Black Hills National Forest

Hiking Cliff Swallow Trail & Cook Lake Trail

With any luck you'll be able to see some of the area's abundant wildlife: elk, deer and turkey in addition to the beaver, plus birds such as herons, ospreys and ouzels.

These trails are designed and maintained for hiking, mountain biking and nature study. Cook Lake Trail is an easy one mile hike while Cliff Swallow is steeper, longer and more difficult.

Location: 20 miles north of Sundance, WY on Forest Roads 838, 843 & 842
Length: 3.5 miles and 1.0 mile
Elevation: 4600 to 5100
Difficulty: Easy around Lake, moderate on the rest

Cook Lake Trail #88 is an easy one mile trip around 30 acre Cook Lake, located deep in the Bearlodge Mountains of northeast Wyoming.

Cliff Swallow Trail #91 begins at the dam on the north end of the lake. You'll pass several beaver dams washed out in a 1993 flood. Are the beavers rebuilding the dams? From here the trail makes a short but steep climb to the rims above Beaver Creek, where you'll have great views of the lake and valley. Can you locate the cliff swallow nests constructed in the limestone walls? Large expanses of aspen and birch, created by old wildfires, make this a perfect 3.5 mile late summer or fall hike.

Below Cook Lake and along the Creek, you can see beaver in their natural habitat, plus many species of birds and other wildlife. Cliff swallows nest in the limestone bluffs above Beaver Creek.

From the rims, you'll have great views of the surrounding Bearlodge Mountains plus Beaver Creek valley and Cook Lake.

The trail takes you through ponderosa pine forest and aspen, birch and oak. You may see white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk grazing in the meadows.

In the aspen forest below Cook Lake, beavers have built a series of dams extending two miles along the creek.

The dams attract a variety of wildlife that come to the stream to drink. Your best times to see wildlife are early morning or evening.

You can see Rocky mountain elk, white-tailed deer and Merriam's turkey. Watch for elk near Beaver Creek. Turkeys and deer are more abundant and can be seen almost anywhere.

The area abounds with birdlife. Besides cliff swallows nesting in the bluffs above Beaver Creek, look for these bird species:

  • Water ouzels, known for running under the water in Beaver Creek as they feed on aquatic insects.
  • Turkey vultures with their massive wingspans, riding the thermal currents above the canyon.
  • Ospreys (fish hawks) feeding at Cook Lake.
  • Waterfowl including blue-winged teal and mallards raising their young on the beaver ponds.


Drinking water is available at Cook Lake Recreation Area, but not along the trails. Don't drink from the lake or stream because disease organisms may be present in the water.

Daytime trail users must park in the day use parking lot. Overnight parking is not allowed in the day use area. Trail users wanting to park overnight must pay for a campsite and park in the campground.

Horses are not allowed within the fenced area around Cook Lake.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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