Climbing to the Top of South Dakota
“Bagging” Harney Peak, South Dakota was an objective of ours during one recent summer road trip. Located in Custer State Park southwest of Rapid City, the South Dakota high point is the 15th highest by elevation. It is a six mile round trip hike rated Class 1—Moderate. Elevation at the start is 6,142 feet above sea level and elevation gain on the hike is 1,550 feet. The predicted hiking time according to our guidebook is 3-4 hours.
Camped at nearby Horse Thief Lake Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, we wake early and have a quick breakfast as we know this will be a challenge and are eager to get started. At 8:37 am we begin our hike. The Harney Peak Trail, also known as Trail #9, starts in the Black Hills National Forest and crosses into the Black Elk Wilderness area. It is a beautiful area for hiking. After a relatively easy ascent, we reach the peak at 10:13 am.
At the end of the trail, we climb up stone steps leading to a small tunnel, then up a set of steel steps to the actual highpoint. We enjoy exploring the lookout tower on the summit, which is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. It looks like a little castle.
After summiting Harney Peak, we spend 22 minutes munching on a simple lunch we have carried up including cashews, walnuts, dried fruit and water. It is delicious—better than any we have eaten at ground level! We shoot photos of each and all of us in the lookout tower, then, almost reluctantly, begin our hike down. It is 10:35 am.
We reach the trailhead at 11:50 am, 3 hours and 13 minutes after we started. Considering that we spent 22 minutes at the top, we have bagged this peak in less than the minimum hiking time of three hours. Our time was 2 hours and 51 minutes to be exact. We are feeling good as we finish, as this is only the 7th highpoint we have completed.
We head back to our campsite with a feeling of accomplishment for a bit of rest and relaxation. The kids enjoy the sense of achievement and are chattering excitedly as we return to our site and move on to our next adventure. They are really starting to warm up to this highpointing hobby. Tomorrow it is on to Wyoming and the remainder of our journey.
Check out Woodall’s to read more about South Dakota camping and things to do in South Dakota.