Custer State Park is in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The best hikes in Custer State Park are also some of the best hikes in the Black Hills! (And possibly some of the best hikes in South Dakota!)
There are 3 iconic hikes in Custer State Park.
And then there are also a number of nice leisurely trails at the lakes of Custer State Park.
First will be a quick list of each of these.
Then a bit more about the iconic Custer State Park hikes, which are also iconic hikes in the Black Hills!
3 best hikes in Custer State Park
These Custer State Park trails connect, and it is actually possible to do them all as one big day hike.
If you’d rather take your time at each of the scenic overlooks to take in the views and break them into shorter hikes, you can do that too!
1. Little Devils Tower Trail
The Little Devils Tower is listed as around a 3 miles round trip hike. The Little Devils Tower trailhead is located along Needles Highway, less than a 5 minute drive to the north of the Needles Eye Tunnel.
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2. Cathedral Spires Trail
The Cathedral Spires are part of a national natural landmark. The Cathedral Spires Trail is listed as around a 3 miles round trip hike. The Cathedral Spires trailhead is located along Needles Highway, about a 5 minute drive to the south of the Needles Eye Tunnel.
3. Black Elk Peak Trail
The US Forest Service calls Black Elk Peak the “highest point in the United States east of the Rockies.” This is a hike that takes you into Black Hills National Forest. There are many trails to the Black Elk Peak, and one of the ways to hike to Black Elk Peak is to start in Custer State Park. There is a Black Elk Peak trailhead located at Sylvan Lake. Hiking from Black Elk Peak Trail #9 at Sylvan Lake is listed as around a 6.6 mile round trip hike.
Hiking trails in Custer State Park along the lake
Custer State Park has a few lakes. Around these lakes you will find trails, with most of them being lakeside trails.
Start or end your day with a nice leisurely walk around one of these lakes! You’ll also find picnic tables at these lakes so you can eat with lakefront views too.
You can consider these mostly easy hikes in Custer State Park.
Sylvan Lake Trail
This is THE lake of Custer State Park. It’s the most popular one. There’s a shoreline trail that goes around Sylvan Lake that’s around 1 mile long. You’ll find some great Black Hills rocks that you can climb on to get better views, and you’ll walk through rocks that will tower over you too!
Sunday Gulch Trail from Sylvan Lake Trail
And, the added bonus of the Sylvan Lake Trail is that it’s where you’ll find the trailhead for the Sunday Gulch Trail too. The Sunday Gulch Trail is a loop that’s around 3.2 miles, but you don’t have to do the whole thing to for it to be worthy.
If you start the Sylvan Lake Trail on the side that’s closest to the Black Elk Peak trailhead, which would be walking with Sylvan Lake on your left side, then the first Sunday Gulch trailhead you see is the one I took. You can take this trail for 5-10 minutes down and you’ll be walking with more towering rocks all around you! This involves stairs.
See more about this Custer State Park hiking trail: Sunday Gulch Trail
Legion Lake is listed as an elevation of 5,010 feet.
There is a shoreline trail that goes around Legion Lake that’s less than a mile long.
After you’ve had your nice scenic walk around the lake, you can head to the Legion Lake Lodge restaurant for waterfront dining.
See more about this Custer State Park hiking trail: Legion Lake Trail
Center Lake is listed as an elevation of 4,685 feet.
There is a series of trails around Center Lake called the Lost Trails.
There is also a trail that goes along the lake from the swimming beach so you can make it a shoreline walk of 10-20 minutes.
See more about this Custer State Park hiking trail: Center Lake Trail
Stockade Lake Trail
Stockade Lake is listed as an elevation of 5,171 feet.
The trail here is more like a trail that starts near Stockade Lake and then takes you into the forest for views of the Black Hills. There are some uphills (and downhills) on this trail, so it’s not as easy as the other lake trails, but it’s not too difficult either.
There is no official hiking trail that goes around the lake, but there are parts in which the road goes along the lake. This makes for a lakeside drive, and you can also walk the road too to make it a lakeside walk too!
More pictures below of hiking in the Black Hills!
The best of the Black Hills of South Dakota in a day:
- If you want to leave the planning to someone else, you can join this Black Hills group tour or this Black Hills private tour!
To explore the Black Hills and Badlands on your own:
- Things to do in Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills
- Best hikes in Custer State Park
- Best hikes in Badlands National Park
- How to spend 10 days in the Black Hills and Badlands
Best hiking in Custer State Park
Little Devils Tower Trail
I almost didn’t make it to the top of the Little Devils Tower.
The trail starts off as a “normal” trail through a forest, and then it turns into basically climbing across rocks. You always want to be looking for the next blue trail marker!
I somehow got off the trail, and when I saw the next blue marker, I was very doubtful about being able to reach it and I nearly turned around at that point. (Or more specifically, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it down!)
But then I saw some people coming down from a different spot and realized that I had missed one of the trail turn-offs. The real trail seemed much more manageable! From there I did make it to the Little Devils Tower summit.
Once you get towards the end of the trail, there are some steep and narrow trails across walks.
The top of Little Devils Tower can also be very windy (and cold!) so prepare accordingly!
Cathedral Spires Trail
This is probably the “easiest” of the iconic trails in Custer State Park, although there are still some hills.
Black Elk Peak Trail
Your “destination” on the Black Elk Peak is the fire tower that’s located at the top of Black Elk Peak.
You will get sweeping views of the Black Hills all around you.
There are lots of places to walk around the rocks once you get to the top, and you could easily spend an hour at the summit, especially if you bring along a light picnic lunch to eat!
And that’s a bit about hiking in the Black Hills from Custer State Park!
HAPPY HIKING IN CUSTER STATE PARK!