If you are visiting the southern Black Hills, Cathedral Spires is an area within Custer State Park that should definitely be on your itinerary.  Whether just driving through, or looking for a simple hike that will allow you to breathe in some South Dakota air, you won’t be disappointed in what you will find on the Cathedral Spires trail.

Cathedral Spires from Trail #4
Cathedral Spires from Trail #4

The trail is located within an area of Custer State Park known as the Needles.  Likewise, it can be found on Needles Highway.  The easiest route from Hill City, SD is to continue on Hwy 385 until it comes to Hwy 87 (closed during the winter months).  Turn east (left) onto 87 for almost 6 miles, then turn left again to stay on 87.  From this last turn, at 2.4 miles you will come to a parking area and the trailhead for Cathedral Spires.

Cathedral Spires Trailhead
Cathedral Spires Trailhead

The trail is approximately 1.5 miles one way.  It is considered a spur trail, or a one way trail.  At 1.5 miles you will reach an end.  There is literally a wooden sign in a tree that reads ‘End of Trail.’  There is a point on the trail that branches and will connect you with the Harney Peak hiking trails.  According to the Custer State Hiking maps, the initial portion of the Cathedral Spires hike is part of Trail #4 and staying on this part of the trail, you would eventually end up at one of the Little Devil’s Tower trailheads, or at the Sylvan Lake/Harney Peak parking area.  There is a sign at this branch that directs you towards Cathedral Spires or Trail #4.

Cathedral Spires Map
Cathedral Spires Map

What is the Cathedral Spires trail like?

Overall the trail is considered moderate to strenuous.  I believe a good portion of the trail is actually fairly easy, though you do come to several points where you must climb through or over rocks and boulders so it becomes difficult at points.  There is also a gradual gain in elevation throughout the hike which adds to the difficulty or ease of a trail.  Most of the hike is over a dirt worn path.

Cathedral Spires Trail Sign
Cathedral Spires Trail Sign

The animals and vegetation are similar to that which you would or could see throughout Custer State Park.  Because the area is so heavily populated, the animals, for the most part, would consist of deer, mountain goats, and maybe elk.  Most likely the animals have heard you, or fellow hikers, and long since moved on.  You walk through Ponderosa Pine, Spruce, and granite rocks.  Many climbers come to this area to attempt climbing the unique rock formations that have come to be known as the Needles, or Spires.  They are truly amazing and unique and I would definitely agree that they are a ‘must see’ in Custer State Park.

Cathedral Spires Trail
Cathedral Spires Trail

There is no bathroom, and no water, so hike prepared. The Sylvan Lake parking area is relatively close and has both of these amenities.  Also, you are at a high elevation and storms can move in quickly.  Be sure to check the weather before you head out.  There is little to no cell phone service in the area.

Cathedral Spires Scenery
Cathedral Spires Scenery

There is an entrance fee for the park.  A 7 day vehicle pass is $15.  The year long park sticker is $30 and with that you get one half-off sticker.  Potentially, you could get two year long park stickers for $45.  This will get you into any of the South Dakota state parks and will allow you to get to hikes such as Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, Sunday Gulch, Lover’s Leap, and Little Devil’s Tower.  You can also explore everything that Custer State Park has to offer, and in my opinion, the yearly $30 sticker is money well spent, and hours of entertainment.

End of Trail Cathedral Spires
End of Trail Cathedral Spires

The photos will amaze, the views are spectacular, and the pondering is endless.  Seeing the rocks and how they are placed, always leaves me questioning Mother Nature.  How and why she has done and is doing what she does?