OverviewPublic hiking and climbing opportunities are abundant in the east-central Black Hills, with a large concentration of summits in the area between Mount Rushmore and Sheridan Lake. Samelias Peak is in the middle of that area and offers some fun climbing, good photo ops and great views at the summit. According to Lists of John, Samelias Peak has 476 feet of rise, ranking it #71 in the Black Hills for prominence. Many people who climb Samelias Peak include it as part of a multiple-summit outing, including Mount Warner to the northwest and Hardesty Peak to the south.
Like most of the Black Hills, ponderosa pine is the dominant tree on Samelias Peak. But, there are also many aspen, some oak and some ash trees as well. Birds are in abundance, with occasional eagles seen soaring far above. Deer are also in abundance, giving a basis for caution during late fall hunting seasons. Visitors to the mountain might also see bighorn sheep, elk, fox, or even a mountain lion. There are mountain goats in the area, but they tend to prefer the area near Mount Rushmore and the Black Elk Wilderness to the south.
Photo at the right shows the old Black Hills 1880 Steam Train that can be heard by hikers in the area between Black Elk Peak and Samelias Peak.
Getting ThereThe best route options are accessed from Highway 16, east of Hill City. The Samelias Peak Trailhead on the Centennial Trail is approximately 6 miles from downtown Hill City, on the north side of the highway. If you are traveling west on Highway 16 from Rapid City, the Samelias Trailhead is about 20 miles.
Short Route: Straight-line distance wise, bushwhacking up to the summit from the Samelias Trailhead might be the shortest way up, being perhaps about .7 mile one-way. That route will take you through the thickest forest and miss most of the boulder fields. If choosing this route, it is probably best to actually take the Centennial Trail from the Samelias Trailhead, rather than the old 2-track trail to the west (obviously used much more). These two eventually join further north, but will generally confuse anyone who bushwhacks east from the 2-track trail when they cross the much-fainter single-track Centennial Trail a little further east.
Longer Route: An easier to find route (and much more scenic in the fall) would be to take the Centennial Trail (trail # 89) around the north side of the mountain and to the east-northeast side (about 1 to 1.3 miles) and bushwhack up from that area, using the boulder fields as your reference point. The shortest off-trail route pretty much crosses the largest of the boulder fields. Counting both the trail and off-trail portions of this route, the hike is about 2 miles one-way. Another factor in favor of this route is convenience if you wish to also summit Mount Warner.
Red TapeThere are no fees or permits needed. To avoid trouble, one only has to comply with Black Hills National Forest Regulations. Camping is allowed in the forest, as per regulations. They are particularly strict about campfires, so be sure you are in compliance. Please remember to pack out what you bring in.
When to Climb
Hill City – Samelias Peak Area Weather
Big-game hunting seasons in the fall will warrant wearing a healthy amount of bright orange. You can learn more about South Dakota hunting seasons at this link:
South Dakota Hunting Season Information
Black Hills National Forest Camping
Hill City Chamber of Commerce Camping & Lodging
Keystone Chamber of Commerce Camping & Lodging
Forest Service Contact Information
Black Hills National Forest Service Office
1019 North 5th Street
Custer, SD 57730