Harney Peak, in Custer State Park, is probably the most popular hiking trail in the area. At an elevation of 7,242 feet, it is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains and west of the Alps. Harney Peak was named after General William S Harney, who served with the U.S. Army from 1818 to 1863. With our friends Forrest and Mary, we decided to tackle the 7 mile round trip hike, which has about a 1200 foot elevation increase.
Everyone was all smiles at the beginning of our trek, which started out as a relatively easy path to navigate.
After a moderate climb, we encountered many spectacular views of the Black Hills, with its granite rocks.
After about an hour, we got our first glimpse at the shell that remains of the fire tower on top of Harney Peak. We all thought “we have to get all the way over there?!” (you can see our destination is at the center of the picture below)
We continued on, going up in elevation, and then down again, through the woods, over a small stream, and around many small boulders. The hike started to get a bit more challenging. One boy coming back down from the top said he scared away a rattlesnake for us…thanks! We continued on our climb.
As we continued our climb, we could hear thunder in the distance, which we are finding to be typical weather here this summer in the Black Hills. Cell service was intermittent, but Dan did keep an eye on the weather radar on his phone, so we wouldn’t get caught up in anything too serious.
The only annoying part of the trip was listening to everyone coming down proclaiming “you only have 15 more minutes”. This went on for at least an hour!! Finally one girl told us “you still have a long way to go!” But the majority of people coming back down all had smiles on their faces, and said it was worth it.
For Dan and I, this was the first major hike that we have done. Forrest is an experienced hiker, and he agreed we picked a good hike for our first time.
We started to get a better glimpse of the old fire tower as we continued our climb. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 – 1938, it remained in use until 1967, and was stripped out of its furnishings and plumbing.
The views, even with the storms in the distance, were getting even more spectacular, as we continued getting above the tree line of the Black Hills Forest.
We continued climbing, the temperatures were dropping due to the elevation, and the wind was picking up. There are many twists and turns during the final ascent of the hike, and then more stairs?!
Onward we climbed, only a “few more” minutes! Then one final climb inside the old fire tower, to a walkway with even better views.
We made it!
We spent awhile at the top enjoying the views, had a snack, and then began the journey back down. We promised not to tell anyone coming up how much time they had to go. On our way down, we heard a loud roar off into the distance, and realized there were two giant B52 planes flying overhead. It was fun to watch these beasts fly over the hills.
Coming back down was the quickest part of the trip, of course, and we did get a bit ahead of Forrest and Mary. While we were waiting for them at the end of the trail, we heard some laughter, and turned around to watch them run the last hundred yards or so of the trail! Apparently they wanted us to know that even the “old folks” still had some “pep in their step” after 5 1/2 hours of hiking!
All four of us would recommend the Harney Peak hike to anyone in the area!
Quote for the day: there is a bench at the beginning of the trail that has a perfect quote: