Last night’s hike took me around the Stockade Lake Trail loop. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful evening. The breeze was faint, the late-day temperature was in the sixties and the only clouds were those building in the west. Aside from the young family on the lakeshore, I had the whole place to myself.
Nature’s golden hour was just beginning at 6:30 when I parked at the trailhead. This is one of my favorite times to be outside with my camera. The light is rich and soft and adds so much life and dimension to the landscape. I stopped often to capture photos of flowers and trees, warmed by the evening sun.
The narrow trail is moderately strenuous – about a mile and half over rocky terrain, providing a number of steep climbs and descents. This is a “step carefully” kind of trail, complete with plenty of jagged rocks and dry pine needles that can cause you to lose your footing.
The area is so lush this time of year, wrapped in a blanket of spring growth and new life. The evening’s rich, golden light seemed to illuminate the thick grass, raspberry shrubs, ferns and trees. The hillsides are painted in splashes of color where bluebells, shooting stars and sweet peas are in bloom.
Sweet peas are such happy little flowers, and always remind me of my childhood. I, along with my neighborhood friends would pick them by the fistful and take them home to our mothers and grandmothers. In our homes, yellow bouquets filled vases and jelly jars that adorned window sills and kitchen counters.
As I approached the top, I turned to look toward the north often. The view of Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires silhouetted against the horizon is spectacular. There’s also a great spot on the ridge that looks across (southeast) to Mt. Coolidge and the fire tower.
If you’re participating in the Custer State Park trail challenge this summer, (May through July) be on the lookout for the box that stands near the top of the trail. After snapping photos or collecting stamps at each of the eight boxes, you’ll earn a prize from CSP.
My favorite spot along the trail, is where the trees open and allow and magnificent view of the lake and the hills beyond. The park service must think this spot is special too – there’s a log bench, built to accommodate happy hikers. It invites one to sit, rest and take it all in.
Descending back to the trailhead is just as enjoyable as the climb to the top. I didn’t see any deer this time, but watched several chipmunks scurry through the brush and up to a rock or log to watch me. They’d sit still just until I had my camera lifted, then would disappear in a flash. And I was treated the happy chirps of sparrows and a few robins and the sweet call of white breasted nuthatches.
The ninety minutes I spent on Stockade Lake trail gave me a renewed sense of gratitude and joy – most trails do. And as I drove home, I was already planning my next hike.