Black Elk Peak

Southern Distance: 6.6m round trip | Climb: 1100ft | Surface: gravel, dirt, rock
Northern Distance: 7m round trip | Climb: 2200ft | Surface: gravel, dirt, rock

Star Rating

Trail Addict Rating: 5 29 ratings

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Experience

Northern Approach

This is the most common trail used to get to Black Elk Summit, which is the highest point in the US east of the Rocky Mountains. The 3.5 mile trek, one way, is moderate in difficulty due to the the escalated elevation and rocky terrain. The scenery is beautiful with many look out points along the way, which offers an extraordinary view of the entire Black Hills and surrounding area. The trail can be muddy in a few spots and the final 3⁄4 of mile of trail is fine sand which can be slippery. The stairs close to the peak do get somewhat strenuous.

Southern Approach

The hike starts at about 5,100 feet and gains about 2,200 feet in elevation over the five mile hike to the summit. This trail from the north is longer and more difficult with roughly twice the elevation gain as the southern approach. The trail is not heavily used and depending on personal preference, perhaps slightly more scenic. Casual hikers seeking to reach the summit typically use the trail from Sylvan Lake. Experienced hikers seeking an additional challenge or embracing a more remote hike may consider this approach.

Directions

Southern Approach

  • From Rapid City, take US-16 W, turn left on US-385 SE continue on to SD-87 S and turn left.
  • Travel to Sylvan Lake Parking Area.
  • Trail 9 begins just across the footbridge leading to the swimming beach, located at the Sylvan Lake Day Use Area.

Northern Approach

  • From Hill City, travel south on US-385.
  • Make left turn onto SD-244.
  • Turn right on 355.
  • Turn left on 355.1B.
  • Begin at the Willow Creek Horse Camp, off Highway 244.

Reminder: To use this map on your route, make sure to download this gpx file into your favorite mapping app. in case you lose cellular connection.

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29 Comments

  1. 5

    This is a must-do for anyone who calls themselves a hiker! The views are incredible, especially on a clear day.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7.5
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  2. 3

    Great trail, nice weather, beautiful views!!

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.8
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  3. 4

    Did this hike combined with Little Devil’s Tower through Cathedral Spires area.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7.87
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  4. 5

    Wonderful view from the top. we took some sandwiches up to the top. But next time I would love to take my kiddos.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.6
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  5. 5

    The way to visit Black Elk Peak is up trail 9 and down trail 4. It adds a bit of mileage but the views of the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower are worth the detour.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.8
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  6. 5

    awesome views… we’ll worth the hike

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  7. 3

    Nice view from the top.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.6
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  8. 4

    Started at the lake and too #9. It was very nice and easy. #4 on the way down was more challenging. It ends at a parking lot south of the lake and you need to follow the trail behind the restroom to get back to the lake.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  9. 5

    Great day today. Temp in mid-60s and partly cloudy, but there was the smokey haze so the views farther out were distorted. Enjoyed the trail as well as the dog. Many hikers with pets on the way down. General store at Sylvan Lake was overrun with motorcycles.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Not completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.68
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  10. 3

    Nice family hike.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Not completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 3
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  11. 5

    This was the 30th time of being there over the years, i hike it at least once every year. Great memories always

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  12. 5

    Great hike from any one of the trail heads.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 12.4
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  13. 5

    Love this trail. The stairs at the top kill me, lol.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  14. 5

    We went in the fall and it was pretty chilly but the view was WORTH IT! Took about 3 hours round trip, which was a good challenge for someone who’s barely ever hiked in her life. It was a fun accomplishment.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  15. 5

    Great views at the top.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  16. 5

    Always awesome

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  17. 5

    This is another of those places that leaves you speechless. So many great places to lookout over the hills. This is for sure a trail you want to wear good shoes on.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  18. 4

    Hiked the whole little devils tower trail. Great views. Busy trailhead. Great for dogs until the end….rock climbing with dogs is tough!

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 2.8
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  19. 5

    Took a family of 5 from Minnesota and my two girls–10 and 7 at the time on this trail last May. It was a fun experience! So glad we did it with friends.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.6
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  20. 5

    Enjoyed a variety of views with a breezy picnic lunch on top!

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  21. 5

    Awesome hike! I completed on a foggy day, next time a clear day would be better.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7.8
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  22. 5

    Hiking this from Northern route is the best scenic trail in the hills. Great climbs through the rocks and beautiful pictures of the tower at the top.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 9.1
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  23. 5

    If you Hike the north side of this trail don’t believe the miles stated in some trail books. if you start at willow creek horse camp or KOA camp ground IT WILL BE A 14 MILE HIKE. This is a less traveled then the trail 9S starting at Sylvan lake (little over 6 miles up and back). When we did it we ran into only 6 other hikers but when we got to the top there were at least 60-80 people up there. If you want a full day hike this one is great. Better yet start at the north end go to the top, go down the south tail and have someone pick you up at Sylvan lake.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 14.7
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  24. 5

    It was easier than I thought! Great trail

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 7
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  25. 4

    Went on this hike beginning of October, with a light frost covering the trail. The fog was so dense that the views were very minimal, but the hike itself was great! The tower at the top was very cool to visit, and the wildlife was busy. Overall a neat hike with plenty of stopping points to take pictures, explore, and enjoy nature.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 8.3
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  26. 5

    I’ve hiked both the Southern and Northern routes, and both are really fantastic. Normally I hike carrying my daughter in a pack (a total load of 50lb) and I have to say, I’m glad I wasn’t carrying her on the Northern route! It was definitely more challenging than I anticipated, but so worth it. After hiking the Northern route, the Southern route seems like a hiker super highway. I saw a total of 11 other people on my entire Northern hike, while you’ll likely see that many people in any given 20-minute span of time on the Southern. If you’re up for it, and like a little breathing room, treat yourself to the Northern route.

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 13.6
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  27. 5

    Went there last Oct 27th in the afternoon return my truck at 8pm, very dark with my friends . First experience at night to hiking back in the dark.. wow.. I forget my light flash but i glad i use my glow stick and glow duck tape put on my sweat hood . Worth it.. It was so beautiful to view at top. I glad i did it. will go back again with better pictures..

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 6.6
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  28. 5

    Grabbed a bit of the trail out of Sylvan Lake while the weather is still nice. Always busy, but always beautiful!

    ———
    Trail completion status: Not completed
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 2.4
    Gender: Female
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

  29. 5

    We did the big loop from the horse camp Mt Rushmore KOA

    ———
    Trail completion status: Completed again
    How: Hiking
    Miles completed: 12
    Gender: Male
    Trail: Black Elk – Harney Peak

Comments are closed.