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Areas in Custer State Park

Cathedral Spires 98 / 6 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 100
Cracked Spire 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0
Custer State Park Ice Climbing 1 / 0 / 2 / 0 / 6 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 6
Grace Basin 0 / 0 / 0 / 6 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 6
Little Devils Tower Area 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 2
Moonlight Ridge 10 / 21 / 7 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 33
Needles Eye Area 33 / 19 / 2 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 49
Picket Fence 15 / 4 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 19
Pilgrims Progress 0 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 1
Pinpoint Pinnacle 5 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 5
Playhouse Boulders, The 0 / 0 / 0 / 7 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 7
Sylvan Lake 133 / 73 / 6 / 49 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 232
Tenpins/Switchbacks 37 / 20 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 53
Valley View Dome 1 / 0 / 0 / 1 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 0 / 1
Elevation: 6,173 ft
GPS: 43.844, -103.563 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 316,352 total · 2,527/month
Shared By: Joey Wolfe on Nov 8, 2007
Admins: Andrew Gram, Peter Gram, Greg Parker, Andy Busse, Mike Madsen, Mark Rafferty
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Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a climbing area like no other, The Needles. From Sylvan Lake a road called the Needles Highway winds through spectacular and spell binding towers and spires. From this road climbers can access a playground of unparalleled face climbing on ever narrowing spires by way of quartz crystals ranging from tiny to hand sized. The area is steeped in a rich history dating back to Fitz Wiessner's accent of the Totem Pole in 1936. The area was then home to the prolific Herb and Jan Conn, two climbers way ahead of their time, who put up over 200 first ascents from their first visit in 1947 and eventual move to the area in 1949. In the 1960's climbers such as Royal Robins, John Gill, And Henry Barber put up routes that still wow climbers today with their high "pucker factor". Locals such as Paul Muehl John Page, And Bob Archbold made their contributions to the Needle's catalog of bold climbs during the 70's and into the 80's with the likes of Pete Delonney.The Needles has long been know for its purist ethics, which has made for some wild climbs and a Needles' staple, the infamous simul-rap. As Jan Conn said,"You can climb anything in the Needles, if you have the guts."
Custer SP is a world class destination not only for the climbing but also the absolute beauty of the place. Once there, the friendly people of Custer, the interesting scenery, and the relaxed park staff will make it hard to leave.
While buying my $15 7 day pass, I told a ranger why I was there. While we prepared to pull away he smiled and said, "You guys can go anywhere you want!" Yeah, if we have the guts.

Getting There

Once in Custer take Hwy 89/385 east out of town and then left on to Hwy 89 north to the Sylvan Lake entrance to Custer SP. From here is where the Needles Hwy starts and heads south.

514 Total Climbs

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Classic Climbing Routes at Custer State Park

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a
Conn Route
Trad 2 pitches
5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a
Hitching Post
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c
Spire Four
Trad 3 pitches
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c
Inner Course
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c R
Moonlight Rib
5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a
Better Than Pool and Pie
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
Lander Turkey Shoot
Trad, Sport
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
East Face
Trad 3 pitches
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Conn Diagonal
Trad 3 pitches
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Tent Peg
5.8- 5b 16 VI- 14 VS 4c
Kamps Crack (Classic Crack)
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
Waste Knot
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
God's Own Drunk
Trad 2 pitches
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
Four Little Fishies
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
Conn Route Sylvan Lake > Photographers' Pe… > Aquarium Rock
5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a Trad 2 pitches
Hitching Post Needles Eye Area > Hitching Post
5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a Trad
Spire Four Cathedral Spires > Spire Four
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c Trad 3 pitches
Inner Course Sylvan Lake > Outlets > Youbet Jorasses
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c Trad
Moonlight Rib Needles Eye Area > Fan
5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c R Trad
Better Than Pool and Pie Sylvan Lake > Outlets > Dam - Back Side
5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a Sport
Lander Turkey Shoot Sylvan Lake > Outlets > Inner Outlet
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b Trad, Sport
East Face Cathedral Spires > Spire Two
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b Trad 3 pitches
Conn Diagonal Sylvan Lake > Outlets > Outer Outlet
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b Trad 3 pitches
Tent Peg Tenpins/Switchbacks > Tent Peg
5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b Trad
Kamps Crack (Classic Crack) Sylvan Lake > Outlets > Inner Outlet
5.8- 5b 16 VI- 14 VS 4c Trad
Cerberus Tenpins/Switchbacks > Tricouni Nail/Cerberus
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad
Waste Knot Sylvan Lake > … > TOWERS OF TEETH > EPHEL DUATH
5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Sport
God's Own Drunk Cathedral Spires > Khayyam Spire
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad 2 pitches
Four Little Fishies Sylvan Lake > Photographers' Pe… > Aquarium Rock
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Sport
More Classic Climbs in Custer State Park »

Weather Averages

Days w Precip
Prime Climbing Season


Joel McKillop
Spearfish, SD
Joel McKillop   Spearfish, SD
Hooks and hand drills only. No rap bolting. May 16, 2017
Is everyone rap bolting now? The one true local who was raised in Hill City doesn't care how they go up. Just wondering if there is still a group of route police or if I can put routes up the way I want? Aggressive Tendoncies was put up by me on lead, ground up drilling on lead with a hook for pro now and then. When accused of hanging on that hook The accuser almost got a fist sandwich for lunch. Did the "rules" make it a better route? I don't think so, just more run out. Just curious if I will need to work on my left hook if I come up his summer? May 16, 2017
Chris treggE
Madison, Beersconsin
Chris treggE   Madison, Beersconsin  
Oh yeah, I'm not saying it's cheap. Best one I found was $5 with maps from a Goodwill in Kansas a few years ago. It's just cheap-er if someone were looking. Sep 16, 2016
Mike Madsen
Rapid City
Mike Madsen   Rapid City  
patience.... I have two copies and both were $40.oo on amazon great condition with maps ;) Aug 27, 2016
Chris treggE
Madison, Beersconsin
Chris treggE   Madison, Beersconsin  
Amazon Canada has the Touch the Sky guidebook for $82 right now…

That's about the cheapest I've seen it in a long while if anyone is interested in a historical guidebook of the Needles. Not sure if this one has the maps in it or not. Doesn't seem like it. Aug 19, 2016
Ryan Emery
Black Hills, SD
Ryan Emery   Black Hills, SD
Two ropes were found on the summit of Conn Diagonal. For others new to the area, the two bolt hangers that you see after the finger crack that i believe is 5.8 are not rappel anchors. There are nice rap anchors after doing a little step across on the summit. I would not recommend putting ropes through the hangers!!! If these are your ropes please contact me at 6059399698 by text to identify them. Aug 31, 2015
Mike Madsen
Rapid City
Mike Madsen   Rapid City  
The Milky way area is up by Sylvan Lake off Trail number 9. May 26, 2015
Mike Madsen
Rapid City
Mike Madsen   Rapid City  
Annie the granite out here dries very fast. Its common for summer rain storms to move in for a brief moment and if you give it a couple of hours your back climbing. Looks like good weather ahead good luck! May 26, 2015
Idaho Bob
McCall, ID
Idaho Bob   McCall, ID
Thinking of heading down next year, mid-April to mid-May. Is the snow usually gone by that time? Apr 25, 2014
Brent Kertzman
Black Hills, SD
Brent Kertzman   Black Hills, SD
Jim, I know how to get to "Lean and Mean" and the "Three Stooges". Give me a call at 605-430-6690 and we can talk. I do have a copy of Herb's map for the "Crested Crest Ridge" with both of these formations plus many others with plums ripe for the plucking. Jan 18, 2014
Jim Slichter
Hill City, SD
Jim Slichter   Hill City, SD
I am in the process of trying to locate some of the climbs that were done "back in the day" like in the 70's and 80's. Here are the missing climbs and any information I could find on them.
- Dislocated Peak - somewhere in the Outlets
- Toodaloo - near Budweiser spire
- 3 Stooges - no info available
- Milkyway Area - maybe near Frontier View?
- Groovey Rock and Mohawk Ridge - maybe the last FA's the Conns ever did back in 1986 with Paul Muehl
- Lean and Mean - north of trail #3

If you know anything about these climbs or areas, I would appreciate it if you could send it to me. Thanks for your help everyone! Jan 17, 2014
Adam J. Clark
Mill Creek, WA
Adam J. Clark   Mill Creek, WA
Thank you very much for the information and advice, do you have recommendations for reasonable camping nearby? Aug 5, 2013
Mike Madsen
Rapid City
Mike Madsen   Rapid City  
Granite Sports in Hill City is the best climbing store in the area. Their workers are very knowledgable and some are even guides. If you have never climbed in the Cathedral Spires I would get some information. This area is complex and has a alpine feel with the hike in. It's very easy to get lost and turned around. Pick a few routes/ formations you want to do VS one specific route. If you don't find your route and don't have back up routes easy to waste away the day attempting to find routes. My two cents.
-Mike Jul 18, 2013
Adam J. Clark
Mill Creek, WA
Adam J. Clark   Mill Creek, WA
Making a trip out here in a month, specifically the cathedral spires area, can anyone recommend a guidebook or climbing stores nearby.
Thanks Jul 18, 2013
erik rieger
Ridgway, CO
erik rieger   Ridgway, CO
I remember being super hesitant to travel all the way to the Needles my first time (What—South Dakota? Rockclimbing?). However, after climbing close to 20-or-so odd towers in a couple days, camping at Poverty Gulch (the free Camp 4 of the Needles), and being touted around by a young local to the best climbs, it still stands out as one of the most awesome and memorable climbing venues I've ever been to. There are so many standout climbs here. Jun 27, 2013
eric larson
aurora, co
eric larson   aurora, co
Might be making my way through here mid July.. Whats the best guide book for the area? Is there a book that might include some rushmore area routes as well?

PM please! thanks May 16, 2011
Jon Marek
Sioux Falls, SD
Jon Marek   Sioux Falls, SD
Contrary to popular opinion, I love the new book. All the routes I have personally done from the book were very accurately described (in some cases i felt possibly too much so.) Spire two is a classic 5.3 Conn route but the approach may be a bit much for kids. If you want a great guide to moderate Conn route including those at sylvan, you should get Lindsey Steven's The Adventure Climbs of Herb and Jan Conn. There are lots of camping options. As far as bouldering goes the best info is probably on the site somewhere. Feb 26, 2010
i have some questions hopefully someone could help with:
Our family is coming down to the area in July 2010 from Canada. I have the new Needles guidebook(which is very funny and unique) but it lacks some routes around Sylvan lake.
Where do I find info on that Conn 5.3 route? or where some of the sport climbs are exactly located, i don't wanna take a wandering mission with kids.
Also where is the bouldering near Sylvan Lake?
What is the best campground in this general area?
I have the Rushmore guide from 1996, i must say it is sensory overload and I can see it being interesting to follow. Sorry just my opinion.
Greg Feb 22, 2010
Rapid City
DakotaToni   Rapid City

Check out…. You may want to schedule your trip around this event, or sign up to volunteer.

Toni May 3, 2009
Brent Kertzman
Black Hills, SD
Brent Kertzman   Black Hills, SD

Wrinkled Rock Trailhead which is located at the northwest corner of Mt. Rushmore N.M. is a free designated climbers bivouac zone. You may camp in a tent or van but RVs are not allowed. There is a pit toilet but no water source.

As for pay camp grounds there are multiple options in Custer State Park. Horsetheif Resort and Ft. Welikit are the closest commercial campgrounds to CSP/Needles.

The weather in August can be hot but it is possible to chase the shade or start early to beat the heat. The climbing in the Harney Range lends itself well to face climbing but there are a number of great trad routes. There are over 2000 routes in the Harney Range offering much diversity and multiple different areas. If you need more beta please feel free to contact me at

Brent Apr 28, 2009
Hey guys-
I'm looking for a little beta on camping, hopefully of the free variety. What's the scene? Is there any free/very cheap camping within reasonable distance of the state park?
I'm looking at coming here on an extended roadtrip, probably sometime in August. Would it be too hot then? How long could I stay here and be entertained (mostly looking at leading 11-12ish, preferably trad)?
Thanks in advance for the great beta,
-Scott Apr 28, 2009
Brent Kertzman
Black Hills, SD
Brent Kertzman   Black Hills, SD
Sorry not much rock will be in shape the weekend of 03/08/08 as we've had a good bit of snow the past couple of days. There just aren't many multi pitch routes here either. Mar 6, 2008
Durham, NC
russellHOBART   Durham, NC
Winter routes?

I am going to be in the area the weekend of March 8-10. What would the good winter/south-facing routes in the Custer and Rushmore area? My primary interest would be in multi-pitch up to 5.9. Thank you very much for whatever help you can provide.

-Russell Hobart Mar 5, 2008
Couldn't agree with you more! Feb 23, 2008
Brent Kertzman
Black Hills, SD
Brent Kertzman   Black Hills, SD
At this point the content of this website is as helpful as any guidebook currently in print. Feb 9, 2008
John Klooster
Arvada, CO
John Klooster   Arvada, CO
The new book is not that great. It has quite a bit of misinformation and leaves out a huge number of great routes. The book does not include the outlets or other awesome areas near Sylvan Lake. Another guide book that written by non-locals and supporting a new area above the Needles Eye that was put in against the ethics of the area. Sorry for my rant. The old Dingus McGee and The Last Pioneer Women blue book is a pretty good although small guide, you can probably find it at most local shops. Feb 9, 2008
Chris treggE
Madison, Beersconsin
Chris treggE   Madison, Beersconsin  
How much money you got? Paul Piana's Touch the Sky, although old, has excellent history and a lot of the classics. It's out of print. Make sure if you buy it that the price includes the maps. Check Amazon or Every once in a while you find one for $5-$10 if the seller is unaware. Otherwise... There is a new one by Zach Orenczak but I have no idea how good or accurate it is. Any locals out there? Feb 9, 2008
Peter Dodge
Duluth, MN
Peter Dodge   Duluth, MN
I'm going to be taking a trip to Custer State Park in the summer. I'm looking for a guide book... any suggestions on which one to get and where to get it? I'm looking for a place with some easy routes because I'm going with the family... Which area has the best "easy" routes? Thanks. Feb 6, 2008

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