Want a great view of Harney Peak and the Cathedral Spires in Custer State Park? Little Devils Tower offers some of the best views in the Southern Black Hills. This unusual limestone formation offers a spectacular 360-degree perspective of the surrounding area, giving you the best sight of the spires from above. (Another close-up view of the spires is available from the Cathedral Spires Trail.)
There are two options for starting your hike depending on how much time you have. Since the peak is on Trail 4 in the Harney Peak system, you can start at Sylvan Lake. Make sure you’re on Trail 4 and not Trail 9 or you’ll end up on Harney instead. Starting from the lake adds about half an hour to your hike.
The main trailhead is located one mile east of Sylvan Lake on Needles Highway (Highway 87); this shorter route leads you straight up to the spur trail to Little Devils Tower. Remember that this trail is located on Trail 4 to Harney, so watch for the sign telling you which fork to take up to Little Devils Tower. Again, you’ll end up on Harney if you miss the spur trail (it’s a lot like Rome, all roads lead to Harney).
Most of the trail is rated as moderate with steady climbs but not too steep, until the end. The last part of the trail to the summit is strenuous and requires scrambling up the rocks. Blue markers have been painted on the rocks to point out the easiest route. Honestly, they’re more important descending than ascending since up is up – you’ll get to the summit no matter what route you take. However, when you go back down, following the blue markers helps get you back on the trail instead of lost in the rugged terrain. Total mileage is 2.6 miles round trip.
Binoculars are fun to have on this hike since you are afforded a birds-eye view of the climbers on the spires. Keep an eye on the sky since severe thunderstorms brew up quickly on summer afternoons in the Black Hills.
Getting there: Take Highway 16A east out of Custer one mile, then turn north on Highway 89 eight miles to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. A fee is required at the entrance. Either park in the Sylvan Lake parking lot and take Trail 4 or continue driving east one mile on what is now Highway 87, otherwise known as the Needles Highway. The Little Devils Tower trailhead is well-marked and near the road. Download a map of the Harney Peak area trails system at http://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/docs/harney-peak-map.pdf