Extra caution urged this year on the Harney Peak trails
At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak is the highest point in South Dakota and is billed as the highest point east of the Rockies. The peak is accessible by a moderately difficult hike of four to five hours round-trip, and the view from the top is breathtaking. For those two reasons, the various trails to the peak are frequented by 40,000 people annually, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
This week, the Forest Service issued a special warning to Harney Peak hikers: Because of an increase in trees dying from bug infestations, more trees are blowing down on the trails. Gus Malon, a wilderness specialist with the Black Hills National Forest, said in a news release that "trees could fall on the trail at any time."
"It is a wilderness," he said in the release, "and part of being in the wilderness is taking responsibility and being aware of your surroundings while having an adventure in the woods."
Trail users should be aware of wind levels and be extra careful about sitting under trees on windy days, Malon said. Campers in the Black Elk Wilderness Area, in which Harney Peak is located, should be careful not to camp below a bug-affected tree that could fall.
Crews will be dispatched early this summer to hike the Harney Peak trails and make sure they’re clear, but Malon said the Forest Service also wants to hear from hikers if they spot downed trees on the trail.
"The main message we want to get across is to look up, be aware of your surroundings and use caution," he said.
His advice should be heeded. Personally, fear of falling trees wouldn’t keep me from hiking Harney Peak this summer. I’d just be extra careful about it.
The easiest Harney Peak trail starts just across the footbridge leading to the swimming beach at the Sylvan Lake Day Use Area. The state Department of Game, Fish and Parks maintains a good list of Harney Range trails, and the Forest Service has a map of the trails in the Black Elk Wilderness.