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This 3.1-miler in the northwest corner of Custer State Park begins at the Sylvan Lake Trailhead and follows the blue-blazed Trail #4 around colossal boulders and ponderosa pine to the Little Devils Tower Trailhead. Start at this alternate location to shorten the roundtrip by an easy mile. Snaking eastward through quaking aspen and Black Hills spruce, the trail follows a babbling brook and splits in another half mile. This route follows the well-marked lefthand trail toward Little Devils Tower, turning sharply uphill and becoming increasingly rocky underfoot before taking a sharp left though an impressive, cave-like crack that flanks the trail.
Keep an eye on the blue blazes ahead: they mark the scramble through granite clefts and the final ramp to the peak. The summit greets with jaw-droping views of the Cathedral Spires to the southeast and equally stellar of Mt. Rushmore’s backside, the Black Elk Wilderness, and the brick fire-tower atop 7,242-foot Harney Peak just one mile to the north.
For a full-day adventure—and to make the most of the $12.00, 7-day vehicle fee—plan to spend some time at the swimming beach and loop trail around Sylvan Lake before hitting the road.
-Mapped by Steve Johnson
- Distance: 5.1
Location: 43.8459564, -103.5594517
Trail #4 to Little Devils tower begins on the southeast corner of the Sylvan Lake Trailhead. From here, it’s an easy half-mile to the Little Devils Tower trailhead.
Location: 43.8433333, -103.5523707
Continue straight on Trail #4 past the Little Devils Tower Trailhead. Though recreational opportunities at Sylvan Lake make the extra mile worthwhile, many hikers headed for Little Devils Tower, or the longer hike up Harney Peak, begin at this restroom-equipped trailhead.
Location: 43.8473415, -103.5449195
Turn left at this Y-junction following signs to Little Devils Tower. Almost immediately after this point, the rocky trail turns sharply uphill toward the summit. Be prepared for scrambling and catching your breath atop granite outcroppings between here and the top.
Location: 43.850359, -103.5410357
A sharp left-hand jog leads through this slot near mile 1.4. The close-in walls make this an impressive stop for a photo op.
Location: 43.8522004, -103.5383964
The 6,920-foot summit of Little Devils Tower offers impressive views of the Black Hills and surrounding countryside. Stop for a picnic on the granite mound and be sure to wander its expanse for all the best views.
Location: 43.8456082, -103.5583735
Blue Blazes mark the easy, well-trod path from Sylvan Lake. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.8441535, -103.5565281
Impressive rock formations line the trail. Here, a towering outcropping near Sylvan Lake. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.8503281, -103.5409069
The trail passes through through this giant rock formation. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.851566, -103.5385251
Blue blazes mark the sometimes surprising route to the peak, but most hikers–even families–consider the challenge to be the highlight of the trip. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.8522159, -103.5385036
The southeast view of Cathedral Spires from the Little Devils Tower trail. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.852185, -103.5384393
Views of the skyscraper spires from the peak. © Steve Johnson
Location: 43.8522314, -103.5384393
Just one mile north, the brick tower atop Harney Peak, South Dakota’s highest, is an impressive sight from Little Devils Tower. The tower is open to hikers who make the 6-hour trek. © Steve Johnson
The Sylvan Lake loop trail
Location: 43.8449583, -103.5631371
The easy trail around Sylvan Lake makes a family-friendly add-on to this relatively short but strenuous hike. © Steve Johnson