Black Elk Peak (its name was changed from Harney Peak in 2016) is the highest natural point in South Dakota. It sits in the Black Elk Wilderness west of Rapid City, South Dakota. Although not directly part of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy, we included it in our roadtrip because it offered a good hike, one we’d done before in 2003 (during our highpointer days).

This time we opted to do a loop to the stone lookout on the summit up the Little Devils Tower #4 Trail and down the Black Elk Peak Trail #9. We started from the #4’s trailhead at Sylvan Lake which was an amazingly popular (and crowded) place even on a weekday. But once we were on the trail we were pretty much alone until we got near the summit – at which point a whole lot of hikers materialized on the trail. After swarming us at the lookout, this mass of hikers mysteriously evaporated as soon as we were descending on the #9.

Of the two trails, we enjoyed the #4 the most because it was less rocky and traversed more varied terrain (especially the needle-like rock formations). High, milky clouds played havoc with photos for much of the day – but relented for a few shots in the morning and from the summit. Overall a fun hike and a great way to end our journey to the western Great Plains and TR’s conservation legacy. 😀

Starting out on the #4 Trail
Rock formations along the #4
More rock formations along the #4
Through a grove of aspens
Mushrooms beside the trail
Clouds over rock formations
The trail traverses a meadow
Rock spires along the trail
Reaching the classic stone lookout tower on the summit
Roof detail
The view to the east
Heading back on the #9
More mushrooms (their subtle shading is beguiling)
The summit lookout tower (arrow) from the #9 Trail
Almost back to Sylvan Lake (with another thunderstorm brewing)
Our route to (red) and from (blue) Black Elk Peak