|
From there, the dusty path wound around a field of huge granite boulders and scrawny ponderosa pines. I could see many of these trees were brown and dying due to a bark beetle infestation that is decimating the forests here.
Sylvan Lake was featured in the 2007 film National Treasure: Book of Secrets. The funny part is, the movie made it appear that the lake was located directly behind Mt. Rushmore, when in reality it's about five miles southwest of the famous monument. (Oh Hollywood!)
|Wonderful reflections on this side|
Rounding the final side of Sylvan Lake, our path paralleled the main road and a lush grassy bank. Afternoon light broke through partly cloudy skies, lighting up granite monoliths on the far shore, creating amazing reflections in the still waters.
|The Needles highway|
Returning to the car, I requested we travel one of my favorite roads in Custer State Park - the Needles Highway. This narrow, twisty road winds through an area of tall granite spires known at "the Needles." The road features hairpin turns, and a couple of narrow tunnels blasted straight through granite rock.
|Granite spires everywhere|
We stopped at an overlook called the "Needles Eye." One of the attractions here is a very narrow one-lane tunnel. Autos are required to honk their horns before entering, to alert any vehicles on the other side. This system seems to work, as the short time we stopped, drivers were politely taking turns traveling through.
If you're lucky and happen to be here at the right time, visitors will see full size tour buses squeezing their way through this tunnel. It doesn't appear to be possible, but I've personally witnessed huge buses making successful trips, with nary a scratch.
Sadly, we missed seeing any buses. But I did observe a group of classic Mustang sportscars, a few Harleys, a couple cars with Go-Pro cameras attached to their sides, and one vehicle with a kid sticking up through the sunroof holding an ipad, recording their journey.
|Light at the end of the tunnel|
After spending some time watching traffic at Needle's Eye tunnel, we loaded into the car and completed our trip through "the hills." It was great to be back, and I enjoyed visiting some of the favorite places from my childhood.
But my sightseeing adventures weren't quite over yet. I still yearned to see the Badlands, one of my favorite places in Western South Dakota. Stick around for my next post - you won't be disappointed!
Sharing with: Weekend Reflections.