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Custer State Park

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Custer State Park Rock Climbing 

Photos:  Recent | Best | Popular
Elevation: 6,173'
Location: 43.8436, -103.5628 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 298,414
Administrators: Andrew Gram, Peter Gram, Greg Parker, Andy Busse, Mike Madsen, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Joey Wolfe on Nov 8, 2007

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You & This Area
Best climbs for YOU in this area
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me on (or in) the needles eye photo credit: chen q...


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.

Climbing Season

Weather station 4.6 miles from here

508 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',118],['3 Stars',253],['2 Stars',107],['1 Star',26],['Bomb',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in Custer State Park

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for Custer State Park:
Hitching Post   5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a     Trad, 1 pitch, 130'   Needles Eye : Hitching Post
Conn Route   5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Photographers' Peak Area : Aquarium Rock
Inner Course   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 1 pitch, 140'   Outlets : Youbet Jorasses
Moonlight Rib   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c R     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Needles Eye : The Fan
Spire Four   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 3 pitches, 210'   Cathedral Spires : Spire Four
Better Than Pool and Pie   5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a     Sport, 1 pitch, 70'   Outlets : Dam - Back Side
Lander Turkey Shoot   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, Sport, 1 pitch, 80'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
East Face   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 3 pitches, 250'   Cathedral Spires : Spire Two
Conn Diagonal   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 3 pitches, 300'   Outlets : Outer Outlet
Tent Peg   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Tent Peg
Kamps Crack (Classic Crack)   5.8- 5b 16 VI- 14 VS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
Cerberus   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Tricouni Nail/Cerberus
Waste Knot    5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, 130'   TOWERS OF TEETH : EPHEL DUATH
Doody Direct   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Needles Eye : Gnomon
Needle's Eye   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c X     Trad, 2 pitches, 100'   Needles Eye : Needle's Eye
God's Own Drunk   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 2 pitches, 320'   Cathedral Spires : Khayyam Spire
Four Little Fishies   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Sport, 1 pitch, 130'   Photographers' Peak Area : Aquarium Rock
Sex Never did this to my hands   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 135'   Outlets : Vertigo View
Nantucket Sleighride   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b R     Trad, 1 pitch, 150'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Moby Dick
Two Year Plan   5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, Sport, 1 pitch, 140'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in Custer State Park

Featured Route For Custer State Park
Rock Climbing Photo: View over part of Ten Pins area at Cathedral Spire...

Tee The Ball 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a  South Dakota : Custer State Park : ... : Someone Else's Peg
The lower crack is fairly easy climbing with great placement options. After climbing for about 25 feet you traverse to the left over a bulge and do a short traverse. This is a bit scary as there aren't too many gear options. Head up again after about 10 feet with good gear placements behind a flake. The crux for me was the face climbing which starts at about half way up the climb on top of the flakes. ...[more]   Browse More Classics in South Dakota

Photos of Custer State Park Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Picket Fence, Harney, Old Baldy, and Rushmore off ...
Picket Fence, Harney, Old Baldy, and Rushmore off ...
Rock Climbing Photo: 1957 Conn guide to the needles.  Amazing piece of ...
1957 Conn guide to the needles. Amazing piece of ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake
Rock Climbing Photo: Pete de Lannoy on the FA of Limited Immunity (5.12...
Pete de Lannoy on the FA of Limited Immunity (5.12...
Rock Climbing Photo: Ahhh international chimney
Ahhh international chimney
Rock Climbing Photo: The Needles Eye
The Needles Eye
Rock Climbing Photo: From the Spires after a spring storm
From the Spires after a spring storm
Rock Climbing Photo: Inner Outlets
Inner Outlets
Rock Climbing Photo: Ten Pins from atop Rubaiyat.
Ten Pins from atop Rubaiyat.
Rock Climbing Photo: Paul Muehl and his ever-present cigarette, Custer ...
Paul Muehl and his ever-present cigarette, Custer ...
Rock Climbing Photo: From the top of Spire Four.
From the top of Spire Four.
Rock Climbing Photo: Classic Needle
Classic Needle
Rock Climbing Photo: In Category: Trad Quality: Medium Description: Dif...
In Category: Trad Quality: Medium Description: Dif...
Rock Climbing Photo: Sylvan Lake area
Sylvan Lake area
Rock Climbing Photo: Cluster of evergreen berries.... Custer State Park...
Cluster of evergreen berries.... Custer State Park...
Rock Climbing Photo: spire 7 conn route
spire 7 conn route
Rock Climbing Photo: hero is spelled herb and jan conn, lindsay on anot...
hero is spelled herb and jan conn, lindsay on anot...
Rock Climbing Photo: Just another pic of the Spires
Just another pic of the Spires
Rock Climbing Photo: Cathedral Spires
Cathedral Spires
Rock Climbing Photo: Bus Stop
Bus Stop
Rock Climbing Photo: Early Oct. 07
Early Oct. 07
Rock Climbing Photo: Super beautiful Needles.
Super beautiful Needles.
Rock Climbing Photo: Pine fruits, Custer State Park, June 2010.  Photo ...
Pine fruits, Custer State Park, June 2010. Photo ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Very vibrant blue flowers, Custer State park, June...
Very vibrant blue flowers, Custer State park, June...

Show All 34 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on Custer State Park Add Comment
Show which comments
Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated May 16, 2017
By Peter Dodge
From: Duluth, MN
Feb 6, 2008
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.
By Chris treggE
From: Madison, WI
Feb 9, 2008
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?
By John Klooster
From: Arvada, CO
Feb 9, 2008
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.
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Feb 9, 2008
At this point the content of this website is as helpful as any guidebook currently in print.
By DanD
Feb 23, 2008
Couldn't agree with you more!
By russellHOBART
From: Durham, NC
Mar 5, 2008
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
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Mar 6, 2008
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.
By Scott Bennett
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,
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Apr 28, 2009

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

By DakotaToni
From: Rapid City
May 3, 2009

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

By Greg Corn
Feb 22, 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.
By Jon Marek
From: Sioux Falls, SD
Feb 26, 2010
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.
By eric larson
From: aurora, co
May 16, 2011
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
By erik rieger
From: Ridgway, CO
Jun 27, 2013
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.
By Adam J. Clark
From: Mill Creek, WA
Jul 18, 2013
Making a trip out here in a month, specifically the cathedral spires area, can anyone recommend a guidebook or climbing stores nearby.
By Mike Madsen
From: Rapid City
Jul 18, 2013
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.
By Adam J. Clark
From: Mill Creek, WA
Aug 5, 2013
Thank you very much for the information and advice, do you have recommendations for reasonable camping nearby?
By Jim Slichter
From: Hill City, SD
Jan 17, 2014
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!
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Jan 18, 2014
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.
By Idaho Bob
From: McCall, ID
Apr 25, 2014
Thinking of heading down next year, mid-April to mid-May. Is the snow usually gone by that time?
By Mike Madsen
From: Rapid City
May 26, 2015
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!
By Mike Madsen
From: Rapid City
May 26, 2015
The Milky way area is up by Sylvan Lake off Trail number 9.
By Ryan Emery
From: Black Hills, SD
Aug 31, 2015
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.
By Chris treggE
From: Madison, WI
Aug 19, 2016
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.
By Mike Madsen
From: Rapid City
Aug 27, 2016
patience.... I have two copies and both were $40.oo on amazon great condition with maps ;)
By Chris treggE
From: Madison, WI
Sep 16, 2016
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.
By 1Eric Rhicard
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?
By Joel McKillop
From: Spearfish, SD
May 16, 2017
Hooks and hand drills only. No rap bolting.

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