Beecher Rock, as viewed from the summit of Cicero Peak
Often overlooked because of close proximity to Harney Peak, Mount Rushmore, Little Devils Tower, Mount Coolidge and other better-known summits, Cicero Peak nevertheless offers climbers a great hike with several scenic vantage points, including a unique view of Beecher Rock and a view of the George Washington on the side of Mount Rushmore. Of course, you will need good binoculars to see much detail at that distance. This is especially a great peak for those who like cool, shady, tree-canopied hikes on hot summer days. The 1.6 mile road to the top is rugged (particularly after heavy rain or melting snow) and sometimes is blocked by fallen trees, yet is not so difficult that an old hiker like me can’t handle it. There is just over 500 feet in altitude gain from the start of the road to the summit. The large amount of rocks in the road gives a person a glimpse of the predominance of granite, schist, and quartzite in the mountain.
Cicero summit view of the side of Mount Rushmore
Though there are mines near Cicero Peak, and feldspar lodes on both the eastern and western flanks, the peak is probably best known for the old fire tower that was built there by the CCC in 1939. The tower continued in service until it was decommissioned in 1973. In 1980, the tower was taken down and sold to a private party in Custer to be used for a tourist tower. The mountain is mostly covered in Ponderosa pine forest, though the eastern side was burned off in a large fire many years ago. Wildlife in the area includes deer, elk, pronghorns, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, bighorn sheep, porcupines, wild turkeys, and more.
Cicero summit view toward the south
Because the more well-known peaks in the area attract most of the hikers, the Cicero Peak road does not see much traffic. One is more likely to see an ATV buzzing up the old road than a Jeep. This is on national forest service land, so hunters frequent the area during deer, elk and wild turkey seasons in particular. Wild raspberries seem to grow in pockets in the mountain, and area residents have been seen gathering these. Horse-back riders sometimes make the trip to the summit, usually from the nearby Broken Arrow Campground. Geocachers also use the mountain for their quests. The forest service closes the road to any kind of motorized traffic every year from December 15 to May 15.
Getting There & Route
Cicero Peak Road
Cicero Peak Road can be reached from Custer, by traveling east on Highway 16A. Just outside town, turn right (south) on Sidney Park Road and travel about 4 miles to Flynn Creek Road. The pavement ends at that intersection, so it is hard to miss. That is also the location for Broken Arrow Campground. At Flynn Creek Road (Road 336), turn left (east) and travel just over 2 miles to Cicero Peak Road (on the right). You can park anywhere along the side of the road, just so long as you do not impede traffic. The big logging trucks rolling by will give everyone extra incentive not to be careless about how they park.
If hiking the road to the summit is not your cup of tea, you also have the option of bushwhacking to the summit from any of the nearby forest service roads. Please be aware there is some private land on the east side, at the Cicero Peak Ranch.
Cicero Peak hikers at the summit
Cicero Peak Hikers
There is no red tape to hike Cicero Peak. It is on national forest service land, so one is only subject to state and federal laws, as well as forest service regulations. The national forest service office in Custer can answer specific questions.
The campground nearest to Cicero Peak is the Broken Arrow Campground, about 2 miles from the Cicero Peak Road. There are many more camping and lodging options in Custer, 6 miles away. The Custer Chamber of Commerce site keeps up-to-date contact info and links for those options. Custer State Park is just a few miles east of Custer, and also has an abundance of camping and lodging options.
The Black Hills South map, published by National Geographic, is an excellent map for the area. If you are exploring any of the national forest lands in the area, their office in Custer offers a free Motor Vehicle Use Map for the Black Hills National Forest.