Harney Peak, South Dakota, 7,242 feet
Black Hills National Forest Visitor Center
US 385 at Pactola Reservoir
Harney (and the associated Cathedral Spires and Needles) was originally intended to be the site of a national huge rock sculpture. However, the much smaller Mt. Rushmore with its more compact rock formations was eventually chosen.
In fact as you look down on the back of Mt. Rushmore from Harney, the national memorial looks downright puny (The Presidential Trail at the base of Mt. Rushmore includes a small detour so people can gaze up at Harney).
We were totally caught by surprise at the majesty and beauty of the Black Hills (which get their name from the dark Ponderosa pine covered mountains that arise quite abuptly out of the treeless prairies).
Geologists say these peaks were once more than 14,000 feet high. As they have disintegrated to less than half that, they have left huge granite (and other stone outcroppings) everywhere. It is a rock climbers' dreamland (with the premier climb being 100 miles northwest of Harney at Devil's Tower, Wyoming). Hikers we met were consistently disappointed that we weren't climbing on the trip.
The disintegration also left a treasure drove of minerals behind -- including the world's largest working gold mine 40 miles northwest at Lead, SD.
The Black Hills have a spectacular trail system which are highlighted everywhere with perhaps the best trailhead street directions of any state.
Harney Peak, of course, is the premier hike.
The usual approach is from a 6 mile, 2000 foot vertical climb round trip from Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park along Trail #9 (another approach is from Needles -- you can make a loop to do both by adding a couple miles to the trip).
We left on our hike at 9 a.m. and returned to Sylvan Lake by 2 p.m. Even our 3-month old golden retriever made the climb -- although he laid down and refused to budge as soon as we returned to the lake.
Sylvan Lake is one of the two prettiest highpoint trail heads in the country (rivaled only by the Green River approach to Gannett, Wyoming). The Lake was created at the turn of the century by daming a creek as a tourist lodge was built on its banks. Huge boulders rise from the lake.
The trail is quite well maintained (you can also reach the base of the summit on horseback -- although horses are prohibited from Sylvan Lake). All along the route there are spectacular views of the summit pump house built in the 1930's by the CCC.
You should not underestimate the elevation factor. As I climbed the steps to the pump house, I unexpectedly and very suddely developed altitude sickness and ended up vomiting (this was a good shakeout for a later hike on Colorado's Elbert). Conventional wisdom for avoiding this problem is to take aspirin, drink plenty of water, keep food in your stomach and avoid heavy breakfasts.
I was disappointed not to find a registration book on the summit.
A sign on the summit makes the claim that Harney is the highest peak between the Rockies and the Pyranees. This is not quite accurate in that Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic in the Carribean is 10,416 feet.
A detailed contour map showing trail locations is available for $2 at Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, Bear Butte State Park, and Forest services offices in Rapid City and Custer.
For more information about hiking
and mountain biking opportunities throughout the Black Hills, contact