Little Elk Creek is the perfect trail for exploring the Black Hills.
At sunrise, Northern Crescent butterflies line the edge of the creek as they absorb salts and other minerals from the soil in a process known as “puddling.” “Puddling” is essential for the butterflies’ survival, in addition to consuming nectar.
A variety of plants live along the Little Elk Creek Trail, including Echinacea plants and dog roses, both of which are great sources of nectar for the butterflies and other pollinators.
Western honeybees are especially attracted to alfalfa and sumac shrubs. The bees will use their hind legs to carry the pollen back to the hive. Some insects in the Black Hills appear to be bees, but are actually beetles, or bee-like flower scarabs.
The variety of wildflowers, and the pollinators they attract, are not the only features that make this trail extraordinary. The creek can be accessed from several places along the path, and as the water carves its way through the forest, it hops over rocks and shimmers in the sunlight.
Opposite the creek, the cliffside offers a different scene. Impressive red rock towers overhead provide shelter from the sun and create an ideal environment for plant life to thrive.
If you take your time and study the plants closely, you’ll find all kinds of different critters living happily within the foliage. The seven-spotted ladybug is one of roughly 80 species of ladybugs found in South Dakota, and Little Elk Creek Trail is an ideal environment for the insects. Ladybugs are not the only creepy crawlers hiding out in the grass, though.
Grasshoppers are abundant in the hills. Large muscles in their hind legs contract and release, acting as a springs to catapult the insect through the air. Grasshoppers also use their hind legs to rub against their rough wing casings, creating an attention-grabbing, chirping sound.
As the trail continues, awe-inspiring cliffsides with beautiful rock formations carved into the limestone remain constant along the path. The creek snakes near the trail as the elevation increases, and larger rocks create waterfalls in the stream.
Hiking Little Elk Creek Trail is a great way to escape into the Black Hills and discover a variety of flora and fauna native to South Dakota.