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South Dakota Rock Climbing 

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South Dakota may not be the first place that comes to mind for world class climbing, but few places are blessed with the amount of varied and classic climbing present in the Black Hills. With a strong history formed around many of the great pioneers of climbing.

In the 1930s On his way to free climb Devils Tower Fritz Wiessner stopped by and did several notable ascents in the area. Check out Oltons shoulder at Mount Rushmore the formation gets its name from the 1936 Original Route in which Fritz stood on Percy Olton's shoulders as a point of aid to gain the starting crack. Another story is on what was thought to be the first ascent of inner outlet. Fritz was climbing and noticed a ladder made from logs on the way up. Disgusted he knocked it off thinking he was bagging the first ascent.

Herb and Jan Conn some of america's first dirt bag climbers were passing through to Devils Tower and the Tetons. They were impressed with the natural beauty of the Hills. They liked the easy access and many unclimbed summits. They ended up settling in the Hills and mapping and recording the Black Hills climbing.Through the 1940s-1950s they established 219 first ascents in very bold style. This included a 60ft rope, tennis shoes, pitons,carabiners and bowline on a bight for a (harness). The Conn Diagonal is worth checking out as well as East Gruesome both should be on the top climbs list of the midwest. Remember the Conns always down climbed everything and never rappelled. It was good practice for the times when you get in over your head and needed to downclimb.

The Needles in the southern hills is host to runout face climbing on impressively skinny spires, the largest of which can be 3-4 pitches long. Mt Rushmore is home to hundreds of well protected sport routes, and perhaps has the best concentration of memorable, high quality 5.6-5.9 sport routes on earth. Old Baldy near Mt Rushmore is the premier bouldering area in the hills - spectacular enough to inspire Kurt Smith's film: Friction Addiction: Black Hills Gold.

Moving north, the granite fades away to limestone canyons and the odd chunks of sandstone. Outside of Rapid City offers a few obscure bouldering and rope climbing crags.

FALLING ROCK Small limestone crag near Rapid City provides a nice pump on vertical edgy limestone. The rock is a little chossy when compared to other limestone crags in the Hills but a couple of fun routes exist here. Some are even mixed routes.Expect majority to be Top Rope with a handful or sport / mixed routes. Gorgeous views of Rapid Creek and the surrounding hills and even a couple of bouldering problems. Please pack out all trash! Lots of teens tend to party here be the better person and don't litter!

THE ROCK MAZE along Nemo Road has juggy steep sandstone bouldering, and few crowds. The rock maze gets its name from the labyrinth made from the sandstone corridors.You could spend a day just in the maze itself bouldering. This is the premier ( most traveled and developed) sandstone area in the Hills. With a good 200 established boulder problems ranging from V0-V9

VICTORIA CANYON (THE VC) just minutes outside Rapid City on Sheridan Lake Road; which hosts impressive limestone sport climbing and is a contender with Rifle, Colorado climbing. Steep shelf like climbing on beautiful blue limestone that at times can mimic Spain. A true hardman crag with only a handful of 5.10s. It has been called the "5.12 mans crag" hosting numerous 5.12s and the hardest established line a Chuck Fryberger line called, Thin Red Line 5.13c. You can camp right above the canyon as well it is in National Forest Land.No water or open fires prohibited. Make sure to have a positive impact and pack in EVERYTHING. Stay on trails and don't trample vegetation in the canyon. Leave No Trace Ethics.

SPEARFISH CANYON The crown jewel of the northern hills is the Canyon, which has a huge concentration of high quality sport routes in the 5.6 - 5.14 range in a lovely picturesque canyon. Some of the best climbs tend to be in the 5.7-5.14b range on some of the midwest's highest quality be on steep limestone. In the winter, Spearfish Canyon has a number of good ice climbing routes as well.

And lastly, just over the state line in Wyoming is the iconic, monolith, Devil's Tower.


There is camping at Mount Rushmore. This can be found at the Wrinkled Rock climbers camp. There are 4 platforms for tents and it is also open to primitive camping as well. NO OOPEN FIRES PERMITTED! Please clean up after yourselves and show the monument that we can keep a clean camp ground. There is no water provided at this campground. Bathroom facilities are done by a single out house bathroom.

The Wrinkled Rock Climbers Trailhead is located on State Highway 244, adjacent to the west boundary of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Granite Sports in Hill City South Dakota is the main gear shop in the Hills. They offer an assortment of clothing options, Climbing gear, Guidebooks, Shoes, Ropes and even a Bargain Cave! The staff is super friendly and are always willing to answer questions. Check their website out here:



Spearfish City Campground
404 South Canyon Street
Beautiful shaded campground nestled on the banks of Spearfish Creek and on the outskirts of town. Spearfish Creek is one of the best trout fishing creeks in the Black Hills. This campground has amenities such as, restrooms, free showers, soda machines, ice machines, fire wood, internet access and a sewer dump. It has 61 full sites, 56 hook up sites and 150 non hook up camp sites. The campground is open year round starting in May-Sept. Full amenities will be available. In the "off" season the campground is open for a minimal fee and no amenities.

I-90, Exit 12, West eight blocks to the Canyon Street stoplight (second light), turn left and go nine blocks south on Canyon Street past the Spearfish City Park and across the bridge.

Rushmore Mountain Sports and Alpine Coffee
505 Main Street
Spearfish, SD 57783
M-F 9am-5:30pm
Great shop that specializes in bikes but has an assortment of climbing gear and the canyon guidebook. It is connected to Alpine Coffee so grab your gear, guide and coffee all in one place! Check out their website:

Climbing Season

For the All Locations area.

Weather station 10.0 miles from here

2,565 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',440],['3 Stars',1204],['2 Stars',649],['1 Star',213],['Bomb',9]

Classic Climbing Routes in South Dakota

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for South Dakota:
Get Punk'd   V3-4 6A+ PG13     Boulder, 20'   The Sign Boulders : Punks In The Park Boulder
Spire Four   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 3 pitches, 210'   Cathedral Spires : Spire Four
Second Hand Rose Arete   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Sport, 1 pitch, 155'   South Seas : Hornets Nest
Weird Water   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 1 pitch, 140'   Marker : Middle Marker Area
Conn Diagonal   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 3 pitches, 300'   Outlets : Outer Outlet
Gossamer   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, Sport, 1 pitch, 40'   Monster : Picture Window
Kamps Crack (Classic Crack)   5.8- 5b 16 VI- 14 VS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
Needle's Eye   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c X     Trad, 2 pitches, 100'   Needles Eye : Needle's Eye
Star Dancer   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, TR, 1 pitch, 105'   Marker : Middle Marker Area
Waste Knot    5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, 130'   TOWERS OF TEETH : EPHEL DUATH
Waves   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, 2 pitches, 180'   South Seas : Shipyard Rock
Cerberus   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Tricouni Nail/Cerberus
Garfield Goes To Washington   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 3 pitches, 400'   Emancipation : White House Wall
God's Own Drunk   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 2 pitches, 320'   Cathedral Spires : Khayyam Spire
Baba Cool   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Sport, 1 pitch, 60'   Chopping Block : Chopping Block
Pakistani Route   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Sport, 1 pitch, 95'   Sunshine : Big Black Face
Yippey-Kay-Yay   5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b     Sport, 70'   The Mohican : Lady In Red
Barber Route   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b X     Trad, 160'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Superpin
Mr. Critical   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Sport, 1 pitch, 140'   South Seas : Hornets Nest
Last of the Mohicans   5.12a 7a+ 25 VIII+ 25 E5 6a     Sport, 1 pitch, 45'   The Mohican : Indian Wars Wall
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in South Dakota

Featured Route For South Dakota
Rock Climbing Photo: Boulder 1 with routes a, b, and c (blue, yellow, r...

Five Alive V4 6B  South Dakota : The Needles Of Rushmore : ... : FIVE ALIVE BOULDER
Begin on the chalked holds near the arete, then make a left-ward reach to a nice side-pull. Work up the arete with the right hand and delicately stand to reach the lip. Easy and fun top-out....[more]   Browse More Classics in South Dakota

Photos of South Dakota Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Classic skinny Needle's spire.
Classic skinny Needle's spire.
Rock Climbing Photo: Nate Renner sticking the throw on Powers That Be. ...
Nate Renner sticking the throw on Powers That Be. ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Cathedral Spires from the north.
Cathedral Spires from the north.
Rock Climbing Photo: Behind spire Five.  Is there any room left for new...
Behind spire Five. Is there any room left for new...
Rock Climbing Photo:
Rock Climbing Photo: The Harney Range from Breezy Point including West ...
The Harney Range from Breezy Point including West ...
Rock Climbing Photo: Reggie on DT not in SD but a good shot I thought.
Reggie on DT not in SD but a good shot I thought.
Rock Climbing Photo: Sea cliff climbing in Nemo?
Sea cliff climbing in Nemo?
Rock Climbing Photo: Gossamer
Rock Climbing Photo: Black Hills Limestone.
Black Hills Limestone.
Rock Climbing Photo: Estes Creek
Estes Creek
Rock Climbing Photo: Sweet hands and fingers over a couple of roofs 10a...
Sweet hands and fingers over a couple of roofs 10a...
Rock Climbing Photo: Susi's Garden: New route in White House Wall, in E...
Susi's Garden: New route in White House Wall, in E...
Rock Climbing Photo: Rocky ridge
Rocky ridge
Rock Climbing Photo: Topping out on East Gruesome
Topping out on East Gruesome
Rock Climbing Photo: pain in the glass - stateline boulders
pain in the glass - stateline boulders
Rock Climbing Photo: looking south from spires
looking south from spires
Rock Climbing Photo: Community Cave looking good
Community Cave looking good
Rock Climbing Photo: Elk Creek
Elk Creek
Rock Climbing Photo: Harney Peak from the Cathedral Spires
Harney Peak from the Cathedral Spires
Rock Climbing Photo: This is Kieth doing Pratt's crack on Photographer'...
This is Kieth doing Pratt's crack on Photographer'...
Rock Climbing Photo: John Andersen on the second ascent of Northern Lig...
John Andersen on the second ascent of Northern Lig...
Rock Climbing Photo: Estes Creek
Estes Creek
Rock Climbing Photo: Bouldering

Show All 131 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on South Dakota Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Sep 18, 2016
By David Monger
Sep 29, 2006
Horribly, another Black Hills legend has fallen. Loretta Muehl was REAL. She was one of the most talented people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I knew her as an incredible artist,teacher and sailor. I only new Loretta for thirteen years but her generosity and kindness were unequaled and her views on life constantly entertained me. If you are a frequent visitor to the hills you have undoubtedly heard "Renn Fenton" stories. I would like to quickly share a "Loretta" story. As I said earlier Loretta was real and my favorite example of this was the plaque that she kept on her desk at school that read "what you think of me is none of my business". My only solace in this tragedy is knowing that she is with her beloved Paul now. Loretta, thanks for all of the good times, you will be missed more than you will ever know.

Dave,Sumer and the Girls
By Aaron Costello
From: Rapid City, SD
May 10, 2007
Check out the Black Hills Climber's Coalition Website, it's finally being updated!
By Peter Arndt
Jul 25, 2007

In 1967 Peter Cleveland led Superpin (5.10d or 5.11 X) which at the time was arguably one of the boldest climbs in the country. The story of how Cleveland send belayer Ron Cox out to the road so he could view the success and not the failure (death fall) is a classic in the history of North American rock climbing. It is well documented in Pat Ament's book "Wizards of Rock".

I do not know the exact date in 1967 so perhaps the 40 year mark has come and gone.

Cleveland went on to put up very hard climbs at Devils Lake (Wisconsin).
According to Ament in 1967 or 1968 Peter did a top rope ascent of "Death Lead 2000" (unrated) but possibly America's first 5.13. In 1968 Cleveland put up "Bagatelle" 5.12, a true Devils Lake testpiece.

Cleveland still lives here in Baraboo and can be seen cragging at the lake and still "pullin down hard".

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary to Peter. (Perhaps this could be mentioned at the upcoming Pumpfest 2007 in the Hills)
By joelhagan Hagan
From: Rapid City, SD
Jan 3, 2008
Check out the profile of the Herb and Jan at the end of the new Climbing. They've been getting lots of exposure in Climbing, Alpinist, and NPR. It's nice to see some Black Hills explorers/icons getting recognition. Pretty soon they'll be wearing shades and signing autographs!
By Greg Parker
Mar 3, 2008
Hello all. I have a bunch of old climbing footage from the Canyon and Baldy that I've been converting to digital. I thought I would throw some of the more interesting stuff onto YouTube. The digital conversion kind of sucks, but I figured there might be a few of you out there that would be psyched to see it. So far, I only have a couple of vids up; one of me on Gale Force (13a) and one of Jeremiah on F5 (12d/13a) at the Thunderhead. I'll continue to post more videos as I get the time. The link for Gale Force is as follows, and I think you can then find the other videos through my username, Sidekickstinky. Hope you enjoy!

By Michael Houdyshell
From: Rapid City, SD
Apr 17, 2008
Just opened up the latest issue of Climbing. I always love to see some more local guys getting their due. Nice work, Jason and Luke.
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Jun 24, 2008
Another climbing legend passed on today. Paul Duval died of injuries sustained when he rappeled off the end of an unequalized rope at Moonlight Ridge in the Needles of SD today. He had set up a rappel using someone elses rope that had multiple markings and it appears that he short roped one side due the selection of the wrong rope marking which he assumed was the middle mark. It sounds like he died very quick. Our prayers go out to his family, Karen and all of us who loved him. Paul was a very humble and gentle man. His contributions to rock climbing were numerous. We will miss him.
By Mike McNeil
From: Spearfish, South Dakota
Jun 25, 2008
Well said Brent. I only met Paul a couple of times. Once was with you at the Gash and the other was at the needles on Father's Day this year. He seemed very motivated and sincere. We were doing Pratt's Crack on Photographer's and we chatted for about a half hour. He told me about all the development in Mexico and even though I hardly knew him he invited me to stay with him if I was ever down in Mexico. I took some pictures of Kieth and Rich while on Pratt's from across the the valley and he ended up being on it at the bottom chatting with friends. I will try to post it latter. I am glad I got to spend some time with him. Mike
By John Gunnels
From: Gillette, WY
Jun 25, 2008
Just met Paul 2 weeks ago in the Needles Eye parking lot. In the short time we spoke, it was clear to me that his reputation of being a GOOD MAN was accurate. His soft spoken nature and eagerness to share his passion for climbing was welcomed and appreciated. Wish I'd have met him years ago...

My wife and I will climb all this weekend in the Needles and do as many of Paul's routes as possible...

God Speed...
By Peter Arndt
Jun 28, 2008
Climbers "Free Camping" in the Hills?

Looking for some Beta on "Free Camping" in the Hills. I have camped at Wrinkled Rock adjacent to Rushmore and it was fine. However I did hear something about another area (closer to Sylvan Lake?) that road tripping climbers camp at.

Can any Black Hills climbers hook me up? Would be much appreciated by this touring Devils Lake climber.

Post here or fire me off an e-mail through Mountain Project.

Peter Arndt
By bruggby
Jun 29, 2008
I wish to extend my condolences to Paul Duval's love Karen and his family. There was a fella from Montana who showed up within seconds, minutes, i don't know, who gave mouth to mouth to Paul until search and rescue showed up. I didn't get to thank him properly or find out who he was. Hopefully someone knows him and could let us know. Thanks too to Dustin from California for his assistance with the cpr.
Bill Ruggieri
By vernon phinney
From: pocatello, idaho
Jul 12, 2008
Brent, thank you for the information of Paul Duval. I had hoped to join up with him and climb again in the Needles; but guess it will have to be in spirit now. Enjoyed many outings with Paul and will miss him. Paul was indeed a very giving and sociable climber (from the old school!). He enjoyed and respected the climbing in the Hills along with many of the original climbers from the 60's/70's/80's.

I tried to call you, Brent, but could not access a telephone number - email me at when you get the time. Cheers! Vernon Phinney
By Tim Kline
From: Littleton, co
Jul 31, 2008
Anybody know who stripped out the bolts at the Ice Box area in Spearfish Canyon? I went up there last Friday and found that several if not all of the routes were chopped. Anybody have any idea on who or why this is?


By Joshua Dreher
From: Bremerton, WA
Oct 24, 2008
There is a great video of Luke Kretschmar climbing in the VC on the website.
By joelhagan Hagan
From: Rapid City, SD
Jan 29, 2010
Great Scanned article in my Photo Albums titled "Herb Conn article from June 1953 issue of Appalachia" Good early overview of the Outlets all the way to the Spires. Almost an early mini-guide with a great little map. Thanks and happy climbing, Joel
By joelhagan Hagan
From: Rapid City, SD
Feb 14, 2011
Added a couple historic articles by the Conns (1953 and 1955) and Lawrence G. Coveney (1936) to the photo albums in my profile if anybody is interested.
By Tricklepickle
Jul 16, 2011
The Needles Guide book by Zach Orenczak and Rachael Lynn/Extreme Angles Publishing was the least informative guide book I’ve utilized. I would avoid at all costs. It is a very beautiful book that does has humor but should be reserved for only a coffee table. The locals refer to the book as “the toilet paper” guide book but the glossy pages make it even inconvenient for that. Gear advise, routes, and ratings have been known to even be wrong. Instead of using the pages for photos of routes and areas they thought it to be more important for numerous pages of cartoons. South Dakota Needles: Adventure Climbs of Herb and Jan Conn. by Lindsay Stephens is an amazing book. (light, to the point, and full of useful beta such as accurate topo’s). This is much more cost effective and has many more routes. Also, stop by Sylvan Rocks for great beta, conversation, and great locally comprised guide books.
P.S. Extreme Angles Publishing does other areas such as Devil’s Tower, Vedauwoo and more. I made the mistake of purchasing the Devil’s Tower one as well. I have the same feelings for its level of info quality to cost ratio like their Needles book. If anyone sees Zach tell him I want my $70 back for the two “guide” books.
By Mikel Cronin
Aug 29, 2011
Spearfish Canyon, The VC and other Black Hills Limestone guide book is being shipped out this week. I should have books ready to send out first week of Sept. Cost is 28.00 and 4.00 shipping. Either contact me directly or goto for more info. If you buy from me 5% goes back to the bolt fund for bolt and anchor repair.
By Brent Kertzman
From: Black Hills, SD
Feb 4, 2012
It is with great sadness to inform everyone that Black Hills climbing & spelunking legend Herb Conn passed away on 02-01-12. He was 91 years old. Herb requested no services. He was a very gentle & humble person whom was always willing to share beta, maps or a story. May God bless... R.I.P. Herbie. My prayers go to his wife Jan.
By Jerry W
From: Rapid City, SD
Jun 21, 2013
A new bolt on Freak's Fright! That bolt was way overdue for replacement -- nice work, Chris!
Now, about that bolt on Orchrist... (I know, I know... shopping for a drill & hammer)
By Jason McNabb
Dec 17, 2013
Hey Everyone!

The BHCC and Access Fund member drive is off and running:

Please spread the word today-phone, email, Facebook, whatever. Tell climbers in your community to join or renew with Access Fund and your LCO today for 20% off. And tell them about your work and why their membership matters.

More members ultimately means more access, more aging hardware replaced, more trails serviced, and more community events, so thank you again for your help with this drive.


The BHCC Board
By mikey g 123
Aug 16, 2014
hello, we have climbed the rushmore area a few times in the past and are coming again for a few weeks and were wondering if anyone knew of any free camping in the area besides the south seas place, because we will have a camper. Any information will be nice, Thanks!
By Jason McNabb
Oct 27, 2015
Rock Climbing Photo: The BHCC and American Alpine Club are hosting the ...
The BHCC and American Alpine Club are hosting the REEL ROCK TOUR this Friday Oct. 30th at the Elks Theatre in Rapid City....come check it out!
By cody brua
Jul 10, 2016
Hello I found a older pair of LA Sportiva climbing shoes at the base of box car and airplane in the south seas please send me a message If they are yours I would like to return them to their owner
By Sue and Jim
Sep 16, 2016
Anybody know what the "newer" route is on Phallus (I.e., rating, details). I don't know how new it is... but it is not the original 5.8 Kamp's route, which is the only one described in guidebooks or MP.
By Chris Hirsch
From: Rapid City, SD
Sep 18, 2016
The new route on Phallus is one of Piana's he did a couple years ago. Hard Years 5.8+? Starts off chockstone and is primarily bolts. Really great line! Then there is a direct start with a couple bolts and gear called Short Arm Inspection 5.10. Also Piana's, but not as good. I'll add them soon...

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