Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
The crisp, cool morning air rustled the tall grass around me as I tightened the laces on my boots and stood up to admire the trail ahead of me. Harney Peak, South Dakota’s tallest point and the highest point east of the Rockies, was visible in the distance, and called out for me to push for the summit.
There are two routes up Harney Peak, the shorter access point from the South totals 3.5 miles each way, while the longer, arguably more scenic and less traveled route from the North totals just 5 miles each way. Graced with good weather and plenty of time, I opted to start from the North trailhead and wind my way up, up, and up.
Within the first mile, I lost all sights and sounds of the nearby highway and was fully immersed in the nature experience. The sweet smell of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen trees filled the air, and other than the occasional squirrel who crossed my path, I had the trail all to myself.
Large granite spires and boulders flanked the trail on my hike up, constantly drawing my gaze. My two hour hike up 2,200 feet went by in a flash, and suddenly I was standing at the base of the stone fire tower that tops the peak. While on a clear day the view from the top of Harney Peak allows hikers to see unencumbered for miles, my sightseeing was unfortunately cut short by building cloud cover. My decision to hastily eat a snack and descend proved wise though, and I was able to not only beat the weather back down the mountain, but to get ahead of it and enjoy mostly clear skies for my entire descent.
Another 5 miles and 2 hours later, I loosened and removed my boots, opting instead for sandals, gazing once more at the beautiful peak that had provided such an adventure for the morning.