A Tranquil Morning on the Custer State Park Cathedral Trail

On a morning in September, the stone spires on the Cathedral Trail in Custer State Park stood tall and imposing. Contrasting the towering rock was a vivid blue-sky background draped with fluffy white cumulus clouds. We were on the trail at the break of day and the picturesque landscape in front of us was stunning.

Gail and I felt lucky and energized to start our day in this South Dakota hiking paradise. After spending a few days in the area, the Cathedral Trail hike was our last activity in the park before continuing our trip north.

In the short time we were there, we learned to love Custer State Park. Within its borders, the park has many interesting hikes, swimming holes, fishing lakes and natural attractions. In addition, there are National Parks nearby like Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave.

Overall, we found the southwest region of the state to be a splendid place to spend time and to explore.

The Hike

We accessed the popular Cathedral Trailhead from the Needles Highway. From that starting point, the hike was a modest 3-mile round trip. Overall, this was a wonderful trek that’s perfectly suited for people of all ages and skill levels. The uphill climb to the rock spires ramble through a forest on a path that is generally moderate in grade.

The red line shows the Cathedral Trail out and back hike starting at the trailhead off Needles Highway. (Map by All Trails)

When we hiked the Cathedral Trail, we also connected to the Little Devil’s Tower route for a longer outing. The trails have a marked intersection so completing them at the same time made sense to us. However, for those reading this post, beware that the hike to Devil’s Tower is more challenging than the Cathedral Trail. Devil’s Tower has some rock scrambles and high ledged climbing that less experienced hikers might not want to tackle.

Our total mileage for the day with the combined destinations, was an 8-mile out and back hike.

Cathedral Trail Summary

When we enter a park for the first time, we look for a hike that best represents the place we are in. We like to find unique places that are fun to visit and also have easy access to them. The Cathedral Trail meets both criteria.

For these reasons, this is a trail we recommend to our readers.

We also recommend spending multiple days at Custer State Park if you plan to travel to this area. The park is beautiful and offers multiple enjoyable ways for visitors to spend their time while there.

Interesting Fact

We have hiked and written about three trails in the past year with the word “Cathedral” in them. What is the world trying to tell us?

The other two stories are Cathedral Rock and the Scramble to the Top and Lower Cathedral Wash to the Colorado River.


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