Winter came early for a lot of the Black Hills on Friday, with as much as 6 inches of snow falling in Custer, SD. We got no snow where I live, just miserable, cold drizzle, but as we drove down Calumet Road on the way to Sheridan Lake yesterday morning, there was snow in patches under the trees, evidence that fall is already marching towards winter. I wondered if I had brought warm enough layers for this hike, and was very glad I had remembered to grab a pair of lightweight gloves. It was a crisp morning, a beautiful day to hike the length of the Flume Trail #50. All four of us had been on parts of the Flume Trail, but none of us had done the whole thing, end to end.The Flume Trail begins at Sheridan Lake at the Calumet Trailhead and terminates at the Coon Hollow Trailhead just west of Rockerville. Officially said to be 12.8 miles, we clocked it at 13.6 miles. Definitely a less challenging hike as far as terrain, with a good majority of the trail on the level, but the length made it a good workout. The starting elevation at Calumet Trailhead is 4635 feet, and it ends at 4492 feet at Coon Hollow Trailhead. The number of trailheads along its length would make this a great trail to hike in segments, if you didn’t want to do the whole thing, and there are also a couple options for scenic spurs or loops for those who want a longer or more challenging hike, including the Spring Creek Loop, the scenic Boulder Hill Loop, and the Boulder Hill Trail. Spring Creek Loop and Boulder Hill are both hikes which can be done by themselves. We parked a car at each trailhead, which is a good way to get the whole length of the hike in, unless you want to do an overnight. We did take the Boulder Hill Loop, instead of taking the shortcut, which had beautiful views of Silver Mountain and Boulder Hill and lovely, open meadows.
The Flume Trail follows a segment of the flume (a wooden trough used to carry water) used in the mining days. It is amazing to think of the sheer amount of physical labor the miners did to construct this flume, first to level out the channel, sometimes carving deep into granite to make a downhill path for the water, and then to build the wooden flume itself. The wooden parts are gone, but the channel remains, in some places clearer than others. Flume remnants crisscross the Hills, including my family’s property. A neat bit of evidence of all the work that went into working the Hills in the early days.Early on in the hike, we passed a number of older individuals who were part of a Volksmarch society and were hiking a segment of the Flume Trail (they were planning to do the Crazy Horse Volksmarch today) and later on we encountered another couple of hikers and a trail runner or two. I like how versatile this trail is, and accessible by a lot of people!The hike features flume tunnels, as well as gorgeous granite formations, boulder-strewn slopes, beautiful hardwood thickets, a couple of minor creek crossings, and other lovely Black Hills scenery. This time of year is particularly gorgeous, when the aspens and other hardwoods light up the ponderosa forest with autumn color.
The trail intersects with rural ranch roads and forest service roads a number of times, sometimes following a two track for a ways before branching off into official trail again. The trail generally is clearly marked with blazes on trees or brown trail markers, but occasionally the trail would branch and we’d have to search a little to find which branch we were supposed to take. So be aware of that. If you choose not to carry a map or GPS, give yourself extra time in case you get off on the wrong branch of trail, or miss the trail altogether.Towards the southern end of the trail, past Boulder Hill, the trail descends into Rockerville Gulch, which was a blaze of autumn yellows. The trail narrowed for a ways, winding through forest of oak and aspen and ironwood. Really a beautiful part of the trail.New hikes are always fun, and this is such a great time of year for it. I love the dirt and pine needles and fallen leaves underfoot, and the quietness of the wind in the tree tops. I love getting out into the silent parts of the Black Hills, where I can’t hear cars and traffic, where I don’t see tourist helicopters, far enough in that I’m tired when we get to the end, enjoying that precious time with friends, talking about Jesus and enjoying the beauty of our Creator’s creation. What a gift.