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Custer State Park

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Custer State Park  

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Location: 43.8436, -103.5628 View Map  Incorrect?
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Administrators: Andrew Gram, Peter Gram, Greg Parker, Andy Busse, Mike Housiaux, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide)
Submitted By: Joey Wolfe on Nov 8, 2007
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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 6.3 miles from here

385 Total Routes

['4 Stars',80],['3 Stars',206],['2 Stars',77],['1 Star',15],['Bomb',0]

The Classics

Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for Custer State Park:
Candle Light Sleigh Ride   V5 6C     Boulder   Honey Moon Boulders : Cockran's Cave
Conn Route   5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Photographers' Peak Area : Aquarium Rock
Moonlight Rib   5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a R     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Needles Eye : The Fan
Sprire Four   5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c     Trad, 2 pitches, 210'   Cathedral Spires : Spire Four
Lander Turkey Shoot   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, Sport, 1 pitch, 80'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
Conn Diagonal   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 3 pitches, 300'   Outlets : Outer Outlet
Eyetooth   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 2 pitches, 150'   Cathedral Spires : Eyetooth
Needle's Eye   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c X     Trad, 2 pitches, 100'   Needles Eye : Needle's Eye
West Buttress   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 3 pitches, 300'   Outlets : Outer Outlet
Cerberus   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Tricouni Nail/Cerberus
Kamps Crack (Classic Crack)   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   Outlets : Inner Outlet
Waste Knot    5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Sport, 130'   TOWERS OF TEETH : EPHEL DUATH
Threading the Needle   5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad   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
Sex Never did this to my hands   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 135'   Outlets : Vertigo View
Four Little Fishies   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Sport, 1 pitch, 130'   Photographers' Peak Area : Aquarium Rock
Barber Route   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b X     Trad, 160'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Superpin
Nantucket Sleighride   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b R     Trad, 1 pitch, 150'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Moby Dick
Cleveland Route   5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b X     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Tenpins/Switchbacks : Hairy Pin
Highly Suspicious   5.13a 7c+ 29 IX+ 29 E6 6c     Trad, Sport, 1 pitch, 40'   Cathedral Spires : Station 13
Browse More Classics in Custer State Park

Featured Route For Custer State Park
This is taken after walking through the notch to the right of the tunnel.  The climb starts on the lower left of the picture to the right of the tree you see.  This is a picture of the Moonlight Rib with a climber on top getting ready to rappel.

Moonlight Rib 5.3 3+ 10 III 9 VD 3a SD : Custer State Park : ... : The Fan
The Moonlight Rib is the ridgeline you see after coming through the notch from the parking lot and looking down to your right. (The Northeast side of the formation.)You will see some crystals which lead up to a ledge. Climb up to the ledge (about 12-15 feet) and walk straight while veering to your left for a few feet where you will see a gully/chimney on your right. Climb this for about 15 feet and you will see two horns which should be slung on your right while the main formation of the fan i...[more]   Browse More Classics in SD

Photos of Custer State Park Slideshow Add Photo
Picket Fence, Harney, Old Baldy, and Rushmore off in the distance from Station 13.
Picket Fence, Harney, Old Baldy, and Rushmore off ...
Sylvan Lake
Sylvan Lake
Inner Outlets
Inner Outlets
Classic Needle
Classic Needle
From the Spires after a spring storm
From the Spires after a spring storm
The Needles Eye
The Needles Eye
Ahhh international chimney
Ahhh international chimney
Pete de Lannoy on the FA of Limmited Immunity (5.12a), The Needles. Photo by Beth Wald from Climbing #110 (October 1988).
Pete de Lannoy on the FA of Limmited Immunity (5.1...
Sylvan Lake area
Sylvan Lake area
Snowshoeing on the Grace Coolidge walking area trail
Snowshoeing on the Grace Coolidge walking area tra...
Cathedral Spires
Cathedral Spires
Very vibrant blue flowers, Custer State park, June 2010.  Photo - Laurie Lindquist
Very vibrant blue flowers, Custer State park, June...
The Thimble
The Thimble
Super beautiful Needles.
Super beautiful Needles.
Leaving the Outlets
Leaving the Outlets
hero is spelled herb and jan conn, lindsay on another awesome conn route
hero is spelled herb and jan conn, lindsay on anot...
Cluster of evergreen berries.... <br />Custer State Park, June 2010. <br />Photo - Laurie Lindquist.
Cluster of evergreen berries....
Custer State Park...
Sylvan Lake Parking Lot
Sylvan Lake Parking Lot
Pine fruits, Custer State Park, June 2010.  Photo - Laurie Lindquist.
Pine fruits, Custer State Park, June 2010. Photo ...
Early Oct. 07
Early Oct. 07
This spire Me and lindsay think might be #16 from conns map of grizzly S.creek, labeled large Unclimbed spire. The route I did was the rotten chimney, to upper grove on left to top.
This spire Me and lindsay think might be #16...
From the top of Spire Four.
From the top of Spire Four.
Anyone have any beta on the routes on this block?  It's right at the "End of Trail" sign behind Cathedral Spires.
Anyone have any beta on the routes on this block? ...
spire 7 conn route
spire 7 conn route

Show All 28 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on Custer State Park Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Jul 29, 2014
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 bookfinder.com. 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 extremeangles.com/ 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: Davidson, 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 brentk@rap.midco.net

By DakotaToni
From: Rapid City
May 3, 2009

Check out ecoprimalquest.com/wp-primal/p.... 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: SLC
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: Gold Hill, 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: Monroe, 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 Housiaux
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: Monroe, 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 Kyle Rott
Jul 29, 2014
Lost .3 Camalot in the boulder at the Aquarium Parking area.

I left a brand new .3 camalot and blue OZ biner in the boulder at the Aquarium parking lot in the Custer State Park Needles in SD, that I used to set up a portaledge. I forgot to take out the cam when I took down the ledge. This was back in June that I left it. Both the cam and biner were marked with blue paint.

Also a fixed rope was removed from Iron Lingerie if anyone knows where that ended up.