Hiking | Hell Canyon Trail

Hell Canyon is one of my absolute favorite hikes in the Black Hills. In the spring and summer, the wildflower exhibition is dazzling, and I’ve found some unusual flowers on my hikes through the Canyon. But I’d never hiked it in the winter, which was a very different and beautiful experience. Hell CanyonA few trail stats: The trailhead is located about 10 miles west of Custer, near Jewel Cave National Monument. It is a well-marked, lightly traveled, approximately six-mile loop, which includes a short scenic spur along the rim of the canyon. It is generally recommended to hike the loop clockwise. I had the great idea to try it counterclockwise this time, and halfway through realized why it should be hiked clockwise. Hell CanyonWe had blue skies and warm winter weather for this hike, and worked up a lot of heat postholing it through the canyon. Our ice cleats were almost more of a hindrance than a help, since the snow was pretty heavy and wet and balled up in the spikes, making walking rather awkward at times. Overall, this is a pretty easy to moderate hike, except for where the trail climbs from the level of the canyon floor to the level of the canyon rim. Hence, why it should be hiked clockwise. Hell Canyon I once heard someone comment on the trail along the rim being dangerous, and was kind of puzzled since it seems one would have to try pretty hard to take any kind of serious tumble from the trail. My understanding for this person’s comment grew during this hike. When the trail is snowed over, the edge of the canyon can be difficult to see, and a number of times a miscalculated or clumsy step sent us awfully close to taking a steep tumble off the trail. I would now agree: in the winter, the canyon rim is rather treacherous. There aren’t really any sheer drop offs, but there are some steep slopes below the trail, and a tumble wouldn’t be a good thing at all. Hell CanyonWhat a day for one of my favorite hikes. Every time I’ve hiked it, new delights have stood out. I’m already getting excited for spring, and seeing it full of wildflowers again!

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