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Home » Adventures » Black Hills » Centennial Trail » To Dalton Lake

September 4 — More Walking

Pilot Knob

Route I hiked this day

Route I hiked this day

With a relatively short day I was in no hurry to start, and took my time breaking camp while drying gear from last night’s rain. Early in the day I passed electrical workers installing replacement poles. Someone’s job was to climb to the top using only boot spikes and a leather belt — not a job I envied.

The rain from the last night left the trail muddy, and I slid through the slop. ATVs were allowed between Pilot Knob and Dalton Lake, which at least meant the trail was well defined, if not ruttier. The trail mostly descended towards Box Elder Creek and the wide dirt path made nice walking.

On the approach to Box Elder Creek, the trail crossed a large wooden bridge. The non-motorized trail then crossed back over the creek without the aid of a span. Although a dry dirt road ended in the same spot, I forded the river. It was about shin deep, over my boots, so my feet got soaked. The slippery rocks also almost caused me to fall, but I managed to stay upright.

Box Elder Creek

Box Elder Creek

The trail had the option of crossing the creek several more times, and since my feet were already wet I went for it, with the worst ford being around knee deep. By this time though I had not seen an “89” marker in a while and became concerned. I eventually turned around and backtracked, this time opting for the gravel road instead of creeks. I found a missed turn and proceeded the correct direction after eating lunch. The navigation catch for this turn was the Whitehouse Christmas tree. If you pass it, you have gone too far.

After crossing Highway 26, the poorly designed Trails Illustrated map had a gap between the front and back sides, so I walked blind for a while.

Dalton Lake

The easy morning descent turned into an afternoon climb. A long series of windy switchbacks brought me up a hillside until a steep rocky assault mostly finished the ascent. The trail undulated across the ridgeline, gaining little elevation before finally descending to meet a forest road. This road began the long, very gradual decline to Dalton Lake. Although my day was short, I already felt drained by mid-afternoon. The short day meant I was not in a hurry though, so I just took my time.

Random clearing along the trail

The rain, which had been nice enough to only visit during the evenings, made an appearance that afternoon, so I hiked in rain gear through light showers. The ATV and non-motorized CT split, and the self propelled version lost all its elevation at once though a mind numbingly long series of steep switchbacks.

At the bottom I held up in a shelter inside the campground by Dalton Lake, having diner and reading. I wished for the rain to stop and sun to emerge, but all I had was a damp, chilly afternoon. I also hoped the campground would not charge fees after Labor Day but had no such luck. I could not justify paying for mainly an RV minded campsite when the woods had plenty of flat ground and made camp a little northwest of the trailhead.