Hiking The Cathedral Spires Trail In Custer State Park
- GPS: 43.84168, -103.53545
The Cathedral Spires Trail is a 2.3 mile out and back trail located in Custer State Park.
The trailhead can be found on the Needles Highway approximately 2.5 miles east of Sylvan Lake (I put some GPS coordinates above). The parking lot is small so make sure you get there earlier to secure a spot.
This road is closed in the winter, but the trail is part of the longer Harney Peak #4 trail in the park that can be accessed from another trailhead at Sylvan Lake.
The Cathedral Spires and Limber Pine Natural Area is a 637-acre portion of the Needles containing six ridges of pillars and a stand of limber pine. It became a National Natural Landmark in 1976.
The needles was the original site proposed by sculpture Gutzon Borglum for Mount Rushmore, but the granite the spires consist of was deemed to brittle.
This area is very popular for rock climbing so during your hike be sure to check the spires for climbers. This is also the mostly likely place in the park to spot mountain goats. While admiring the needles keep your eyes open and you just might spot a goat or two climbing the rocks like we did. You can check that post out here.
During the first half of the trail you will have a gradually ascent up the mountain. Then be prepared for some rock scrambling and boulder climbing that also goes up. After tackling those obstacles some steep switchbacks will bring you to level ground. This hike will get the blood pumping, but I bet you’ll have some fun as well.
This part of the hike will have you traveling through Spruce, Aspen and Ponderosa Pines. The granite rock spires of the needles can be seen all around you and different spots provide some great views.
Once you have finished the climb you will come to a sign on your left for Little Devil’s Tower. Continue to your right and find yourself in a wide open and basically flat area surrounded by the Cathedral Spires.
Continue through this open area and just stare in awe at the massive granite spires surrounding you. They are really cool to see this close up. Because the area is so popular with rock climbers there are many trails leading to the bases of these spires providing an even more up close and personal experience.
You will know you have reached the end of the trail, because there is literally a wooden sign nailed to a tree saying end of trail. The views here are pretty great. This section of the trail is the perfect spot for a picnic or break. Have a snack and soak in the amazing scenery around you. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for those mountain goats!
Once you are ready turn around and head back the way you came to return to the trailhead. The descent down is gonna be a lot easier than your climb up to this spot. The rock scrambling part down is still a bit tricky though so be careful.
This was one of our favorite hikes in the park and I would recommend it to anyone who is visiting. The hike is a little more strenuous than others, but completely worth the extra effort. It’s a fun trek with an absolutely amazing landscape to explore. This is one that can’t be missed!