Outdoors: Discovering the Solitude of the Bearlodge

Posted by Michael Zimny on

They say the Black Hills are a granite island in a sea of grass. If that's the case, the Bearlodge is like a Marie-Galante to the Black Hills' Guadeloupe.
  
There is no attendant mid-sized town with a mall. No Cracker Barrel. Not even an Applebees. And all the igneous bling is concentrated in one glorious upthrust. Outside of Devil's Tower, the Lodge is an understated former(?) ursine abode with all of the flora you'd expect to find in a Black Hills satellite — like ponderosa pine, aspen and prairie rose. But it's the precise proportion of familiar elements that makes it unique — like you! 

And the lodge offers solitude. People here are scarce as bears. And sometimes the most epiphanic back-to-nature moments happen more than several exits from a 'bees or a Barrel.

The Sundance trail system offers opportunities to explore the Bearlodge room by room on customized journeys, short or long, of your making. There are several trailheads — the Sundance TH is the closest to the South Dakota border (or "Heaven's Gate" as we call it around here). Your SDPB Outdoors correspondent recently explored the Ogden Ridge/Ogden Creek trails via the Ogden trailhead, a little ways down the road. 

A Great Plains Toad(?) in the Bearlodge.A Great Plains Toad(?) in the Bearlodge.

The Ogden Creek trail starts at a parking area at the terminus of NFSR 839.1, a sedan-accessible (minus snow) gravel road. You'll notice a small mine opening near the parking area. According to the Forest Service, some of the Sundance system trails were first developed by 19th century miners.    

The view from Ogden Ridge.The view from Ogden Ridge.

The Creek trail follows its namesake until it climbs along redrock cliffs out of the creek  bottom, then turns south along the Tent Canyon connector to Ogden Ridge trail. From here, you'll ascend about a thousand feet or so onto a high prairie where the trail can be hard to read, though there are occasional cairns. The views are as long as the (human) company is sparse. After cresting the ridge, groves of thick-trunked, old aspen (currently) quake with autumn color. 

JFYI: If you use the downloadable Forest Service map for the Avenza app, the Ogden Creek and Ogden Ridge trailheads appear to be almost top of each other, which could lead you to believe you can pair them in a 9-mile loop. We thought so, and ended up having to trailblaze a steep path down the ridge to the parking area (not recommended). You can combine several trails into a Creek/Ridge loop, but the distance will be closer to twelve miles — which is a few more miles worth of alone time between you and nature. 

And that's just one option. There's 47-plus miles of trail in the Sundance trail system, plus another seven in the adjoining Carson Draw trails. Depending where you are, you can see Inyan Kara, Devil's Tower, Warren, Sheepnose and Sundance Peaks, and even the distant Bighorns. From these vantages you can plot an expedition across the Mountain West, or back to the greatest state.   

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