It’s that time again, to lace up your hiking boots and get outside and enjoy the beautiful aspects of the Black Hills. With the weather being so nice lately, it’s giving us amazing opportunities to explore more of the local hiking trails.
One of the recent trails I explored was the Iron Mountain Loop Trail. This lollipop shaped loop takes you from mountaintop to forest floor while also leading you over forest streams and providing glimpses of many facets of the Black Hills; you’ll see fascinating rock formations within the first mile and park like settings cut by beaver dams. The trail is roughly 5 miles and the difficulty ranges from easy to moderate; which took me roughly around four hours, and provides a peaceful, beautiful trek.
From Rapid City, take US-16W south 18 miles to the US-16 Alt E exit. Take US-16 Alt E approximately 2.5 miles to Keystone, where it becomes Iron Mountain Road. The southern end of Iron Mountain Road begins at the junction of US-16A and SD-36, 16 miles east of Custer. It will take you roughly 45-60 minutes to travel the 16 miles of Iron Mountain Road, but the drive is well worth it as it takes you through rustic one lane tunnels with a great view of Mt Rushmore. This relaxing drive will take you to the Peter Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, south of Mount Rushmore. The trail begins at the west end of the parking area for the Iron Mountain Picnic Area.
After you have traveled about a mile or so you will reach a fork in the road, at that time point you will want to take the east trail labeled Iron Mountain Trail #16. The trail is well marked by the well warn path as well as markers in the trees engraved with a 16. As long as you follow the course and stick to the right for all subsequent forks in the trail you will stay on track.
Before you head out to your favorite trail I wanted to give you a forewarning about the hiking conditions this year. Of course, we can’t complain about the great weather we have been having this year; however, like all great things it has its flaws. Unfortunately, the forests have taken a beating this year due to the pine beetle epidemic as well as the lack of moisture in the hills. The logging companies are doing their best to weed out the infected and dead pine trees; however, their efforts have been pretty hard on the hiking trails around the hills. Many times it’s difficult to decipher which is the trail and which is the trails used by loggers. This makes it difficult to stay on the trail and not get lost or sent in the wrong direction.
The best way to prevent losing the trail is to make sure you always take an easy to read, current map of the trail. You can find up to date maps on websites such as www.trimbleoutdoors.com or www.gorp.com or they are often available for you at the trail head. Hike popular trails that are well maintained by the forest services. Also make sure you bring plenty of water as well as a compass. Many smart phones have very handy and helpful apps like Sports Tracker or Topo Maps, which will track your location and let you, know where you are and where you have been. These apps make it easy to compare your trek in relation to the trail map. Also make sure to take plenty of sunscreen and wear a good pair of hiking boots each time you go.
I know I have been taking advantage of this nice weather while it is around and I hope you take this opportunity to do the same. There are so many beautiful places out there just waiting to be discovered by you and your family. Just one hike a month can help relieve stress, keep you physically active, and give you a new appreciation for the world around us. I know that I feel completely rejuvenated after a good trek through the forest and I hope that you will feel the same. Hope to see you out there!!!