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Continued from the previous page.


Like last year, I took Trail #9 to Harney Peak and came back on Trails #3 and #4 past Cathedral Spires to the trailhead near Sylvan Lake where I parked.

Here's the map again:

My total distance including the loop around Sylvan Lake (described on the previous pate) was 8.6 miles in 4:13 hours. That included lots of pictures and several stops.

Elevations ranged from 6,115-7,303 feet on my Garmin GPS. There was a fair amount of up and down; total elevation gain -- and equal loss -- was 2,788 feet. I think my GPS was off a bit. Harney Peak, the highpoint in South Dakota, is officially 7,242 feet. I climbed higher than that, however, to the upper floor of the old stone fire tower on the summit.


This trail is rated moderate to strenuous for the elevation gain/loss and sometimes-rough trail surfaces. It begins in Custer State Park and continues over the park boundary into the Black Elk Wilderness Area. The wilderness area is definitely more "wild" than the park, as it should be.

The photos on this page are basically in order from the trailhead at Sylvan Lake to Harney Peak. The trail is fairly smooth near the beginning and becomes increasingly more difficult as it gains elevation:

Trailhead at Sylvan Lake for Trail #9 to Harney Peak


The yellow/gold colors of the aspens and birches are very pretty right now. I wasn’t expecting so much color since South Dakota is several inches below normal rainfall this year. A few flowers are still blooming, too.  


After the trail gains some elevation there are increasing views of the granite formations in the distance. I especially like the views from a wide rock overlook about a mile up the trail:




If hikers know where to look, they can start to see the old stone fire tower on the summit halfway up the 3˝-mile trail:

The first time I climbed the peak I didn't know where to look for the fire tower from this far out (the photo above is zoomed in part way). On subsequent hikes it's been easy to spot with the naked eye.

Within another half mile I was in the Black Elk Wilderness, where hikers are supposed to sign a register. That is common in every wilderness area I've ever entered. The purpose is safety -- name, state, number in party, destination, how long you plan to be in the wilderness. There is no fee.




After the intersection with trails #3, 4, and 7, I continued following Trail #9 up-and-back to the fire tower for about 1/2 mile each way. The trail becomes rockier and more steep, and the trees thin out, affording more expansive views:



Wind damage 1/4 mile below the fire tower?  We're at about 7,000 feet elevation now,
high enough for all the deciduous leaves to be down.

View of top of fire tower under arrow; trail is pretty rough the rest of the way.


I love going through this narrow passageway to the stairs leading up to the fire tower:


View back out to the trail

After negotiating some rough trail to reach this point, hikers must climb up several levels of grated iron steps -- rough on dogs' toenails, but Cody did OK -- and lots of stone steps to reach the fire tower:



There are a lot more stairs and steps than I've shown in these pictures but the effort is worth it to reach the handsome fire tower.

Continued on the next pagephotos of the historical stone fire tower, panoramic views from inside and out, and Cathedral Spires

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil