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Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills

Custer, South Dakota

4.8/5
based on 5 reviews

Details

Distance

1.65 miles

Elevation Gain

200 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Description

Added by Ben NoLastName

The Cathedral Spires are some of the largest rock faces in the Black Hills. They can be seen from the scenic Needles Highway.

This is a moderate hike with a huge payout in the form of some of the Black Hills' most beautiful features — tall granite spires rising hundreds of feet above the surrounding terrain, reaching a maximum height of 6,860 feet.

Starting from the Cathedral Spires Trailhead --where you may be treated to epic views of climbers above the parking lot dangling off ropes and pulling some serious stone -- the trail starts at a leisurely grade, actually dipping down a bit before you hit some of the scrambling sections. It is a very well-groomed trail with one small creek crossing over a wooden beam and very comfortably shaded.

There are two mild scrambling sections that account for the majority of the elevation gain on this hike. That makes for some of the best photography stops, so don't forget to look back, especially if the sun is getting closer to the horizon. The trail emerges into a relatively flat area, often referred to as "The Bowl" since it is completely surrounded by rock pinnacles.

Keep a keen eye peeled in this area, as mountain goats and their kids defy gravity along the sheer edges of the surrounding spires. At the end of the trail, enjoy views of Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) to the northwest and the Badlands in the distance to the east.

As for wildlife, pinyon jay, gray jay, three-toed woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, American dipper, and ruffed grouse are some of the birds that can be sighted. Also, mountain goats can be found along with white-tail and mule deer, bighorn sheep, and elk.

The Cathedral Spires Trail can be accessed from multiple locations. The most commonly used trailheads are the Sylvan Lake trailhead for Trail 4, the Little Devils Tower trailhead on Trail 4 (about 1 road mile east of Sylvan Lake on the Needles Highway) and the Cathedral Spires trailhead, located around 2 miles east of Sylvan Lake on a switchback in the Needles Highway Highway 87. Hikers are also able to access the upper end of the Cathedral Spires Trail from Black Elk Wilderness trails that intersect with Trail 4 closer to Black Elk Peak.

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Features

Rock Climbing
Hiking
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic
Wildlife

Reviews

This spot has it all. Great views, amazing hiking, the state's highpoint, and less crowds than national parks. The spires themselves are really cool and be on the lookout for mountain goats climbing above.

This is one of my favorite hikes in the Black Hills. There are so many neat spires and other areas to explore just off the trail! The spires are magnificent!

When leaving from Needles Highway trailhead, hike is steep in some places but beautiful, well worth the effort

Beautiful hike and an easy hike for the whole family. Great views of the spires and the hills when you get to the end. During tourist season, this is a very popular hike and the parking area is a bit difficult to navigate so be careful for people walking in the road and get there early to get a parking spot!

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Nearby

Drive Needles Highway in Custer State Park

Hike to Poet's Table

Hike to Little Devil's Tower in the Black Hills

Camp at Sylvan Lake Campground

Hike Sunday Gulch Loop

Hiking to Harney Peak

Go Great Places in South Dakota

In the Mount Rushmore state, travels to South Dakota are full of one-of-a-kind adventure with wide-open spaces as endless as the horizons. Between legendary landscapes and scenic drives, you can always find space that shifts life into park. When you’re ready, go great places.

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