Rock Climbing in the Black Hills of South Dakota

by Colby Stream

South Dakota's Black Hills offer a number of different climbing locations and experiences. The most common types of climbing include bouldering, traditional climbing and sport climbing. Additionally, the Black Hills offer crack and crag climbing. During the winter months, parts of the mountains ice over to offer moderate ice-climbing routes.


The Black Hills offer several spots for bouldering, a type of rock climbing that involves ascending smaller rocks and rock walls without tying in, but two areas stand out. Baldy Mountain, located near Mount Rushmore, provides bouldering problems starting at the most basic level (V-0) and extending up through the hardest routes. Baldy offers yet unclimbed and undiscovered boulders. Sandstone, which surrounds the Black Hills, offers ideal climbing for expert and novice boulders. It contains an almost equal amount of climbed and unclimbed routes, leaving it open for you to choose which routes best suit your climbing ability.


Traditional climbing occurs when climbers don't only tie in with a rope, but also lay their own gear into the wall. Some types of climbing, called "Sport Climbing," hook into bolts that are already in the wall. Traditional climbers, on the other hand, lay their own bolts and clip into those. Almost all areas of the Black Hills are open to traditional climbers, provided an area hasn't been bolted. The Needles of South Dakota, also called Custer State Park, is in the southern part of the Black Hills. Needles shoot up into the sky and provide climbing for all levels, including first-timers. Once at the top, you can see elk, deer and bison.


Sport climbing gets its name because most climbers consider it more "sporty." Sport climbing is the act of tackling routes that have already been bolted in. These bolts are considered more safe than any gear a climber could lay themselves. This allows climbers to tackle harder moves and fall more often. Mount Rushmore offers the premier sport climbing spots in the Black Hills. While you can't climb Mount Rushmore itself -- you'll get arrested -- the area around the presidents' heads offers more than 1,200 acres of sport-climbing limestone.

Other Climbs

Many areas in the Black Hills provide a mix of sport and traditional climbing, and are well-known for the type of rock available for climbing. Devils Tower, a mountain that extends in Wyoming and contains many vertical cracks, is the most notable. Spearfish Canyon, newer and better known for sport climbing, offers cragging -- a style of climbing that involves the use of small crags. Finally, the Black Hills offer climbing even during the winter, a style called ice climbing. Both the Needles and Spearfish Canyon ice over, offering less crowded, moderately hard routes.

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