Backpacker Magazine Custer State Park, SD: Little Devils Tower 

Scramble up Little Devils Tower on this 3-mile out-and-back that climbs 600 feet to otherworldly views of the Cathedral Spires and South Dakota’s highest peak.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 3 Dec 2008 7:22:47 PM
Activity: Other
State: South Dakota (SD)
Distance: 3.15 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 1190 ft
Total Loss: 1193 ft
Net Change: -3 ft
Difficulty: 5 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Custer
Tags: Custer, Custer State Park, Rapid City, South Dakota
Rating:   4 rating(s) Rate it

This 3.1-miler  in the northwest corner of Custer State Park begins at the Sylvan Lake Trailhead and follows the blue-blazed Trail #4 around colossal boulders and ponderosa pine to the Little Devils Tower Trailhead. Start at this alternate location to shorten the roundtrip by an easy mile. Snaking eastward through quaking aspen and Black Hills spruce, the trail follows a babbling brook and splits in another half mile. This route follows the well-marked lefthand trail toward Little Devils Tower, turning sharply uphill and becoming increasingly rocky underfoot before taking a sharp left though an impressive, cave-like crack that flanks the trail.

Keep an eye on the blue blazes ahead: they mark the scramble through granite clefts and the final ramp to the peak. The summit greets with jaw-droping views of the Cathedral Spires to the southeast and equally stellar of Mt. Rushmore’s backside, the Black Elk Wilderness, and the brick fire-tower atop 7,242-foot Harney Peak just one mile to the north.

For a full-day adventure—and to make the most of the $12.00, 7-day vehicle fee—plan to spend some time at the swimming beach and loop trail around Sylvan Lake before hitting the road.

-Mapped by Steve Johnson

TO TRAILHEAD: Take US-16 through Custer, turning left onto Sylvan Lake Road. Drive 6 miles and turn right onto SD-87. In 0.3 miles turn left into Custer State Park and proceed 0.2 miles to the Sylvan Lake Trailhead Parking area.

Position Format: Datum:

Little Devils Tower

Distance: 3.15 mi Points: 708
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 43.845956, -103.559452
Trail #4 to Little Devils tower begins on the southeast corner of the Sylvan Lake Trailhead. From here, it's an easy half-mile to the Little Devils Tower trailhead.


Location: 43.843333, -103.552371
Continue straight on Trail #4 past the Little Devils Tower Trailhead. Though recreational opportunities at Sylvan Lake make the extra mile worthwhile, many hikers headed for Little Devils Tower, or the longer hike up Harney Peak, begin at this restroom-equipped trailhead.


Location: 43.847342, -103.544920
Turn left at this Y-junction following signs to Little Devils Tower. Almost immediately after this point, the rocky trail turns sharply uphill toward the summit. Be prepared for scrambling and catching your breath atop granite outcroppings between here and the top.


Location: 43.850359, -103.541036
A sharp left-hand jog leads through this slot near mile 1.4. The close-in walls make this an impressive stop for a photo op.


Location: 43.852200, -103.538396
The 6,920-foot summit of Little Devils Tower offers impressive views of the Black Hills and surrounding countryside. Stop for a picnic on the granite mound and be sure to wander its expanse for all the best views.

Blue Blazes

Location: 43.845608, -103.558374
Blue Blazes mark the easy, well-trod path from Sylvan Lake. © Steve Johnson

Trailside view

Location: 43.844154, -103.556528
Impressive rock formations line the trail. Here, a towering outcropping near Sylvan Lake. © Steve Johnson

Slot Cave

Location: 43.850328, -103.540907
The trail passes through through this giant rock formation. © Steve Johnson

Narrow Passage

Location: 43.851566, -103.538525
Blue blazes mark the sometimes surprising route to the peak, but most hikers--even families--consider the challenge to be the highlight of the trip. © Steve Johnson

Cathedral Spires

Location: 43.852216, -103.538504
The southeast view of Cathedral Spires from the Little Devils Tower trail. © Steve Johnson

Cathedral Spires

Location: 43.852185, -103.538439
Views of the skyscraper spires from the peak. © Steve Johnson

Harney Peak

Location: 43.852231, -103.538439
Just one mile north, the brick tower atop Harney Peak, South Dakota's highest, is an impressive sight from Little Devils Tower. The tower is open to hikers who make the 6-hour trek. © Steve Johnson

The Sylvan Lake loop trail

Location: 43.844958, -103.563137
The easy trail around Sylvan Lake makes a family-friendly add-on to this relatively short but strenuous hike. © Steve Johnson


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