Have you ever been driving down the highway and thought to yourself, “I wonder where that one goes?” as you passed the turnoff to a gravel road? I have.
I believe that every highway in the Black Hills is a scenic route. Regardless of where you are in the hills or which direction you’re traveling, there is something to see. Beautiful granite outcroppings, wildlife and Ponderosa Pine are abundant throughout the area. I love traveling popular routes like Iron Mountain Road and Spearfish Canyon Byway, but am especially fond of leaving the blacktop and getting the Jeep dirty.
Over the past couple years, I’ve driven past the Victoria Lake Road turn-off (near Pactola Reservoir) at least a dozen times. But I’ve never taken the time to slow down and check it out. Recently, my curiosity convinced me to leave the highway and explore a little. I’m so glad that I did!
Although it was obvious that I was driving in the heart of the hills, I felt like I had stumbled into my own little piece of paradise. After a short distance, the gravel road morphed into a dirt trail, leading me down the hill and around the bend – into an area that immediately pleased my senses.
The landscape was thick with vegetation and peppered with wildflowers. Birch and oaks mingled with the pine trees, adding to the rainbow of green. Sunlight practically danced off the leaves, branches and blades of grass. And the air was filled with the scent of damp earth, pine and blooming chokecherry trees. Every flower seemed to be as popular as the next. A multitude of bumblebees and butterflies ignored my presence buzzed and fluttered from one blossom to the next.
The hills lulled upward on each side of the road, creating the illusion that this small piece of the world, existed on it’s own; like a scene from snow globe. An occasional lone boulder sat watch over the landscape. The granite spattered with patches of moss and lichen. I can’t imagine the incredible glacial force that left these souvenirs behind.
The road follows Victoria Creek for a portion of the route and I stopped and got out to admire the gentle rush of water as it fell over rocks and tree roots, flowing over long, green moss that waved and flickered in the afternoon sun.
Standing still along that stream, soaking up the beauty of the hills, I didn’t know if I was embracing nature, or if nature was embracing me. The sound of the wind through the trees and grass, along with the singing birds and the creek flowing soothed my mind. For a moment, I stood alone in the world. Feeling like I was the first person to experience this little piece of heaven.
The creek runs across the road in a number of places. I enjoyed driving through the water and was reminded of what it felt like to be a kid riding my bike through a puddle. Most watery areas have been outfitted with concrete spillways to prevent washout. A couple other areas were just *muddy and deep due to the unusual amount of early summer precipitation in the hills this year.
Every other bend in the road greeted me with a shaded canopy to drive under. Small groves of oak trees reached overhead and spread their branches high above the ground, breaking the rays of sunshine into spattered bits of light.
I enjoyed every beautiful mile of that drive, which eventually merged into Taylor Ranch Road and ended at the highway – toward the west end of Sheridan Lake Road.
There’s so much to experience in the Black Hills, much more than what you see from the highway. Grab your camera and a map, pack a lunch and find a dirt road to explore – it’s where the blacktop ends and the adventure begins.
*I would advise you to drive through muddy areas with care and if they appear to be “bottomless”, turn around and go back. Not only do you risk sinking past your axels, but it creates impassible road areas that need to be repaired – causing road closure.
As of this writing, there are areas along Victoria Lake Road that are closed. Please visit the Forest Service website for details.
As I drove Victoria Lake Road, I noted that there was access to the Centennial Trail along the route. I’ve never hiked or biked on this trail, but it’s definitely on my bucket list. Additionally, there are a number of trail roads that spur from Victoria Lake Road. Great areas to explore if you’re in an ATV. Check with the nearest Forest Service office or Visitor Center for maps and guides.