Black Elk Peak
Destinations,  South Dakota,  United States

Black Elk Park – Custer State Park

Black Elk Peak in Custer State Park, South Dakota is not just the highest point in South Dakota but also the highest elevation point between the Rocky Mountains in the West and the Pyrenees Mountains in France!

Located in Custer State Park, which I have covered previously and is probably my favorite park I visited in 2020. The park is one of the most popular parks in all of South Dakota, and a must-stop for anyone visiting this great state.

Black Elk Peak is one of the main attractions in Custer State Park and offers some of the best views you will get in the entire state. The views from the top of Black Elk provide pictures of South Dakota, and you can see as far as Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota.

Accessing the peak is relatively easy, and while not an easy hike, I think most people with enough time would be able to complete the climb. The most common way to access the peak is through Trail No. 9, which begins right off Sylvan Lake and is very accessible from the lake parking lot. Just how I mentioned in my coverage of visiting Custer State Park, I need to warn everyone to arrive early since the parking situation is not great. If you want to get parking near Trail 9 and Sylvan Lake, you must arrive early or get ready to drive for a while searching for spots.

The start of Trail No. 9 is very well marked and relatively flat, almost impossible to get lost for most of the beginning. I would highly recommend bringing more water than you think you need since there is no water source on the trail.

While Trail No. 9 is the easiest and most profitable way to access Black Elk Peak, there are more than a dozen other options to submit Black Elk, including a prevalent alternate route through the Little Devils Tower. I was unsure which would be the best route, so I chose to submit through Sylvan Lake Trail No. 9 since it seemed the most accessible and most straightforward route I could take.

Trail No. 9 will take you around 2-4 hours depending on speed and cover about 7.9 miles from start to finish as a round trip trail. I initially thought I could do the entire route in around 2 hours but have to admit I highly underestimated some parts of this trail’s challenges and steepness.

For the most part, the trail is well paved and packed dirt throughout the entire hike up. Towards the end of the course, you get more rock formations but nothing too challenging that someone who can climb stairs couldn’t accomplish.

My one big piece of advice is to make sure you do pace yourself the entire way up since the hike does get more challenging the closer to the peak. The best part about the hike up is probably the fantastic scenic walk-ups you get every few miles.

The last part of the hike is also one of the most fun parts of the hike where you get to climb around the fire watchtower that was hand-built at the top of Black Elk Peak. The tower’s craziest fact is how most stones were carried up the 3-mile trail to the top of the peak. The tower offers 360-degree views of the surrounding Black Hills, and they are just breathtaking. I think just like everyone else who climbed to the peak would agree, you must bring some snacks and enjoy the views.

I cannot recommend climbing Black Elk Peak enough and how it is most likely the great hike you can do in South Dakota. While challenging, the hike offers something for almost everyone, and if you cannot make it to the top, even half way will suffice for some fantastic views.

Have you been to Custer State Park? Have you made it up Black Elk Peak? What was your favorite part of the hike?

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  • Emma

    Those are some interesting steps areas on this trail. I’m not a huge fan of steps on a hike and would rather a path only incline any day. The views look worth it though so I might overlook the steps. Everything is so green here. Lovely hike and great pictures

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