Grizzly Bear Falls

Mt Rushmore National Memorial / Black Hills National Forest / Black Elk Wilderness, South Dakota, USA

About Grizzly Bear Falls


Hiking Distance: 3.4 miles round-trip (0.4-1 mile bushwhack and stream scramble)
Suggested Time: 2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2020-07-30
Date last visited: 2020-07-30

Waterfall Latitude: 43.86353
Waterfall Longitude: -103.46405

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Grizzly Bear Falls was an obscure waterfall located just south of the famous Mt Rushmore.

It’s not often that you get to combine a waterfalling experience with something so iconic and well-visited, but this fact alone certainly compelled me to pursue it (perhaps more vigorously than I normally would for something as obscure as this).

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_076_07302020 - This jumble of boulders on Grizzly Creek was where the USGS Topo Survey claimed where Grizzly Bear Falls was supposed to be
This jumble of boulders on Grizzly Creek was where the USGS Topo Survey claimed where Grizzly Bear Falls was supposed to be

However, the thing with this waterfall was that I wasn’t sure if I actually found the real waterfall or if the placement of the survey marker denoting it on the topographic maps was incorrect.

The photograph you see above was taken at the approximate location where the USGS Topo Map had placed Grizzly Bear Falls.

As you can see, it seemed like nothing more than a jumble of boulders that hardly should count as a legitimate waterfall, in my mind.

That said, during my rough bushwhack adventure to even get to this point, I did spot some other minor cascades on Grizzly Creek with seemingly insignificant drops of around 5-10ft.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_010_iPhone_07302020 - One could argue that this small 5-10ft cascade could be the Grizzly Bear Falls, which was further downstream on Grizzly Bear Creek from where the USGS Topo Survey had said the waterfall was supposed to be
One could argue that this small 5-10ft cascade could be the Grizzly Bear Falls, which was further downstream on Grizzly Bear Creek from where the USGS Topo Survey had said the waterfall was supposed to be

So there’s still some doubt in my mind as to whether I’ve managed to witness Grizzly Bear Falls.

There may still be the possibility that the actual Grizzly Bear Falls was further downstream on Grizzly Creek and closer to the Grizzly Creek Campground, which some blogs have stated.

If that’s the case, then the USGS Topo Survey would be incorrect (and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve spotted mistakes on such maps).

To add insult to injury, there was a pool obstacle right before the supposed location of the waterfall where I managed to dunk both my mirrorless camera and my iPhone in the water in a slip-and-fall on my way out.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_073_07302020 - This was the narrow slot canyon and pool obstacle either in front of or right at where the USGS Topo Survey claimed where Grizzly Bear Falls was supposed to be
This was the narrow slot canyon and pool obstacle either in front of or right at where the USGS Topo Survey claimed where Grizzly Bear Falls was supposed to be

Needless to say, I don’t have good memories of this place, but I’m sure in a future visit (when that will be, I’m not sure), I will pursue this waterfall from Grizzly Creek Campground just to see what I might have missed.

Pursuing Grizzly Bear Falls from Mt Rushmore

As mentioned earlier, the way I pursued Grizzly Bear Falls was by hiking directly from Mt Rushmore so this is how I’ll do this section of the trail description.

The nearest trailhead was actually called the Blackberry Trailhead as indicated by a signpost at a trailhead parking lot there (which was closed during my late July 2020 visit).

From the Blackberry Trailhead, the path went past some picnic tables and corrals before descending to the boundary of the Mt Rushmore National Memorial and the start of the Black Elk Wilderness Area at the base of a creekbed (0.8-mile from the trailhead).

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_022_07302020 - The Blackberry Trail descended from Mt Rushmore and reached the Black Elk Wilderness boundary in about 0.8-mile
The Blackberry Trail descended from Mt Rushmore and reached the Black Elk Wilderness boundary in about 0.8-mile

Shortly thereafter, the trail veered into a three-way junction where the path on the right continued west on the Centennial Trail while the path on the left went south towards Grizzly Bear Creek.

I continued going towards Grizzly Bear Creek, where I’d eventually reach the creek at around 1.1 miles from the Blackberry Trailhead.

At this point, the sanctioned trail crossed Grizzly Bear Creek and would continue going further south on the Centennial Trail.

However, I knew that Grizzly Bear Falls was on Grizzly Bear Creek so I basically tried to follow whatever clues for use trails that I could find that would follow this creek upstream.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_058_07302020 - Looking upstream at Grizzly Bear Creek, where pursuing the Grizzly Bear Falls in this direction was pretty much either a stream scramble or a rough bushwhack
Looking upstream at Grizzly Bear Creek, where pursuing the Grizzly Bear Falls in this direction was pretty much either a stream scramble or a rough bushwhack

It didn’t take long before this degenerated into a bushwhack, and it really made me wish that I had brought my Keens instead of hiking boots so I could just go directly upstream in the water.

Anyways, this uncomfortable bushwhack went for another quarter-mile before I reached the 5-10ft cascade surrounded by rock and fronted by a pool.

Not thinking that this was the Grizzly Bear Falls, I continued scrambling further upstream and pursued the topographic survey marking, which made me go another 0.2-mile until the trail pretty much went right into the creek.

At this point, I took my shoes off and hiked barefoot into Grizzly Bear Creek where I was then confronted with a forbidding deep pool obstacle surrounded by tall cliffs.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_069_07302020 - Some boulder scrambling in Grizzly Bear Creek as I looked for any signs of a legitimate cascade or waterfall
Some boulder scrambling in Grizzly Bear Creek as I looked for any signs of a legitimate cascade or waterfall

It turned out that with some very careful maneuvering, I managed to make it through this obstacle without getting anything wet, even though the pool went up to my chest.

Just on the other side of this pool obstacle was the bouldery cascade as the canyon momentarily opened up, and this was about as far as I went.

Not comfortable with the scramble back that I had to face, I decided not to push my luck any further by scrambling past this point (which appeared to be past the survey marker for Grizzly Bear Falls according to Gaia GPS).

It was on my way back out that the clarity of the water was gone since I had perturbed the submerged sediments on the way up.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_071_07302020 - Approaching the narrowing of a canyon right where Grizzly Bear Falls was marked on the USGS Topo Survey maps. This was the place where my accident occurred
Approaching the narrowing of a canyon right where Grizzly Bear Falls was marked on the USGS Topo Survey maps. This was the place where my accident occurred

So I was walking blindly on the way back, and that was when I had one misstep, and that pretty much ruined the electronics at the time.

Aside from this calamity, this bushwhack consumed over an hour despite hiking on the order of a half-mile to 3/4-mile, which should give you an idea of how slow bushwhacking is.

I eventually went back the way I came, and thus the overall time I spent on this trail was about 2.5 hours.

Authorities

Grizzly Bear Falls resides in the Black Elk Wilderness Area of the Black Hills National Forest near the town of Keystone in Pennington County, South Dakota. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_003_07302020 - When I started hiking towards the Blackberry Trailhead, I actually snagged (unknowingly) a reserved parking spot at a small trailhead parking area just west of the Mt Rushmore concession parking garage
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_008_07302020 - The signed trailhead for the Blackberry Trail, which was where I started my Grizzly Bear Falls 'misadventure'
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_011_07302020 - Descending the Blackberry Trail past some picnic tables and what looked like some stock corrals
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_013_07302020 - The hike along the Blackberry Trail was pretty easy-to-follow, and I was surprised that the only map that showed that there was a trail on this stretch was the NatGeo Trails Illustrated map
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_016_07302020 - Continuing to descend on the Blackberry Trail showing the rocky massif that was used for Mt Rushmore's carvings in the distance
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_020_07302020 - Still descending on the Blackberry Trail as it was heading south towards the boundary of the Mt Rushmore National Memorial and the Black Elk Wilderness Area
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_025_07302020 - The Blackberry Trail still descended in the 0.8-mile stretch towards the memorial's boundary so I knew that the return hike would be a bit more strenuous since it would be uphill
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_028_07302020 - Continuing further down the Blackberry Trail as it started to go by some interesting rocks
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_031_07302020 - Towards the bottom of the descent on the Blackberry Trail, it started to traverse some footbridges over flowing creeks at the bottom of this basin
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_034_07302020 - Given the moisture funneling to the bottom of the basin that the Blackberry Trail went into, it was not surprising to see lots of wildflowers blooming in the lush confines down here
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_037_07302020 - Beyond the footbridges, the Blackberry Trail was looking more and more like it was entering a legitimate wilderness
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_039_07302020 - Closeup look at some interesting purple wildflowers blooming alongside the Blackberry Trail
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_042_07302020 - Reaching signs marking the boundary of the Mt Rushmore National Memorial and the start of the Black Elk Wilderness Area. This was about 0.8 miles from the Blackberry Trailhead
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_045_07302020 - Once I was in the Black Elk Wilderness Area, there were no bridges so I already had to make this unbridged crossing of some side creek as I pursued Grizzly Bear Creek
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_046_07302020 - Arriving at a signed junction where the Black Elk Wilderness sign fronted the Centennial Trail at this three-way intersection
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_047_07302020 - Heading south on the Centennial Trail as it went through a lot of lush scenery as I was approaching Grizzly Bear Creek
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_054_07302020 - The very lush and green terrain along the Centennial Trail near Grizzly Bear Creek also meant that the surface was a little muddy
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_055_07302020 - Finally making it down to a crossing of Grizzly Bear Creek, which was around 1.1-1.2 miles from the Blackberry Trailhead, but in order to pursue Grizzly Bear Falls going upstream, I learned quickly that it was pretty much an off-trail bushwhack and/or stream scramble
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_059_07302020 - Following faint use-trails along Grizzly Bear Creek that pretty much disappeared and degenerated into a bushwhack
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_061_07302020 - Looking upstream along the Grizzly Bear Creek somewhere within the rough bushwhack and stream scramble
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_064_07302020 - Approaching a 5-10ft cascade on Grizzly Bear Creek that arguably could have been one Grizzly Bear Falls (or at least one possible spot that it could be identified as such)
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_066_07302020 - Looking downstream at the pool fronting the small cascade on Grizzly Bear Creek
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_068_07302020 - The bushwhacking got even rougher the further upstream I went on Grizzly Bear Creek
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_070_07302020 - More minor cascades among the boulder scrambling on Grizzly Bear Creek in pursuit of the elusive Grizzly Bear Falls
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_077_07302020 - This was the last photo I took with the mirrorless camera before the slip-and-fall accident that dunked it in the pool obstacle right where the Grizzly Bear Falls was marked on the USGS Topo Map
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_008_iPhone_07302020 - This was how the iPhone saw the bouldery cascade beyond the pool obstacle on Grizzly Bear Creek
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_012_iPhone_07302020 - Last look at the most notable cascade on Grizzly Bear Creek while the iPhone was still functioning even after it was briefly exposed to water in my slip-and-fall accident
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_015_iPhone_07302020 - Back at the Blackberry Trailhead when I noticed a bit more construction activity going on compared to when I got started
Grizzly_Bear_Falls_016_iPhone_07302020 - Context of Mt Rushmore and the state highway 244 as I was walking along this shoulder towards my parked car, which was in an apparently unsanctioned and reserved spot

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I pursued Grizzly Bear Falls from the Blackberry Trailhead at Mt Rushmore so I’ll describe the driving directions to get there from either Custer or Keystone.

There’s also an alternate starting point at the Grizzly Creek Campground, and that could very well be the preferred way to seek out Grizzly Bear Falls.

Even though I didn’t do the hike and scramble from the campground, I will also describe the driving directions to get there considering that it could be the best place to start this adventure.

Driving from Custer to the Mt Rushmore Parking Garage

From Custer, we drove north on the US385 for just under 11 miles.

Then, we took the ramp on the right for the State Highway 244 heading towards Mt Rushmore.

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_002_07302020 - Driving on the state highway 244 when I encountered deer on the road as I headed towards Mt Rushmore and the Blackberry Trailhead early in the morning
Driving on the state highway 244 when I encountered deer on the road as I headed towards Mt Rushmore and the Blackberry Trailhead early in the morning

After driving just under 9 miles along the Hwy 244, we then turned left into the paid parking garage for Mt Rushmore, which charged a $10 flat rate when we made our visit in late July 2020.

From the parking structure, there’s obvious walking paths leading to the lookouts and trails for Mt Rushmore, but there are less obvious paths heading in the opposite direction back to the Hwy 244.

The Blackberry Trailhead was pretty much directly south of the Mt Rushmore Parking Structure across from the Hwy 244.

Overall, this 20-mile drive would take about 30 minutes.

Mt_Rushmore_002_07292020 - The context of the paid parking structure with Mt Rushmore in the background
The context of the paid parking structure with Mt Rushmore in the background

It’s worth noting that there are other parking spaces for trailheads like the one at the Blackberry Trailhead as well as a smaller one just 0.1-mile to the west on Hwy 244.

These parking spots were apparently reserved for construction vehicles doing work in the Mt Rushmore area during my late July 2020 visit so they’re technically not sanctioned for public use anymore.

Driving from Custer to the Grizzly Creek Campground

For driving from Custer to the Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground, follow the directions given above for the Mt Rushmore Parking Structure.

However, instead of turning into the Mt Rushmore Parking Structure, continue straight until its junction with the US-16A (about 10.5 miles from the Hwy 244 and US395 junction).

Then, turn right to go south onto the US16A and drive for under a mile to the Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground on the right.

Driving from Keystone to the Mt Rushmore Parking Garage

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_006_07302020 - This was the trailhead parking for the Blackberry Trail, but it was completely reserved and occupied by workers at Mt Rushmore so it was definitely off limits to vehicles from the public
This was the trailhead parking for the Blackberry Trail, but it was completely reserved and occupied by workers at Mt Rushmore so it was definitely off limits to vehicles from the public

From Keystone, we’d drive west on the Route 40 (Reed St) towards the US16A.

Then, we’d drive south on the US16A for about a mile before keeping right to continue on the state highway 244.

After about 1.5 miles on the 244, we would then turn right into the Mt Rushmore Parking Structure.

This roughly 3-mile drive would take around 10 minutes.

Driving from Keystone to the Grizzly Creek Campground

Grizzly_Bear_Falls_005_07302020 - Looking east in the direction of Keystone towards the concession parking sign directing the public to the public parking structure for Mt Rushmore
Looking east in the direction of Keystone towards the concession parking sign directing the public to the public parking structure for Mt Rushmore

For driving from Keystone to the Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground, follow the directions given above to where the US16A joins up with the state highway 244.

Then, instead of turning right to go on the state highway 244 towards Mt Rushmore, turn left to go south onto the US16A.

After about 0.8-mile, the Grizzly Creek Primitive Campground will be on the right.

For context, Keystone was about 23 miles (over 30 minutes drive) northeast of Custer, 21 miles (under 30 minutes drive) south of Rapid City, 54 miles (under an hour drive) north of Hot Springs, 69 miles (over an hour drive) southeast of Spearfish, 100 miles (over 90 minutes drive) southeast of Sundance, Wyoming, and 270 miles (about 4.5 hours drive) northeast of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Video showing the bouldery stream beyond the narrow slot beyond Grizzly Bear Falls


Brief focused sweep of what i think was the actual Grizzly Bear Falls

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Tagged with: grizzly bear creek, mt rushmore, pennington county, south dakota, black elk wilderness, waterfall, grizzly bear creek campground, blackberry trail



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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