Please Use Caution When Entering the Black Elk Wilderness

Custer, SD – Black Hills National Forest trail crews are making progress clearing dead and downed trees on hiking and horseback riding trails in the Black Elk Wilderness and surrounding Norbeck Wildlife Preserve area located near Harney Peak, but many of the trails still remain impassable due to downed trees. 

“Between last year’s October blizzard and a high number of dead trees, or snags due to mortality from the Mountain Pine Beetle infestations, there are many trees that remain down on the trails,” said Dave Pickford, Recreation Specialist, Hell Canyon Ranger District. 

Pickford said many trail sections that have not been cleared yet are nearly impassable for hikers and may be completely impassable to horse traffic. 

Black Elk Wilderness/Norbeck Trail May 12th Updates:

Willow-Rushmore Trail 5 and Norbeck Trail 3 – The Forest Service trail crew is working to cut this open this week. 

Iron Creek Trail 15 - The National Guard and a contractor are working on flood damage and horse crossings.  Note: 1 ½ mile of the south end of this trail is currently being reconstructed and users should follow safety signing and use caution when approaching construction zones.

Harney 9S Trail from Sylvan Lake and Upper Norbeck Trail 3 to Harney Peak and to the junction with Little Devils Tower (Custer State Park trail) are cleared. 

Willow Creek Trail 8 and Little Lost Cabin 2 from Willow Creek to Palmer Trailhead are all cleared thanks to the efforts of the Hell Canyon fire crew, Hell Canyon trail crew and the Black Hills Backcountry Horsemen of South Dakota.

Horsethief 14 to Centennial 89 to Big Pine Trailhead is all cleared thanks to volunteers. 

Harney 9 North Trail is fully open from Willow Creek Trail 8 to the Harney Peak Lookout Tower.  

“Remember that a passing thunderstorm with high winds can change the status of all these trails in a minute,” said Pickford. “Trees can fall without warning. Please look up, be aware of your surroundings and use caution when entering the Black Elk Wilderness and the Forest.”

Trail advisories are posted at trailheads to warn the public of the dangers.

“The crews will do their best to keep the trails open this summer,” said Pickford “but we also rely heavily on the public to tell us when trees are down.” Forest Officials ask the public to call any of the local Forest Service offices if they come across a downed or high risk tree.

The popular hike to Harney Peak, located in the Black Elk Wilderness area, attracts more than 40,000 users annually. The use of mechanized or motorized equipment, such as chain saws, is not allowed in this area.

Crews use crosscut saws to clear the trails. The light one or two-person saw is easily transported and works well for working in remote locations like the wilderness area.

For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit, or call (605) 673-9200.
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