About Grizzly Bear Falls
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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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