Hiking Harney Peak (Black Hills National Park, SD)

Our friends Eric and Kat in Rochester, MN (the ones that took us on the Inspiration Point hike) told us about a great day hike in Black Hills National Forest called Harney Peak. After showing us their pictures from the hike, we decided that we had to hike it too.

It turns out that Harney Peak is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe, at 7,242 feet. Here’s our experience of hiking Harney Peak.

Hike Info

Nearest City/Town: Custer, SD
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 6.8 miles
Elevation: ~1100 ft
Time: 3-5 hours

Harney Peak Hike

There are two ways that you can get to the top of Harney Peak: trail #9 and trail #4. We chose to take trail #9 up and bring trail #4 back down, creating a 6.8-mile loop. Trail #9 is the widest, most heavily traveled, and easiest way to the top. Unless you get there really early, you won’t be hiking alone. This is a heavily forested hike with several overlooks on the way up that give you a great view of the surrounding Black Hills and the granite needles of the area.

Trail #4 is much more lightly used, but not really any more strenuous. It takes you closer to the needles and has several spur trails that you can explore, such as to Cathedral Spires.

Whichever way you take up and down, pay attention to the signs at trail intersections. The trail is pretty well-marked, but if you don’t pay attention, you might find yourself wandering off the wrong way. Particularly take note as you near the peak. You’ll have to take a spur trail to the peak, lest you end up walking another few miles to the road that leads to Mount Rushmore.

Here’s a trail map of the Black Hills. It’s not the easiest to read, but you want to take the #9 trail (red line) from Sylvan Lake until just past the intersection of the #3 trail (maroon line). Once you pass that, look for the spur trail to the left.

To take the #4 trail back down, you’ll come down #9 until the intersection with trail #3 (maroon) and follow trail #3 until it intersects with trail #4 (green line). If you’re feeling especially hale after summiting Harney, you can take the spur trail to Little Devil’s Tower, as well. To get back, just continue following the #4 trail until you come back to Sylvan Lake or the parking area to the east, depending on where you parked.

Along the way, you’ll pass through the Black Elk Wilderness Area. While there’s no fee to use the area, there are registration kiosks at the entrance to Black Elk that you are required to use. Failure to register and carry your permit with you can result in a $100 fine. Take the 2 minutes to fill out the paperwork.

As for the difficulty of the trail, it’s mainly long. You do gain 1,100 feet of elevation, but it’s over about 3.5 miles, so it’s a gradual climb. There are a few spots where you gain 50 or so feet of elevation rather quickly, but overall, this isn’t an exceptionally strenuous hike. On the hike and at the top, we saw people ranging in age from 6 to 66 (and a very fit guy that was probably 70+), so it can be done by anyone with decent fitness.

Getting Here

As we mentioned, there are two ways to get to the top of Harney Peak. The trailhead for trail #9 is at Sylvan Lake. You can park at the lake and start your hike. The trailhead for trail #4 is most easily accessed from a parking area on Needles Highway just east of Sylvan Lake.

Picture Time

Harney Peak is a beautiful hike, definitely worthy of spending the hours required. The sweeping views of the Black Hills are breathtaking. Here are the views we saw.