Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), the most prominent landmark in the Black Elk Wilderness, is an example of this. There are not many other prominent landmarks actually within the boundaries besides Black Elk Peak and Elkhorn Mountain. However, several prominent Black Hills landmarks and features border the wilderness. Those would include Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Cathedral Spires, Little Devils Tower, Horsethief Lake, and Sylvan Lake.
The entire wilderness area is an incredibly beautiful area of towering granite columns, small streams, and thick forests of ponderosa pines, spruce and aspen. Numerous trails weave through the wilderness, granting hikers and climbers access to this unspoiled area. There is a great abundance of excellent rock climbing opportunities in the wilderness area.
All mechanized forms of travel are prohibited in the wilderness area. There has been some problems with pine beetle infestation in parts of the wilderness, but measures are being taken to curb this and remove destroyed trees from key places.
History of the Black Elk Wilderness
The wilderness was first established as part of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, in 1920. In 1980, the Colorado Wilderness Act was passed by congress, which included the establishment of the Black Elk Wilderness Area. The whole area is part of the Black Hills National Forest, and is managed by the National Forest Service's Hell Canyon Ranger District. The wilderness is surrounded by the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Custer State Park.
Large birds frequently seen include bald eagles, hawks, osprey, pregrine falcons, and wild turkeys. While these birds may be more obvious, another 200 species of birds inhabit the area.
Rattlesnakes are occasionally seen in the Black Hills, though not usually in the higher elevations.
Getting ThereAccess to the Black Elk Wilderness Area can be from Highway 244 from the north, Highway 16A from the east, or Highway 87 from the south and west. Picking up a Black Elk Wilderness map (free) from the Norbeck Center, at Mount Rushmore, at ranger district offices or at the chamber of commerce offices in Keystone, Custer, or Hill City, will help you decide where you wish to get started.
Red TapeCuster State Park is adjacent to the Black Elk Wilderness, so you may need a state park permit, if you choose to access it from that side. No motorized vehicles, are allowed on the trails. Neither are carts of any kind, chainsaws, bicycles, strollers, or hang gliders. Pets are required to be on a leash or strict voice control. Camping is not allowed within 1/4 mile of Black Elk Peak. Groups over 25 are not allowed. Open fires are prohibited.
CampingCamping is allowed, so long as it is not within 1/4 mile of Black Elk Peak. Open campfires are not allowed. The "Leave no trace" principle is encouraged for all visitors. If you prefer to camp at one of the many campgrounds in the hills nearby, please check out the latest camping information on the chamber of commerce links near the bottom of this page.
Black Elk Wilderness Maps
Black Elk Wilderness Trails
# 3 Norbeck Trail - 6.3 miles
# 4 Little Devils Tower/Black Elk Peak - 3 miles
# 5 Willow Creek/Rushmore Trail - 1.9 miles
# 7 Grizzly Bear Trail - 6.3 miles
# 8 Willow Creek Loop - 2.8 miles
# 9 Black Elk Peak North - 4.7 miles
# 9 Black Elk Peak South - 3.6 miles
# 14 Horsethief Lake Trail - 2.7 miles
# 15 Iron Creek Trail - 2.4 miles
# 16 Iron Mountain Trail - 1.4 miles
# 89 Centennial Trail - 8.9 mile section of the 111-mile trail
# 89B - Centennial Bypass - 1.7 miles
Note: Some of these trails are partly in Custer State Park, but are also in the Black Elk Wilderness. Other trails, such as # 6 Sunday Gulch Trail, the Blackberry Trail, Little Devils Tower Spur, Sylvan Lakeshore Trail, and the Cathedral Spires Trail, are all nearby, but not actually in the the Black Elk Wilderness.
Rock climbers will find many challenges in this whole area. Daryl Stisser, at the Sylvan Rocks Climbing School, advises that no one is currently permitted to guide climbing in the wilderness. So, climbing here is probably best left to those who are either already familiar with the area, or those with great expertise, who can accurately evaluate opportunities. Beginners and those relatively new to rock climbing will find a much more constructive approach by contacting the Sylvan Rocks Climbing School which operates in the area next to the Black Elk Wilderness and elsewhere in the Black Hills.
Free trail maps are available at ranger office and the forest service supervisor's office in Custer. These offices also have some individual trail maps, which can also be downloaded by clicking on this link:
Black Hills National Forest Trail Guide Maps
Because of the rock and steep terrain, it is a mistake to assume cell phones will work in the wilderness. Solo hikers should not assume a cell phone will get them out of a bad situation. Please plan your trip in the Black Elk Wilderness wisely, and then enjoy this fantastic area!
US Forest Service
Black Elk Wilderness
For maps and more trail information, click here:
Black Hills Hiking
Wilderness.net also posts information about the Black Elk Wilderness at: Wilderness.net
Area Camping, Lodging & Dining Options:
Custer Chamber of Commerce
Keystone Chamber of Commerce
Hill City Chamber of Commerce