Thursday, July 30, 2009

Custer State Park: French Creek

In all the years that we’ve lived and worked at Wind Cave National Park we have hiked most of the trails in the area. However, there had always been one area of the map that we’d neglected to explore. Until today that is. Today Noelle and I packed up our day packs grabbed our boots and sandals and headed north into Custer State Park. Our plan was to park one car at the east end of the French Creek Natural Area and drive together in the other to the west end. From there we would hike back to the car at the east. We each paid the $6 entrance fee then parked as planned. We stopped to get lunch at a Buffalo Cookout stand set up near Blue Bell Lodge, and then drove to the trailhead.

The hike started following a section of the Centennial Trail that followed French Creek. When the Centennial Trail split away from the creek we followed some a user trail that was well worn by horses. We forded the creek pretty much right off the bat. The scenery was amazing. The creek runs through a deep gorge. There were many wildflowers along the banks.
Unfortunately, there was also a lot of poison ivy growing along the trail as well. The poison ivy and frequent creek crossings made the going pretty slow,
but the cool temperatures made hiking extremely pleasant.

Things went well until we got to the Fisherman Flats Trail. At this point there was no trail to follow along French Creek. We could have just bushwhacked through the brush, but were no longer in the mood. We decided instead to hike up to Fisherman Flats and follow a long flat ridge that paralleled the creek gorge.
Well our plan worked even better than could be possible expected. When we got up to Fisherman Flats we found an old logging road. It led us in exactly the direction we wanted to go. We followed it back towards the wildlife loop road and then headed down a hill to the car we had left at the east trailhead.

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