Black Elk Peak and the Sunday Gulch Trail

Distance

6.4 miles to ~9.5 miles depending on trail variations. See below for details. 

Elevation

Total elevation gain of between 1,555 and 1,844 feet depending on route. 

Access

Located in the Custer State Park, day-pass is required.

Parking

Parking is available near the Sylvan Lake Lodge for a fee.

Trail map

Here’s a map of the route we took to reach Black Elk Peak with an optional loop around Sylvan Lake (part of the Sunday Gulch Trail).

The trail to Black Elk Peak is an absolutely beautiful trail located in Custer State Park . The fire lookout, dam, and pumphouse atop Black Elk Peak are the final destination and the Harney Peak Lookout  is the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains! 

We took the Black Elk Peak via Harney Peak Trail and added on a section of the  Sunday Gulch Trail that loops around Sylvan Lake. This route (in red below) was around 7.5 miles round trip. Because we’d also taken the scenic drive along the  Needles Highway and intended to drive to North Dakota that evening, we were racing the clock to see as much as we could in this area.

If you have more time, we recommend taking the route in blue, which goes out to Black Elk Peak and loops around to hit the final viewpoints of both the  Cathedral Spires Trail and Little Devil’s Tower. This route would have been around 8.5 miles excluding the loop around  Sylvan Lake

See the links below for other route options as well as additional places to visit near Custer State Park

Nearby attractions

While you’re in Custer State Park, we also recommend exploring these other nearby attractions. 

  • Jewel Cave National Monument
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Badlands National Park

Photo gallery

Our favorite moments from our hike to Black Elk Peak. 

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