Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Many South Dakotans know a lot about Black Elk Peak, especially after the past several years, when the granite summit was in the news repeatedly during its controversial name change from Harney Peak.

Many of them have even stood atop the peak, which is officially listed at 7,242 feet above sea level and is South Dakota’s highest point and probably its most-hiked mountain.

Yet some South Dakotans and many tourists are under the false impression that there is only one route to the top, from the popular Trail No. 9 trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

In fact, more than a dozen trailheads ring the Black Elk Wilderness around Black Elk Peak, enabling an even greater number of hiking routes to the top for those who engage in creative route-planning. The alternate routes see much less foot traffic, and while some of the alternate routes are significantly longer, a couple are about the same length as the hike from Sylvan Lake.

Little Devils Tower route

Starting point: Little Devils Tower Trailhead, about three-fourths of a mile east of Sylvan Lake on state Highway 87 (Needles Highway).

Route: Trail Nos. 4, 3 and 9.

Distance of hike: 7 miles out-and-back.

Tips: While on Trail 4, consider taking a couple of spurs: the unmarked (but clearly visible) spur to Poet’s Table, a high granite alcove with a beautiful view where visitors have installed a table, chairs and a bookshelf lined with visitor-contributed poetry and other writings; and the marked spur to Little Devils Tower, a granite summit with a 360-degree view that rivals the one from Black Elk Peak. The Poet’s Table spur is about a third of a mile long, and the Little Devils Tower spur is about two-thirds of a mile with some rock-scrambling. Both spurs run steeply uphill.

Or, for a slightly different route, consider starting from the Cathedral Spires Trailhead, which is 2 miles east of Sylvan Lake on Needles Highway, and use that trail to link up with Trail No. 4.

Starting from either the Little Devils Tower or Cathedral Spires trailheads assures a hike of about the same length as a hike starting from Sylvan Lake, but with far less company.

Norbeck route

Starting point: The Norbeck Trailhead in Custer State Park, about 5 miles east of Sylvan Lake on state Highway 87 (Needles Highway); or the Iron Creek Horse Camp, about 3 miles farther east on Needles Highway and a short drive up Forest Road 345.

Route: Norbeck Trail No. 3 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9.

Distance of hike: 10 miles out-and-back from the Norbeck Trailhead, or 14 miles out-and-back from Iron Creek Horse Camp.

Tips: A Black Hills National Forest brochure describes the Norbeck Trail No. 3 as a steep and rocky trail known for its solitude. The brochure adds that adventurous hikers can make a loop by hiking Norbeck Trail No. 3 and Trail No. 9 to the summit of Black Elk, and then hiking Trail No. 9 and Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 down from the peak, followed by a small segment of the Centennial Trail, to end up back at the Iron Creek Horse Camp.

Grizzly Bear Creek route

Starting point: Grizzly Bear Creek Trailhead, 1 mile north of Iron Creek Horse Camp on Forest Road 345.

Route: Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9.

Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back.

Tips: "The rugged Grizzly Bear Creek Trail climbs sharply for a 1,500-foot elevation gain through the most remote areas of the Black Elk Wilderness," says a Black Hills National Forest brochure. As noted above, the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail can be hiked as part of a loop with Norbeck Trail No. 3.

Horsethief Lake route

Starting point: Horsethief Lake Trailhead, about 2 miles west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial on state Highway 244.

Route: Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14, Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7, Norbeck Trail No. 3, Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back.

Tips: According to a Black Hills National Forest Brochure, the Horsethief Lake trail segment "wanders through granite peaks and twisting spires that poke through the thick forest canopy" and includes two saddle-like areas with sweeping views of the surrounding area.

Willow Creek route

Starting point: The Willow Creek Horse Camp, across from the Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort about 6 miles west of Mount Rushmore National Memorial on state Highway 244.

Route: Willow Creek Trail No. 8 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9.

Distance of hike: 12 miles out-and-back.

Tips: This route leads up Black Elk Peak's northern side, past a massive granite formation known as Elkhorn Mountain. Two-thirds of the way up to Black Elk Peak is an overlook and hitching rail popular with horseback riders. To make a loop, hike south on Trail No. 9 from the summit of Black Elk Peak and then take Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 back to Willow Creek Horse Camp.

Lost Cabin route

Starting point: Palmer Creek Trailhead. Drive about a third of a mile west of the Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort on state Highway 244, and then about a mile on Palmer Creek Road/County Road 357.

Route: Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9.

Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back.

Tips: This trail begins with a steep climb and then features many views of Black Elk Peak. To make a loop route, hike north on Trail No. 9 from the summit of Black Elk Peak and then use Willow Creek Trail No. 8 to reconnect with Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 and return to the Palmer Creek Trailhead.

1
0
0
0
1
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Editor