Cathedral Spires – Black Hills
A quick two-mile round-trip hike in Custer State Park takes you to Cathedral Spires, a group of granite towers that were formed two-billion years ago. These towers were later covered by soft limestone, and then even later on eroded down to the tall granite spires that we see today. These towers stretch hundreds of feet above the ground and are often passed by as thousands of tourists race by on Highway 87. The short trail starts at the busy Cathedral Spires Trailhead and leads upwards between the shoulder of two craggy granite walls. Leaving the trailhead, the trail heads uphill briefly.
Once you’ve hiked less than a quarter of a mile down the trail, the trail leads downhill. This is never a good sign when you know that your goal is 500 ft above the trailhead! Fortunately, you only lose thirty or so feet of elevation before the trail again leads uphill. This trail is considered moderate by many, but a person in good shape would consider this an easy trail. Trail descriptions are very relative; an easy trail for a fit adult might be a difficult trail for an overweight or out of shape adult. Take this into consideration when you read a trail description; there is rarely any math involved in the trail classification. Instead, most descriptions rely on how difficult the trail writer themselves thought the trail to be. As you hike downhill and then start back uphill, the trail now turns into a set of stairs.
These stairs devolve into boulders and obstacles that some small children or dogs may need help climbing. A pre-teen child or middle-sized dog will have no problem hopping their way uphill, though. After a little less than a mile, the trail flattens, and you can fully appreciate the Cathedral Spires. The scenery here is honestly hard to describe, and pictures do not do it justice. Dozens of pinnacles rise above, encircling you and the valley below. When I hiked this trail, I spent at least half an hour staring at the tall spires and soaking in the scenery. The trail reaches an intersection where, if you go straight through the intersection, you can get a better look at the Cathedral Spires.
After you’ve spent some time walking among the Cathedral Spires (and hopefully taken many pictures), you can re-trace your steps back to the trailhead. If you’re in for more adventure, Black Elk Peak can be reached via a short spur trail off of Trail 4 (as you head uphill, look for it), you can also turn left on Trail 4 to Little Devil’s Tower, or you can always climb one of the spires in this awesome canyon. If none of these options appeal to you, and you would rather drive further down the Needles Highway, there is no shame in making the Cathedral Spires a quick day hike that the whole family can appreciate. Remember to pick up any trash you see along the trail; let’s keep this inspiring landscape as pristine as possible.
Directions to the Cathedral Spires Trailhead
Drive 7.2 miles south on Highway 87 inside Custer State Park to the busy parking lot on the right side of the road. A $20 weekly permit is required to enter Custer State Park.