Overview & History
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.
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.
Getting ThereThe 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.
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 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.
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 ConditionsFor up to date conditions, contact the Black Hills National Forest
Hell Canyon Ranger District
330 Mt. Rushmore Rd.
Custer, SD 57730
Current Weather: Custer, SD1>
Useful MapsThe 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
- South Dakota highpoint page
Directions, trip report, and photos of Harney Peak and South Dakota.
- Black Hills National Forest
Info and maps concerning the Black Elk Wilderness and surrounding area.
Thanks to dkeating2112 for the inital work on this page.
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