The Peak: 7,242 feet
Sioux Native Americans call the southwest corner of the state Paha Sapa, or “hills that are black,” but the name doesn’t prepare you for the jumbled collection of towering granite spires that fill the Black Hills National Forest. The spectacular serpentine drive through Custer State Park to the trailhead at Sylvan Lake leaves you gasping for superlatives. The 3-mile trail twists through thick stands of ponderosa pine, gains 1,100 feet, and tops off at a surreal fortresslike structure, the highest point east of the Rockies.
Black Elk, the Oglala medicine man who fought at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, called this spot the “center of the universe.” In fact, Harney Peak is not far from the precise geographical center of the United States. His description of a vision he had on the summit, from the book Black Elk Speaks: “Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw…. I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.”