For most people who climb the Little Devils Tower, it proves to be a fun and rewarding adventure. Though it is more than 200 feet lower than its nearby neighbor, Black Elk Peak, it still sits as #7 among the ranked peaks of the Black Hills. Lists of John records the summit as having 440 feet of prominence. The gain in altitude from the Sylvan Lake trailhead is over 800 feet, while the gain from the Little Devils Tower trailhead is closer to 700 feet. Because of some rock scrambling required near the summit, a case could be made for this summit to be listed as Class 3
The Black Elk Peak-Little Devils Tower-Cathedral Spires area is one of the most popular hiking and climbing areas in the Black Hills. The granite formations are spectacular and wildlife abounds, despite the amount of people visiting the area. The trails through the area are defined and marked fairly well. Over the last few years, Custer State Park has totally reworked the trail to Little Devils Tower. Gone is the very steep section that brought climbers to a cave-like crevice where the trail formerly passed through. Now the Trail 4 works through some switchbacks up to a new spur trail to the summit, which was again re-worked in 2018. Many who climb the Little Devils Tower will return to Trail 4, then take the spur trail that drops down to the Cathedral Spires and connects with the Cathedral Spires Trail. Others choose to continue on Trail 4 to Black Elk Peak and loop back to Sylvan Lake on Trail 9.
In recent years, the forests in the Black Hills have suffered drastically from pine beetle infestation of the ponderosa pines. The Black Hills National Forest manages the forest in this region and works with Custer State Park on various projects, including working to halt the beetle infestation and remove many of the dead trees in this region. In 2013, Winter Storm Atlas caused major damage with heavy snow and high winds, toppling many of the beetle-killed trees. Some of the worst spots along Trail 4 are still kind of unsightly, but much has been removed. There are many aspens along the lower part of the trail, where it parallels a small creek. In the new trail junction area between Little Devils Tower and Cathedral Spires, there is a healthy population of spruce trees mixed in the forest.
The summit of Little Devils Tower offers some spectacular views of the Black Hills. Black Elk Peak, only a mile north, is clearly in view. If you have binoculars or a good telephoto on your camera, you can usually see people walking around the summit area. Other peaks clearly in view include Sylvan Peak (4 miles west), Mount Coolidge to the south and Old Baldy Mountain to the east-northeast. The backside of Mount Rushmore is also clearly in sight. The town of Custer is clearly in view to the south.
Note: This page was originally created by SP member tjarvela, who has since moved on to other pursuits.
Spanning 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is the largest and oldest state park in South Dakota. The park was named after Gen. George Armstrong Custer, when it was formed in 1912. Visitors to the park enjoy spectacular scenery that includes forests, several lakes, many streams, and numerous peaks. The highest peak in the park is Little Devils Tower. Other summits noteworthy to climbers and hikers include Cathedral Spires, Mount Coolidge and Lovers Leap. Cathedral Spires is one of the top rock-climbing areas in the Black Hills.
Visitors to the park enjoy the abundance of wildlife here, especially the large buffalo herd. Each September, the annual Bison Roundup is held, drawing thousands of viewers. While buffalo might be the most popular animal to view here, visitors also enjoy seeing bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, elk, deer, wild turkeys, mountain lions and a resident herd of feral burros.
Most visitors to Little Devils Tower travel there from one of three routes:
From Rapid City – Take Highway 16 for 30 miles to Highway 87, then 6 miles on highway 87 to Sylvan Lake’s trailhead for Trail 4, or 7 miles to the Little Devils Tower trailhead.
From Custer – Take Highway 89 north 7 miles to the Sylvan Lake Trail 4 trailhead, or 1 mile further on Highway 87 to the Little Devils Tower trailhead.
From Hill City – Take Highway 16 south for 3 miles, then 6 miles on Highway 87 to the Sylvan Lake trailhead for Trail 4, or 7 miles to the Little Devils Tower trailhead.
If you are parking at the Sylvan Lake Day Use Area, Trail 4 starts at the southeast corner of the day use parking lot.
Little Devils Tower is accessed by a spur trail branching from Trail 4 in Custer State Park. There are two trailheads on Trail 4 that you can use to begin your journey. The first is at the trailhead at Sylvan Lake. The 1/4 mile segment from Sylvan Lake to the Little Devils Tower trailhead ascends a small hill, taking hikers past a shallow cave along the way.
The first portion from the Little Devils Tower trailhead mostly parallels a small creek, which is actually the uppermost reaches of Sunday Gulch. Just past the original turnoff for the spur trail, Trail 4 begins to ascend more sharply through a few wide switchbacks. After leveling out a bit, you will come to the junction with the new spur trail to the summit. Continue to follow the blue diamond markers for the trail. The last portion of the trail goes through a large crevice, after which it is a relatively short scramble to the summit. It is 3.5 miles out and back from Sylvan Lake, or 3 miles out and back from the Little Devils Tower trailhead.
Custer State Park offers a pdf downloadable trails guide and map. You can download your copy by clicking here:
Hikers and climbers at Little Devils Tower are subject to Custer State Park Regulations. Also, there is a state park entrance fee, which sometimes changes from one year to the next. You can learn more at the South Dakota State Parks website. Unauthorized campfires, fireworks or firearms will quickly get a person in trouble anywhere at Custer State Park.
People climb at Little Devils Tower all year long. Summer lightning and winter blizzards will encourage wise climbers to re-schedule. Note that the summit area boulders get kind of slippery when wet or covered with snow or ice. Climbers that have not exercised proper cautions in this regard, have gone home injured.
For the latest forecast and weather conditions, click on this link:
Since Little Devils Tower is in Custer State Park, there is no camping on the mountain. Custer State Park does have nearby campgrounds, as does the nearby town of Custer (see links below). However, if you are interested in wilderness camping, hiking further up the trail into the Black Elk Wilderness, you can camp there. But, there are some rather strict regulations for that, so you will want to contact the Black Hills National Forest Office (605) 673-9200 for the latest information. Please be aware, that extra rules can be added on short notice, usually due to fire or weather concerns.