An Afternoon Hike: Little Devils Tower

I moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota a little over two and half years ago, and it has been absolutely amazing. Growing up in Iowa, my entertainment was hiking through a corn field to the creek a mile behind our house. Now, 40 miles in any direction I can explore more than 400 trails. From Eleventh Hour in Spearfish to Hell Canyon in the southern hills, my favorite will always be Little Devils Tower.

About a week ago, a friend and I made the hike up the trail as Needles Highway has finally reopened. Here's a little information about the trail:

At 3.1 miles out and back, the trail to Little Devil's Tower in Custer State Park isn’t nearly as long as the hike up to South Dakota’s highest point, but the payoff is equally rewarding. The views of Black Elk Peak and Cathedral Spires, as well as the Black Hills and the surrounding prairie, perfectly cap off this short hike. To start, you’ll make your way through sub-alpine valleys and along switchbacks that wrap around granite boulders. Unlike other trails, which have been adapted for any level of hiker, a Class 3 scramble to reach the top of Little Devil’s Tower makes this hike every bit as challenging as it is rewarding.

The trail is only about mile and a half one way, but it is pretty much an uphill battle the whole way there. Just before you reach the top you have to straddle yourself between rocks and climb to the top carefully (best to put the camera down for that section so you have two hands!). When Hannah and I hiked it this last weekend, it took us about an hour and a half to reach the top and only about 40 minutes to reach the bottom again. If you've never seen Black Elk Tower, bring your binoculars. You get great 360 views of the Black Hills, and can see the hint of the old Tower across the landscape.

If you want to make a full day of hiking, pack a lunch. You can access Cathedral Spires and Black Elk Peak trails from the Little Devils Tower trail-head. HOW TO FIND IT: Taking Needles Highway toward Sylvan Lake; be sure to stop and pay the fee at Sylvan Lake Toll Booth. The Booth isn't always man-operated, so most times it is by the honor-system. Continue about two miles, and then you should see parking for the trail-head on the left. *If you are hiking in the winter months, you have to hike into the trail-head from the main road as the Needles Highway closes due to the weather and conditions. Grab a pair of snow shoes or cross country skis and head up to the start of the trail.


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