The Needles/Cathedral Spires and Sunday Gulch are on the opposite side of the Black Elk Wilderness and can be reached by the trail network in the wilderness.
The elevation at the trailhead is around 5,000 feet and the highpoint of the trail is around 5,600 feet. Because of the elevation, the summer temperatures are a bit cooler than outlying areas of the Black Hills. Trees common in the wilderness include Ponderosa pine, spruce, birch, aspen and a few hardwoods. Pine Beetle damage has not spared the Black Elk Wilderness and the National Forest Service posts warnings of “snag” dangers, especially for windy days. Visitors to the wilderness will find abundant wildlife that includes mountain goats, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, marmots, eagles and a large variety of other birds.
Getting ThereThe Horsethief Lake Trailhead is at the far end of Horsethief Lake from Highway 244, just 1l5 miles west of Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is approximately 3 miles west of Keystone, South Dakota on Highway 244. There is camping, picnic areas, and toilets at Horsethief Lake.
The Horsethief Lake Trail is 2.8 miles to the end, where you join the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail (Black Hills Trail #7). From there, you can go back, or go either direction on the Grizzly Bear trail. The trail west will take you to Black Elk Peak. If you plan to do a loop using some of the other trails in the wilderness, please be sure to get an up-to-date map. These are free at the Norbeck Visitors Center, Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, or the visitor’s centers at Custer, Hill City, and Keystone.
The Horsethief Lake Trail and the Black Elk Wilderness lie in the Mount Rushmore USGS Quad. The National Forest Service has a good Black Elk Wilderness map available for free. The map can be downloaded from this link: Black Elk Wilderness Map
The simple and short hikes will probably only require water, good footwear, sunscreen, insect repellent, sunglasses, your trail map, and maybe a hat. A camera is good for all the beautiful scenery you will see on this trail.
If you have any thoughts of going off-trail, be sure to include a compass and maybe GPS equipment. Hiking poles can be helpful. Some hikers feel better about carrying pepper spray for one of those rare encounters with a mountain lion. A small first-aid kit is a requirement of some hikers. If you are doing a long loop, extra socks and rain gear can prove helpful.
For more information about the Black Elk Wilderness, check out his link:
Black Elk Wilderness Information
When to ExploreThe Black Elk Wilderness is open to the public all year, except during fire emergencies. Winter blizzards and summer hail and lightning will make visits risky, so for the latest weather forecast and conditions, please check out this link:
Mount Rushmore Area Weather Forecast & Conditions
Camping Options & Additional Information LinksBlack Hills National Forest Service
Horsethief Lake Campground
Horsethief Lake Campground
Horsethief Lake Campground on YouTube
Other Camping & Lodging Information
Black Hills Campgrounds
Mount Rushmore – Keystone Area Lodging Information