Hike The Cathedral Spires Trail On The Needles Highway In The Black Hills

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I loved the Cathedral Spires Trail in the Black Hills.  Like, I loved it so much.  This was such a cool hike and the area is so unique. 

It’s a trail that takes you up into these rocky spires and we just happened to have the whole thing to ourselves.  It’s pretty tough to beat that.


After hiking the Sylvan Lake Loop Trail we continued along on the Needles Highway a few miles until we got to the Cathedral Spires trailhead. 

There isn’t much parking here, just a few spots right along the road, but we managed to snag one.  Even if you don’t do the hike, this is a great photo stop.


The trail starts out a little muddy and fairly buggy, even in early October, but it was worth pushing on through that.  Soon you start to gain some of the 488 feet of elevation that make this trail a little tough, but like I said SO WORTH IT.  Most of the trail is just light packed dirt with some board steps in some places.


This whole beginning section is pretty pine forest-y.  But it’s also kind of open if that makes sense.  Basically, it’s not dense forest. 

There were some aspens with their leaves changing which really made this hike even more awesome.  Then you get to the top and it opens up.


It’s basically like a prairie with a few trees and the rock spires towering over you on all sides.  If you look carefully at the spires on the side you just came from, you might spot some rock climbers.  Yes, people climb this, just like the Devil’s Tower.  Color me impressed.


We spent some time up in this area before heading back down the way we came.  The weather was perfect but at the far end of the top it was a little breezy so we didn’t spend too long over there.  On the way down we saw some kind of cute little snake,  If you know what kind it is, let me know.


This was definitely my favorite thing that we did during our time in South Dakota last fall.  It was just such a unique landscape that really made it a great experience. 

It did really help that it wasn’t a busy trail so we didn’t see anyone else.  I would definitely recommend this if you’re looking for an easyish moderate hike in the Black Hills.


What to bring on the Cathedral Spires Trail

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must on those bright days.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are, time of day, and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.


Where is the Cathedral Spires trailhead?

It’s 20.2 miles from Keystone and just 2.2 miles past Sylvan Lake, so they’re great hikes to do on the same day, especially since they’re both short and pretty easy.  It’s in Custer State Park.


How long do I need for the Cathedral Spires Trail?

I would say two hours.  It’s 1.6 miles round-trip, so it’s not super long but it does have 410-490 feet of elevation gain.  I’m seeing mixed numbers.  Two hours should give you plenty of time to get up, spend some time there, and back down though.


What’s the best time to hike the Cathedral Spires Trail?

I would say fall because the weather is perfect and you’ll probably be able to see the leaves changing, but spring or summer would be good too. 

Summer it will be nice and green, probably buggy.  And spring might be green if you go at the right time but it could be brown and a little more muddy too.  It’s hard to say but basically not winter because it’s not even accessible then.


I would definitely recommend this hike for everyone that visits the Black Hills.  It’s not too easy, a little challenging, has wonderful scenery, and isn’t all that busy.  This is definitely a highlight of the Needles Highway and all of South Dakota for me so far.

Have you hike the Cathedral Spires Trail?  What did you think of it?  What is your favorite Black Hills hike?

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