Sunday Gulch Trail
The Sylvan Lake hike can be extended by venturing onto the Sunday Gulch Trail, a fairly strenuous 2.8-mile loop. To reach the trailhead, follow the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail until you are behind the dam. The trailhead is visible from there.
The trail has some of the greatest diversity of plants, trees, and scenery in the park and was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1971. National Recreation Trails are designated by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture to recognize trails of local and regional significance.
For dramatic impact, begin the trail at the northwest trailhead and hike counterclockwise. The first part of the trail descends steeply and requires some scrambling over huge granite boulders. It’s just 0.25 mile to the bottom of the gulch but take the trail with caution.
It can be slippery here as overflow from Sylvan Lake cascades down the rocks. The Park Service has carved stone steps into the boulders and has provided hand rails. This trail is closed in winter due to the likelihood of extremely icy conditions.
Once the bottom of Sunday Gulch is reached, the trail meanders through the valley surrounded by towering granite cliffs and crosses the stream bed many times. In addition to the ponderosa pines that dominate the hills, you will find birch, aspen, and spruce in this region.
The last half-mile or so of the loop is a little too close to roads and power lines, but overall, it’s a spectacular hike.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition