|Site #25 at Custer's Gulch RV Park.|
With absolutely perfect weather on tap we chose to do the most popular trail in Custer State Park as our first hike in the area; everything we read said this hike was worth the crowds. Of course the way to beat the crowds is to start early. We were on the trail early enough, 8:30am, to have a near empty parking lot and the trail practically to ourselves.
Harney Peak, at 7,242 ft, is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Pyrenees of Europe AND it's got amazing 360 degree views AND it's topped with a beautiful CCC-built fire lookout tower...no wonder people flock to it like a magnet!
The southern route is 3.5 miles one way, starting out with a modest incline, and increasing in steepness and rockiness over the last mile. The northern route is 4.7 miles one way and is said to be quite challenging. We took the southern route and made it a loop hike, taking the Little Devil's Tower trail back, making it an 8.3 mile hike.
|The trail starts at beautiful Sylvan Lake.|
At the end our hike in midafternoon the lake area was busy with small boats and swimmers and walkers and fishermen.
The Black Hills has a complex geologic makeup, and its Precambrian granite core is around 2 billion years old. Not long into our hike we were treated to vistas showcasing granite outcroppings of this core.
|About a half mile into the hike, whenever we broke out of the trees, our vista was full of massive granite boulders.|
|As we neared the peak we had an excellent view of Cathedral Spires on the left and Little Devil's Tower on the right.|
Notice all the dead trees behind Hans, the pine beetle is devastating Ponderosa Pines around here.
|Our first glimpse of the Harney Peak Tower...the trail gets pretty steep at this point.|
|Taking a breather at the first sign of CCC craftmanship.|
I'll show the stairs heading up through the rocks on our return when the light is better.
|The CCC did a beautiful job integrating the fire tower into the mountain top.|
|It is perched right on the edge!|
|CCC-built stairs led us up through this granite ridge line.|
|The town of Custer is in the green meadow-like area behind Little Devil's Tower in the center.|
|Uneven granite steps descend to the dam and pumphouse, |
which provided water for persons manning the fire tower years ago.
|Lots of these little guys running around.|
|Hans is watching from the lookout tower as I clamber all over the rocks.|
As far as I could tell the dam held only rain water, which was stagnant.
|This high point is the center of the Precambrian rock in this area and provides a commanding view of the entire Black Hills.|
|Notice how the tower is built around existing boulders.|
|On our way down the light was better for photos of the stairs that took us up through the rocks to the tower.|
|Wonderful CCC engineering!|
|Our return trail took us right past the Cathedral Spires.|
|Neon green mosses covered the ground in a healthy section of forest.|
|We took the Devil's Tower spur trail knowing that it was supposed to be "steep and rocky"...|
and discovered that was accurate!
This is part of the trail!
|Some parts were wide enough for people to pass each other.|
|The views from Little Devil's Tower were just as impressive as those from Harney Peak...|
in fact, Harney Peak Tower is the highest point in this photo!
|Cathedral Spires from the top of Devil's Tower.|
|Descending Little Devil's Tower.|
|Some info on the removal of dead trees...|
This was a fabulous day on the trail, and yes, there were plenty of others out there with us on a beautiful summertime Thursday, but our early start did make a difference because the parking lot was overflowing by the time we finished. Definitely worth the crowds!