Legends tell of two Native American lovers who, for reasons that have been lost to time, leaped to their deaths’ from a high ridge in the Black Hills. This three-mile-long loop in Custer State Park will take you to the supposed site of this romantic tragedy.
The trail begins across the road form the Peter Norbeck Visitor’s center, behind an old schoolhouse. From this point, the trail begins a steady ascent up to the crest of the ridge. This portion of the trail will bring you through the classic Black Hills biome; the Ponderosa Pine forest. After reaching the top, the trail winds up and down along the ridgeline, but the worst of the elevation gain is behind you. About a mile and a half along the trail, you will come to a sign marking the end of your ascent and the location of Lover’s Leap.
A short scramble up the granite outcropping next to the sign will bring you to the true site of the legendary leap. The views from this point are spectacular, and are the reason why this is among the most popular trails in Custer State Park. Immediately below you, Galena Creek winds through the rock crags. To the west, Coolidge Peak, with its crown of radio towers, is visible. To the north, Harney Peak and many other granite formations can be seen. But remember to be careful while enjoying the views up here, or else you might join the mythical leapers of the legend.
From Lover’s Leap, the trail continues along the top of the ridge for a short while before descending into the valley of Galena Creek. Here the ecosystem changes from pine forest to a riparian system. This will be the best section of the trek to spot wildlife. We spotted deer, squirrels, chipmunks, fish, frogs, numerous birds, and even a turtle all on one trip! The trail crosses the creek ten times, but thankfully for those of us looking to keep our feet dry, simple foot-bridges have been installed.
Finally, the trail will take you to a paved path that follows the highway back to the visitor’s center. The final stretch will bring you through a grassy field which bighorn sheep, deer, and even buffalo can often be seen grazing. Obviously, do not approach any wildlife, especially buffalo! All in all, the Lover’s Leap trail is a moderate to strenuous (depending on your ability) hike that can be done in just a couple of hours with ample views and opportunities for wildlife spotting. Definitely a must-stop location in Custer State Park!