Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old Baldy Mountain, Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Volcanic Crow Peak in distance from Old Baldy Summit

Distance: 7.7 mile loop (12.4 km)
Elevation: 5,700-6,096 feet (1737 - 1858 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: May to October

In the northern part of the Black Hills, near the famous Spearfish Canyon, is a nice loop hike on the plateau above the rugged limestone canyons at around 6000 feet.  This loop is pretty gentle, mostly going up and down gullies no more than 100 feet in elevationat a time. 

The goal for this hike is the summit of Old Baldy Mountain. Not really much higher than the surrounding hills, what it does provide is a cliff-face and exposed area so that you can actually get a view of the surrounding landscape, because most of the other ridges and hills in this area are covered in trees.

To access the trail from Spearfish, South Dakota and I-90, take US-14a down the Spearfish Canyon for 12 miles until reaching "Savoy". Turn right on FR-222 and follow this well-graded dirt road for 6 miles. At FR-134, turn right and follow that one mile to the trailhead on left.

At the trailhead, follow the "west route" sign as it heads through alternating forests of Ponderosa pine, aspen, and paper birch. Along the way, there will be numerous Black Hills Spruce, which are a variety of White Spruce that were isolated from the boreal forests 500 miles to the north since the Ice Age.

The vegetation is pretty repetitive, with an understory of oregon grape, ceanothus, and buckthorns, bracken fern, along with plentiful grasses. There are few views for the first half of the trail. Once the trail descends into "Lap Circle Meadows", you enter an open grassy field where you will likely encounter cows grazing.

You can also see Old Baldy Mountain directly on the other side of the meadow

Approaching the Summit

At the 3.5 mile mark, you will come to the Old Baldy Summit Spur. The trail heads uphill for 0.8 miles to the summit for ever increasing views of the landscape.

Hilina at the summit

Northern Black Hills View from the Summit

Return the way you came and then follow the trail 2.1 miles along the "east route" back toward the trailhead. There is one other mountain you climb on the way back (maybe 300 feet in elevation gain) that is nearly as high at Old Baldy, but its summit is covered in trees.


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