Looking out from the Lookout Mountain area

by Austin Kaus on September 12, 2014 · 0 comments

When I plan my hiking trips, I sometimes survey friends and family about the best places to check out. Other times, I just find a place and go.

The latter was how I found myself in the area of Lookout Mountain. Located just north of Spearfish across Interstate 90, the mountain is one of three peaks that help make up the “crown” that gives Spearfish the title of “Queen City.” Here’s a bit of history, courtesy of The Rapid City Journal:

Legend has it that early settlers Louis and Ivan Thoen were hauling building stone from the base of Lookout Mountain in 1887 when they stumbled on a crudely carved tablet with which their family name would forever be associated.

The Thoen Stone was found near what was then described as “the main Indian trail to Deadwood,” and provided perhaps the most compelling evidence of early exploration of the Black Hills.

“Came to these hills in 1833, seven of us, all died but me Erza Kind,” reads the rock face on display at the Adams Museum in Deadwood. “Killed by Indians beyond the high hill got our gold June 1834.” (Source)

Thanks to an entry from Black Hills Travel Blog, I learned what I needed to about the area before heading out to explore.

Of the two available trailheads (according to the blog), I went with the one that starts near the  Church of the Nazarene. I parked on Nevada Street and went looking for the short tunnel that would take me to the trailhead.

As you can see, there’s no clearly-marked path to the tunnel. Don’t let that discourage you. Head to the tunnel, enjoy some of the interesting graffiti as you walk through and come to a trailhead that both Robert Frost and roleplaying gamers would appreciate.

I went with the right path since it was the logical way to the mountain. After walking through some grassland, I started to make a slow but steady ascent. It’s a pretty beautiful collection of scenery – rock, trees, wide open sky – and it doesn’t take that long to start enjoying some amazing views.


Instead of shooting for the peak, I just wandered.

There’s a decent chance you’ll encounter some wildlife while you’re making this hike. As a hiker, I’m always aware of the slight chance I’ll encounter a mountain lion or a rattlesnake but, as usual, all I ended up seeing were a couple of beings definitely more scared of me than I was of them. For this particular hike, that meant a beautiful blue jay and an extremely skittish wild turkey.

After some ascent, I found a sort of flattish road area. Instead of continuing to the top, I decided to head west and see what I could find. For a while, I could see the second trail. I just couldn’t get to it. No matter. That’s part of the fun, right? Thanks to my wandering, I ended up finding a series of beautiful flat rocks.

I took the second path back and strolled through beautiful wildflowers and other foliage before reaching the trailhead.

WHY SHOULD I GO?: It’s a pretty neat area in a town already surrounded by beauty. (Stay tuned for a future blog on my hike to Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon). If you’re looking for a semi-strenuous hike with a variety of scenery, the Lookout Mountain area is the place for you.

HOW DO I GET THERE?: You’re looking for the 500 block of Nevada St. (click here for a view. If you’re having trouble, just look for Nevada Street beside the Church of the Nazarene (1200 N 10th St). Park on the street and you’re good to go.

ANYTHING I SHOULD WATCH OUT FOR?: After I got back from my hike, locals told me that rattlesnakes can be active in that area. I didn’t see one (and, trust me, I keep a pretty close eye out for them) so chances are you’ll be safe as long as you take some basic precautions. (For a complete list of tips on avoiding rattlesnakes, click here.) I kept my eyes open, made sure not to step or reach in areas where I could not see and kicked a bit of rock down inclines before tromping down them.

BONUS: There is some entertaining – and occasionally PG – graffiti in the tunnel. I’m entertained by things like that (as long as they’re not done on something natural), so it was a fun sight to come across at the beginning and the end of a nice hike.

WHAT IS THAT?: It appears to be a bicycle helmet on a fence post. I encountered it on my hike, but wasn’t sure what it meant. Is this part of a secret hiker code? Do you need a helmet to enter? Having no clue or helmet, I moved on. If you know, let me know in the “Comments” section.

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