43° 51' 58'' N 103° 31' 54'' W

Hike South Dakota’s Highest Peak

Aaron McHugh

I found this gem of a peak in an obscure mention in Outside or National Geographic Adventure. I knew it would make for a perfect MicroAdventure to hike South Dakota’s highest peak, Harney Peak. I tore out this adventure blurb for our Men’s Town Road Trip. Harney Peak is South Dakota’s highest point at an elevation of 7,244 feet above sea level. Located in the Black Hills only a few miles from Mount Rushmore’s National Memorial, this peak pays a huge summit dividend.

The history of Harney Peak's fire lookout tower built in 1929
The history of Harney Peak’s fire lookout tower built in 1939

The reward on top of Harney Peak is the three-story 360-degree fire tower lookout built in 1939. Built during America’s New Deal era, this is one of the most beautiful architectural creations I’ve ever witnessed in the wilderness.

Harney Peak-looking to the black hills
Harney Peak-looking to the black hills

The Story of Black Elk

According to Outside, Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man who fought in the battle of the Little Bighorn, climbed Harney Peak on a vision quest when he was only 9 years old. When he came down, he called the mountain-not far from the precise geographic center of the United States-the “center of the universe. 

Harney Peak prayer flags
Harney Peak prayer flags

Trailhead: Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

41 miles south of Rapid City, SD, we hiked the 7-mile round trip route from Sylvan Lake to Harney Peak. The trail is very well marked and climbs a moderate contour around crazy valleys to Harney’s granite monolith summit home. Bring your own water and plan on a full day to enjoy the hike and summit vistas. Make sure you poke around and investigate the fire lookout tower and water pump-house below the summit. You will be amazed at the engineering involved in making this outpost fully sustainable for mountain fire forecasting. If any weather rolls in, shelter up in the fire tower.

 Side Trips from Harney Peak

Resources for hiking Harney Peak

Here is a downloadable map for Custer State Park-Harney Peak

Perfect Road Trip Audio Book

John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley in Search of America, makes the perfect road trip narration. Steinbeck said, “People don’t take trips-trips take people“. Another parting quote from Wildsam Field Guides Desert Southwest. “….That unforgettable experiences are born from the unexpected. And road trips, most especially, beg the traveler to write plans in pencil and trace routes on the fly.” 

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