Harney PeakFrom most places in my home town of Rapid City, SD, you can look up and see Harney Peak towering over the city and the Black Hills. It is the highest point in the state of South Dakota. The trailhead at Sylvan Lake is only an hours drive from my house so I try to hike up at least 6 or 7 times a year. The hike will never get old. I still get excited every time I drive up to climb it. Recently, I have been drawn towards the higher and more remote peaks of the Rocky Mountains, but Harney is where it all began for me. Living in Rapid City is only an hours drive from my house to the trailhead. I first Climbed Harney when I was about 5 years old or so with my family. It is not the longest or most strenous hike in the Black Hills, but is one of the most beautiful.
I always seem to get an early start and make it to the trail head at Sylven Lake by about 6 in the morning. Early for most, but getting up at 4 in the morning is a must when hiking. There is no better part of the day then right after the sun comes up. It is also wise to get here early in the summer time, as by 11 o'clock, there is not many places to park.
The start of the hike is easy and mostly flat terrain. Only the forest is visable here. After about a mile and over a few hills you will come to a point where the trees open up onto some rocks. This is a perfect spot to take a rest and a picture. The tower on top is visable from many spots along the hike.
Once you get past the half a mile or so of the "down hill" stretch of the hike, you will start gaining elevation again. The trail passes by many granite rock formations and many good places to camp and explore. You will have to stop and register at the register box at about the halfway point in the hike. From here you are entering the black elk wilderness.
About 3 miles up the trail you will reach a junction that takes you to either Little Devils Tower or Harney Peak. Stay left and continue up. Going right will take you to the little devils tower junction and then back to Sylvan Lake. You could return to Sylvan Lake at this point for a loop hike. You only have about a quarter mile to go at this point. Note that there is no camping a quarter mile from the summit or in the tower that is located on the summit.
The last little push to the summit is strenous but most people (including kids) do make it to the top. Once at the base of the Tower, follow the steps all the way up. Be carefull in the winter, fall, and spring as the steps are usually coverd in a thick layer of ice. Views from the top include the great plains to the east, the northern hills towards lead and deadwood to the north, Sylvan Peak to the west, the town of Custer to the SW, and the southern hills and plains towards Hot Springs. Other views include very nice views of the Little Devils tower, the Needles, and the whole Black Elk Wilderness with hundreds if not thousands of granite rock spires and formations.
The TowerThe most striking feature on Harney Peak is the fire tower on the top. It is an old fire tower that is no longer used by the forest service anymore. It is open to hikers. There are a few old rooms to explore down below and a set of steps leads up to the observation deck. There is only room for a few people at a time up there, but the views are breathtaking.
The whole top of the mountain is solid rock. A dam was built in the rocks not far from the tower. Rain water collects here and in the summer time people will often take a dip to cool off. Plan on spending at least an hour on top to enjoy.