|Granite spires near Sylvan Lake|
When I'm back visiting family there's one place in the Black Hills I always go - Sylvan Lake and the Needles Highway, both in the heart of Custer State Park.
|Cute cabin near Sylvan Lake|
Usually my parents and I hike the loop trail around picturesque Sylvan Lake. But this day I wanted to try something new - the trail to Sunday Gulch.
|Entering Sunday Gulch|
Snaking through a scenic canyon just below Sylvan Lake's dam, this trail claims great views of the park and unusual granite formations to explore. Although I'd heard lots about it, it was one hike I'd yet to complete.
|Last of the summer wildflowers|
After parking near the Sylvan Lake Lodge, my parents and I traveled down a wide, gravel road past some of the cute guest cabins. A few of these cabins had outstanding views of many tall granite spires jutting up from the Black Hills.
|A steep downclimb into Sunday Gulch|
Behind Sylvan Lake's dam, the Sunday Gulch trail nosedived into the canyon. The "trail" consisted of a path worn into huge granite boulders. Metal handrails provided something to cling onto while navigating the steep rocks. Footing was dicey in many places. Although my parents keep active and are in great shape for their ages, I started to worry that this trail might be too difficult for them.
|Light filtering through the trees|
My parents were good sports and didn't complain. But I could tell my mom was a little bit unsure. She didn't look like she was having any fun.
|Sunny yellow flower|
Then we met another woman climbing up the opposite direction. She warned us that further below, the trail got even worse. The path was steeper, with larger gaps between steps, and the rock very slippery. After hearing her dire story, I decided not to risk it and suggested to my folks that we turn around and hike something else instead.
|Heading behind Sylvan Lake dam|
I was happy when both my mom and dad agreed to go elsewhere. We gingerly climbed back out the canyon without incident. Luckily, there's another wonderful hike just around the corner - the path around beautiful Sylvan Lake.
After climbing up a stone staircase behind the dam that led through a crack in the granite, we arrived at Sylvan Lake's grassy shores.
|My parents admire Sylvan Lake|
The crown jewel of Custer State Park, this gorgeous lake is surrounded by impressive granite formations and green Ponderosa pine forests.
The water's surface was so still, it provided perfect reflections of adjacent granite formations.
|Still some lakeshore wildflowers|
I lagged behind my parents, trying to capture these reflections. And a bit of late blooming wildflowers added color to the shoreline.
|Looking back towards the dam|
Oh yeah, you just can't take too many photos of this lake!
|My mom enjoying the scenery|
My parents and I hiked the mile-long loop that circled the lake. Although I hike this trail every year, it never gets old.
|I love photographing this lake!|
After finishing our trip around Sylvan Lake, there was one more place I wanted to see. I asked my dad to take a drive up the Needles Highway.
Snaking through Custer State park, this byway passes through a vast swath of tall granite spires known as "the Needles."
|The Needles Highway|
This narrow, winding road was purposely designed to be driven slowly, allowing visitors to fully appreciate the amazing scenery.
|Funny granite pillars|
The highlight of any trip is a drive through the tunnels blasted into the granite. The most famous one is called the "Needles Eye."
|"Needles Eye" tunnel|
A super-narrow one lane path through the rock, vehicles must first stop and honk to warn traffic on the opposite end. Vehicles take turns cueing through this tunnel. There is a parking area on one side, and many people get out of their cars for a closer view. The main entertainment is watching some of the larger trucks and campers inch their way to the other side. If you're lucky and happen to catch it, tour buses often squeeze through - very, very slowly!
I love driving through tunnels, and my dad was happy to oblige with a couple of trips through the Needles Eye. And so all of you can experience it too, here's a short video.
A fun day visiting some of my favorite spots in "the Hills." But tune in to my next post and I'll share pics of some of the critters we found in Custer State Park.
Sharing with: Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday