Only 200 feet shorter than nearby Black Elk Peak (a mile to the north), Little Devils Tower has a lot going for it: spectacular 360-degree views that rival those of its neighbor, but about half the distance and with far fewer visitors. If you’re looking to escape the crowds but still be wowed, Little Devils Tower can’t be beat.
Those expecting Little Devils Tower to resemble its namesake outcropping, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, might be disappointed. But there is nothing else about this hike that will be a letdown.
The trailhead is one mile east of Sylvan Lake on Highway 87. Head out on Trail 4, where you’ll follow a creek for the first half-mile. Wildflowers are abundant in the summer months, and you have a good chance of spotting deer – even during the busier tourist season. You’ll see plenty of quaking aspen and spruce, but perhaps the most notable thing about this hike is the mica that sparkles in the sun for most of its course. Quartz is also pretty extensive, making this trek a rockhound’s dream.
The trail grows gradually steeper and eventually splits; head to the left (the sign is well-marked) to continue on to the summit. The closer you get, the steeper the climb becomes; the last quarter-mile will have you scrambling over rocks and the path can become a little confusing, but just look out for blue markers painted on the rocks – they’ll lead you right up to the summit.
Once there, you’ll be amazed by the incredible views, which include forests of ponderosa pine, the granite peaks of Cathedral Spires, and immediately to the north, the ever-popular Black Elk Peak. On a clear day you’ll easily be able to see that mountain’s fire lookout tower.
Little Devils Tower is an out-and-back hike of roughly 3.6 miles with an elevation gain of around 700 feet. If you haven’t had your fill of hiking yet, spur trails can take you to Black Elk Peak or Cathedral Spires.
PROS: Incredible views; sparse crowds; abundant flora and fauna. CONS: A somewhat difficult scramble toward the end requires both hands; adult supervision is a must if you have small children.
Insider’s tip: Bring a pair of binoculars and train them on the fire lookout tower at Black Elk Peak; you can often see people walking around.
The Wow Factor
The panoramic views from the summit of Little Devils Tower are simply amazing. In addition to Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires, the entire southern Black Hills are spread out before you, stretching across the horizon. In the summertime, fields are ablaze with a colorful mix of wildflowers – you’ll find Black Eyed Susan, wild bergamot, wood lilies, Gunnison’s mariposa, and more. Raspberries are plentiful in the late summer. The quaking aspen turn golden-yellow in autumn, a stunning contrast to the deep blue sky common that time of year.
Odds & Ends
Keep in mind there is an entrance fee for Custer State Park. A temporary seven-day pass is $20 and an annual entrance license is $36 (buy one and get a second for $18).
Dogs are welcome but must be leashed.
Keep an eye on the weather, which is very changeable in the Black Hills. Thunderstorms can develop quickly, and are often accompanied by large hail. A 7,000-foot summit is no place to be in that kind of weather!
Don’t forget these essentials: Mosquito repellant, camera, water to keep you hydrated!