Great Hikes: Black Elk Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota
I've had the pleasure of hiking Black Elk Peak (formally known as Harney Peak) 3 times. It has a rich history in the Black HIlls of South Dakota and is one of the most rewarding hikes you can take. I can't stress this enough: bring plenty of water and some high protein snacks for fuel. You'll need it on this 8 mile round-trip trek.
To get there, head to Sylvan Lake and pay the annual $20 State Park Entrance Fee. Sylvan Lake is stunning and there's plenty of swimming and photography opportunities. Hike around the day-use loop road and on the northeast corner of the loop you'll find the trail-head. My family and I have used both the #4 and the #9 trails on our way to the top. You'll experience a challenging 1,551 feet of elevation gain but don't let that stop you. We've seen people of all ages make the climb. If you're in fairly decent shape you'll do just fine. Good footwear is a must.
"That last mile was hard! Gonna need some wine when we get back." ~ my wife, Heather
I must point out the the stairs at the top seem to go on forever but totally worth it once you're there.
At the top you'll experience a sunning view and you'll be standing atop the highest natural point in South Dakota. It's also the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. You'll also find an old stone tower that was once used as a fire lookout tower. Interestingly, the ashes of Valentine McGillycuddy were spread at the summit after his death. Mr. McGillycuddy was the first person on record to record his climb to the peak and was also the first to map the topography and geology of the region.
The first time we hiked it my kids were 7, 9, and 12 years-old and had no problem. Remember it's not a race so take your time. Take plenty of water breaks and you'll rock it. My recommendation is to leave early to beat the summer heat and the crowds. We rated it a 5-star hike. It's hard to rate it anything less when you're rewarded with that kind of view at the top.
In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for he made it, and His hand formed the dry land. ~ Psalm 95: 4-5