Western Adventure: Sylvan Lake -Custer State park

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, SD

June 3rd, 2022

Tucked in the northwest corner of Custer State Park you’ll discover tranquil Sylvan Lake. Coined the ‘crown jewel of Custer’ –Sylvan Lake lies in the shadow of Black Elk Peak and the towering monoliths stone needles.

Each of Custer’s five lakes offers beautiful vistas, but Sylvan has a mystical essence as it is completely flanked by otherworldly rock formations. The cool clear water is perfect for a summer swim.

Sylvan Lake is the gateway to many popular Custer trails into the backcountry of the Needles.

With the sun shining and blue sky like a sapphire and the morning of clouds and rain, I decided to return to Sylvan Lake for an late lunch/early dinner and a relaxing hike.

In 1891, Thoedore Reder dammed Sunday Gulch Creek to form ‘Sylvan Lake.’ He build a resort that became a popular tourism and recreation spot.

When the original resort burned down in 1935, famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was consulted. He suggested the new resort be built on a rocky hillside overlooking the lake amid the ‘hillside forest of pine and spruce trees.’

South Dakota architect Harold Spitznagel took inspiration from Wright in designing the Sylvan Lake Lodge, which opened to the public in 1937. The Sylvan Lake Lodge is renowned for its rustic elegance and charm. It incorporates the artistry of modern architecture with a design that feels as thought you stepped out of the woods. Welcoming and in tune with the diverse heritage and culture of the Black Hills.

Arriving just after four o’clock, I was able to snag a table in the grand dining room. The lofty ceilings immediately set the atmosphere of a mountain oasis.

The lodge (like all Custer Resort restaurants) is known for it’s delicious menu that combines a flair of gourmet with down home favorites. I decided to keep it light and ordered the delicious House Salad with mandarin oranges, cranberries, fruit and cheese drizzled with a vinaigrette. The salad was topped with grilled chicken.

Everything looked scrumptious – especially the steak and walleye. The entire menu features fresh ingredients farm to table style – mostly sourced from local farms/ranches

After my meal, I drove the short distance to the Sylvan Lake parking lot. The water glittered in the sunlight like a treasure. The rock boulders look like Stonehenge or a portal to another world. It makes sense that the pivotal scene of National Treasure 2 was filmed at Sylvan Lake.

The lake has great beach access for swimming. It is also a good place for kayaking and rock climbing.

Visitors can picnic lake side before hitting the trail to scale Black Elk Peak (the tallest peak betwen the Rockies and Mount Mitchell, NC) or roam around the maze of boulders and wander the lakeside loop trail. For area hiking trails click here

The sun and seventy degree weather was perfect for ambling lakeside for half an hour.

I would have stayed longer, but with daylight limited, I decided to returned to my car so I’d have plenty of time at our next stop…Crazy Horse Monument…

Stay tuned for our next adventure…Crazy Horse and beyond….

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