Harney Peak - South Dakota Highpoint
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Distance: 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
Summit Elevation: 7,242 feet
Access rating: Level 1
One of many trail splits
On the trail
Entering the Black Elk Wilderness
Sign near the start of the trail
The first steps up to the summit
The final climb and tower
Wow, some nice work here
The Black Hills of South Dakota is a vacation destination full of activities and sights. Mt. Harney would be the premier hike to do. Mt. Harney is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Swiss Alps. The trail is a nice forest hike with a summit lookout building that is one of the coolest summit towers I've seen in the mountains. It was built in the 30's by the CCC and evidence of an old jeep road along the trail gives hints on how they could get all the supplies up there to build such a large structure. Better than the summit building is the access to it. It appears there was no way up but rock climbing so a series of stairs and bridges have been built, even a tunnel. Inside the building is a basement with the old sleeping quarters. It was a bit spooky to walk around halls and rooms in the middle of the wilderness. The view is probably amazing but I was blessed with a foggy morning during my visit.
To access the peak, find your way into Custer State Park. I came into the park the day before and was charged a ridiculous entrance fee of $15. At popular Sylvan Lake is a large parking area. Two trailheads are here, take the one in the open...not the one in the forest. Shortly after starting is a sign saying Trail 9 Mt. Hardy Trail. All trail intersections are well marked to the summit. The trail is easy going to a ridge where it turns right. The route climbs up a forested ridge but eventually has a decent, enough that I though for a bit it could be the wrong trail. Soon it enters the Black Elk Wilderness with a registration station. (This is how the forest service tracks visitors eventually leading to quotas and permits so I never sign in). The last mile gains the most elevation. I know this is a popular trail but on a cloudy Memorial Day weekend morning, I didn't see anyone.