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Harney Peak
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Harney Peak

Harney Peak

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: South Dakota, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 43.86610°N / 103.5311°W

Object Title: Harney Peak

Activities: Hiking

Elevation: 7242 ft / 2207 m


Page By: Haliku

Created/Edited: Aug 23, 2001 / Nov 5, 2010

Object ID: 150511

Hits: 155958 

Page Score: 96.89%  - 65 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote


Overview & History

Harney Peak and the fire...

Harney Peak is the high point of the state of South Dakota located in the Black Hills in the southwestern portion of the state. The mountain and surrounding range is granite which was uplifted during the Laramide orogeny between 40 and 60 million years ago.

Although the mountain is well below tree line, the summit is mostly bare rock with uninhibited and spectacular views. There is an old stone tower that was used as a fire lookout on the summit. It is no longer in use but is open to hikers.

Tower View

Black Elk

Harney Peak is the site where the Lakota Holy man, Black Elk, recieved his "great vision" when he was only nine years old in 1872. He later returned as an old man with John Neihardt, to whom he told his autobiography: Black Elk Speaks in 1932.

"I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being."

Black Elk described his Great Vision on Okawita Paha (Harney Peak)

Just below the tower, attached to one of the few pine trees on the summit, are colorful prayer flags and other offerings. The Lakota still come here for religious ceremonies.
Cool tree on the summit of...

Getting There

The directions below are from Rapid City.

For the Sylvan Lake approach, take U.S. route 16 west for about 30 miles to Hill City, SD. Drive through Hill City on 16, and about 3.2 miles out of town turn east onto S.D. route 87. follow this for 6.1 miles to Sylvan Lake recreation area on the north side of the road. Trail starts at the northwest corner of the day use loop road.

For the Willow Creek approach, take the same drive to Hill City, and then follow 16 south out of Hill City, SD and after 3 miles out of town, turn east onto S.D. route 244. Follow this for about 3 miles to the Willow Creek Horse camp on the south side of the road. The trail starts on the east end of the day use area.

Red Tape

the sign on the fire tower.

No permits are required. Harney Peak is located in the Black Elk Wilderness, within the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve in the Black Hills National Forest.

All hikers going to Harney Peak must use the registraion system when they enter the Black Elk Wilderness. Failure to registure could result in a $100.00 fine. Registration stations are located at most trail heads or at the wilderness boundry. Free maps can be found at the Forest Service offices in the area.

There is a $5 per person fee to drive the Needles Highway which is used to access Sylvan Lake and the trailhead.

When To Climb

Harney Peak from Iron Mountain Road

Harney Peak can be climbed year round. The crowds are greater between April and October. The peak and surrounding wilderness offer a cool escape from the summer heat.


There are multiple routes to the summit, the easiest being the southern approach from Sylvan Lake. This route follows the Harney Peak-Sylvan Lake Trail for 3.5 miles one way, and 1,100 feet of elevation gain. I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. This trail receives heavy use.

The northern approach is longer and more difficult, but receives very little use, and is much more scenic. This route starts at the Willow Creek Horse Camp, and follows the Harney Peak-Willow Creek Trail for 5 miles one way, and 2,200 feet of elevation gain. This trailhead is also easier to access from the Rapid City area than the southern route. Both trails are well marked and easy to follow.


Black Hills

No camping is permitted in the day use area at Willow Creek, but you can simply grab your tent and walk a little way into the forest and camp there.

The NFS prohibits camping withing a quarter mile of the summit. There are a lot of great locations north and south of the summit.

Mountain Conditions

For up to date conditions, contact the Black Hills National Forest
Hell Canyon Ranger District
330 Mt. Rushmore Rd.
Custer, SD 57730
(605) 673-4853

Current Weather: Custer, SD

Useful Maps

The following maps are useful for Harney Peak:

-Trails Illustrated, Black Hills Southeast
-Sierra Club, Norbeck Wildlife Preserve
-USGS 7.5, Hill City
-USGS 7.5, Custer
-Black Hills National Forest

External Links

Thanks to dkeating2112 for the inital work on this page.

Additions and Corrections

[ Post an Addition or Correction ]
Viewing: 1-7 of 7    
AlpinistUSGS Marker


Voted 10/10

The USGS marker is located on a mound 300ft to the W-NW of the lookout tower. It looks lower than the base of the tower, but then why is the USGS marker there if it is not the actual highpoint? I wonder how many people miss that.
Posted Aug 10, 2009 1:00 pm
StansburyUSGS Markers


Hasn't voted

Your question raised my curiosity as well. Here are two possibilities. It may be the high point but, like you, I don't think so; we'll likely never know for sure. Alternatively, it may be roughly equal in elevation and if you saw the remains of some prior structure there next to it I'm guessing it was an antenna that was placed on the summit a while back to assist with other measurements. It may be that they chose a point that afforded better triangulation to other peaks as that's part of the purpose of those markers.
Posted Sep 15, 2009 5:48 pm
jhculbertThe True High Point

Hasn't voted

Most hikers assume the old lookout is the end of the hike. They are not looking for the actual natural high point on the peak to the west which has the benchmark.
Posted Jun 28, 2011 10:26 pm
jhculbertTrails to Harney Peak

Hasn't voted

The main description page is a bit vague on the trails to the peak. From the trailhead parking lot Trail 9 goes north, and is the shortest and most popular route. However, Trail 4 will also take one to the top, but it is a little bit longer than Trail 9. Trail 4 begins with a 1/2 mile segment leaving from the east side of the main trailhead parking lot that goes to the trailhead for Devils Tower alongside State Route 87. From that DT trailhead, Trail 4 then goes through a large, recently logged area (as of June 2011), which is not nearly as nice as Trail 9. The signage for both trails is good.
Posted Jun 28, 2011 10:35 pm
mtzfamilyCost and other info

Hasn't voted

This peak is in Custer State Park. There is a $15/vehicle entrance fee that is good for 7 days in any South Dakota state park. Camping in the park is available but if you want to stay in park campground make reservations ahead of time. Cabin reservations require a minimum of 2 days advance notice.

We hiked up trail 9 and out trail 4. We went up the tower and then out to the benchmark. Our GPS recorded 7.98 miles and elevation gains of 1517 feet.

Posted Jul 13, 2013 6:54 pm
Bark Eater$15 per car

Bark Eater

Voted 10/10

As previously noted, access is now $15 per car. Well worth it!

Posted Sep 16, 2014 12:07 pm
AJS714USGS Marker

Voted 10/10

I am thinking that the markers that are to the W NW of the lookout tower are lower than the tower. One of the markers does say Harney Peak with an arrow pointing back to the SE, just S of the lookout tower. When you are at the entrance of the lookout tower and you look back to the S SE (where you came from) you will see some rock spears or spires. This I do believe is the top of Harney Peak. I didn't see anyway of climbing to the top of it. Hope this will help.
Posted Dec 26, 2014 4:53 pm

Viewing: 1-7 of 7