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Home » Adventures » Black Hills » Centennial Trail » To Iron Creek

September 1 — Through Custer State Park

French Creek

Route I hiked this day

Route I hiked this day

Rain and lightning visited overnight but left as morning broke. As I went back to French Creek Campground to fill my water, a large buffalo wandered around the outskirts of camp, not bothering the campers who were mostly still asleep.

I started along French Creek and the warnings at the entrance about the trail not being marked well were bogus. Many prior boots created a well worn path, and “89” markers stood every couple hundred yards.

The trail crossed French Creek several times, and my new Gortex boots worked as advertised, keeping my feet dry. A little before I turned north on Switchback Draw Trail a buffalo blocked the path. This section was narrow, with no room to maneuver around the beast. He also walked slowly in my same direction, leaving no easy way to overtake him. I kept a safe distance behind, babbling out loud to hopefully not surprise the bison. I had no choice but to follow the creature for a while. Of course when the trail split, he took my turnoff.

I tried to pass through the bush when the buffalo took an extended stop to eat, but as I was about to complete this tactic, he decided to stay in the lead and kept going. This dance went on for a while, until I finally passed him and could hike as my own pace, with less chance of being gorged. This part of trail was steep though, and the freedom from the bison brought sweat and heavy breathing.

View from near the French Creek Natural Area

After the climb the trail gradually descended towards Lamont Center, where I joined the road and lost the trail. It appeared to follow the road, but the nearby path eventually turned into the trail south of Badger Hole. I realized this halfway through and rather than make a simple loop, I detoured over the big hill back to CSP9. I never crossed the Centennial Trail on the way down though as expected, so I followed the pavement.

Past Badger Hole Trailhead I still could not find the route, so I walked on the pavement towards Legion Lake. The hard surface next to traffic was not fun and added an extra mile, but got me where I needed.

I ate by Legion Lake within sight of a restaurant — a cruel twist of fate. I passed through Legion Lake Campground and once again found the CT. It appeared that the marked CT went west of Legion Lake, the opposite of what my map showed.

I continued through more undulating terrain in the northern parts of Custer State Park, and my legs were very tired. This day was not even an overly long one either, but I was having fun, right?

Black Elk Wilderness

Entering Black Elk Wilderness sign

I usually loathe the sound of traffic, but this time the noise meant the descent to Iron Creek was nearly complete. I setup camp past Iron Creek at the base of rock outcroppings. I scrambled over these bare rocks, reaching the top of the closest, nearby one. It provided a nice view of the wilderness area, including Harney Peak. In the distance I heard the whistle of the 1880 train making its way slowly back to Hill City.

Rain started as I returned from the ledges, an at camp it forced me inside my tent the rest of the evening.