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Sylvan Peak

Sylvan Peak

Sylvan Peak

Page Type: Mountain/Rock

Location: South Dakota, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 43.84400°N / 103.586°W

Object Title: Sylvan Peak

GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map

County: Custer

Elevation: 7000 ft / 2134 m


Page By: surgent, Sarah Simon, panhandletrails

Created/Edited: Jun 17, 2004 / Aug 11, 2014

Object ID: 152732

Hits: 10760 

Page Score: 84.57%  - 19 Votes 

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Harney Peak from Sylvan Peak
A view of Harney Peak from the summit of Sylvan Peak

Located in the famous Black Hills of South Dakota, Sylvan Peak is only about 4 air-miles west of the state highpoint at Harney Peak, and itself is the highpoint of Custer County. A thickly-forested peak, the summit ridge features many gigantic stone spires and cliffs, which make for interesting views and some hiking challenges, although the usual route to the top requires nothing more than simple scrambling at worst.

The usual hiking route is fairly short - about 1.5 miles one way with almost 800 feet in altitude gain from the parking area. However, the last half is through poorly-blazed forest and requires attention to detail to stay on route. In 2004, I experienced a section of downed trees which occluded the route and eventually 'helped' me get lost for one of the very few occasions ever in my life!

The pine beetle devastation of forests in the western USA has not left Sylvan Peak untouched. To compound that, the 2013 Winter Storm Atlas downed many more trees, leaving an even bigger tangle in the deadfall on Sylvan.

Sylvan Peak is not heavily promoted and probably does not see more than a handful of visitors per year, mainly county highpoint enthusiasts or Black Hills residents desiring a challenge. Views of Harney Peak from the summit are outstanding. For those who would like to avoid crowded trails, who enjoy off-trail hiking, and who like a little solitude in reaching one of the Black Hills few 7,000-foot summits, this is a solid bet.

Getting There & Route

Topo map
Sylvan Peak Map - courtesy Jeremy Hakes
The trailhead is at a pullout and gate along highway SD-87 just under a mile north of the junction with SD-89, the road one normally takes to the Harney Peak trailheads (#9 and #4) at Sylvan Lake. The pullout is about 0.5 mile south of a short tunnel and will be on the west side of the road. There is now room for at least a dozen vehicles, due to recent parking lot work. Please be sure to park in such a way that you do not block the gate.

If coming from Custer, head north on SD-89 about 6 miles to the 89/87 junction. Go left onto SD-87 a little less than a mile to the pullout, on your left.

If coming from the US-16/SD-87 junction (i.e. from the Crazy Horse and Rushmore Monuments), go south on SD-87 about 5 miles to the pullout. Steep switchbacks occur at about 3.5 miles, and the short tunnel is passed at about 4.5 miles.

The GPX file, attached, outlines the route to the summit from SD-87. Expect 2.1 miles roundtrip, and allow 90 minutes (roundtrip) at a moderate pace.

Red Tape

Crazy Horse from Sylvan Peak Summit
A telephoto view of Crazy Horse monument from the summit of Sylvan Peak
No fees or permits are required. There are no signs prohibiting access at the gate. Public access is allowed, just not promoted. Sylvan Peak is on public lands managed by the national forest service.

Please note that the parking lot on the Highway 87 turnout is technically in Custer State Park. For the most part, they do not have any different restrictions, other than a prohibition against carrying handguns.

The forest service office in Custer can be reached at: 605-673-9200

The forest service district ranger's office can be reached at: 605-673-4853

The main office in Custer State Park can be reached at: 605-255-4515

When To Climb

Shooting Star
Shooting Star - photo by Sarah Simon
The winter snows may make the roads impassable at times, and the route messy. Highway 87, from Highway 16A to Sylvan Lake, is usually closed from about November 1 through April 1. But, after roads are cleared following a storm, 87 is open from Hill City to Sylvan Lake. Highway 89 from Custer to Sylvan Lake is normally open all year. The best times to climb are usually from late April to late October.

Summer can be pretty warm in the Black Hills, though at Sylvan Peak's altitude it will rarely exceed the high 80's. Beware of thunderstorms that can develop quickly. Mid-afternoon lightning can be treacherous.

For those who want to hike during fall colors season, late September through mid-October are the best times. But, significant snowfall can also occur at those times, sometimes with not much advance warning.


Sylvan Lake
Nearby Sylvan Lake - photo by panhandletrails
Camping and lodging can be found near Harney Peak and Sylvan Lake. The nearest towns are Custer and Hill City, though the whole Black Hills region has many camping areas and many inexpensive hotels in Rapid City, Hot Springs, Deadwood, Lead, Keystone, and Sturgis. Links to camping and lodging very close to Sylvan Peak include these:

Custer State Park Campgrounds

Custer, SD Camping & Lodging

Hill City SD Camping & Lodging

Sylvan Lake Lodge

Mountain Conditions

Deadfall on Sylvan Peak
Sylvan Peak deadfall
For the latest weather forecast and conditions for the area, click here:

Weather Underground Report for Custer, South Dakota

Custer Area Forecast & Conditions

The pine beetle infestations plaguing the Black Hills, have hit Sylvan Peak pretty hard in recent years. This will mean snag dangers in the years to come. Winter Storm Atlas, in October 2013, caused widespread damage to the Black Hills National Forest. Many trails are almost impassable, due to downed trees. This is going to take the forest service a long time to clean up. Check out the link to the Custer Forest Service office here: Custer, SD Forest Service Office

External Links