Sunday Gulch is my son’s favorite trail in the Black Hills. It begins beside the spectacular Sylvan Lake, and continues behind the dam that created the lake. We hike this loop counter-clockwise, turning to the right behind the dam and scrambling down very a steep stair-and-rock combination that flits in and out of waterfalls, pools and streams created by the runoff from the lake. Gorgeous views of the Black Elk Wilderness are framed by sheer, mossy granite walls and a mix of pines, spruce and hardwoods. Your steep descent over sometimes treacherous wet rocks is aided by sometimes rickety steel guardrails. Test the rails before you use them to support your weight, as we’ve found a couple that are no longer safe.
Our German Shepherd loves this trail, too. She needs a little help navigating the water crossings at times, but she loves to wade in the cold, clear water and take a sip or two when she gets hot.
Once you reach the forest floor, the biome changes dramatically to old pine forest, leading through wildflower meadows and beautiful streams. Then the trail becomes less green and more rocky as you ascend back up towards Sylvan Lake. Take time to perch on a rock overlook and enjoy a stunning vista of enormous granite peaks, wildflower patches, native grasses and pine forest.
As you exit the loop, you find yourself back along Sylvan Lake. It’s worth the time to take a dip in the staggeringly cold water, go fishing, or try your hand at your favorite paddlesport – they rent small watercraft at the Sylvan Lake Store. If your hiking legs want more, the trailheads for Harney Peak are close by. This trail never looks the same, and we enjoy it at least a couple times a year.