General Information

The Needles of South Dakota was one of the most amazing places we have ever climbed at. Bolted or traditional, 5.4 or 5.10, they are all a bit scary. All of the routes have either rap anchors or you can do a traditional Needles rappel, which is a simul-rappel with the rope draped over the spire. One of the classics, Tricouni Nail, has a well defined notch that you can secure the rope in for this kind of rappel. If a simul-rappel is too scary, the leader can lower the second over one side while still on the anchor. When the second is off belay on the ground, they can anchor their end of the rope and the leader can rappel off of the other side. Think it out before you do it.

Needle catching the evening sun Bill on X Marks the Spot Triconi Nail and another needle panoramic view of the rocks

Sylvan Lake, Middle Earth, the Outlets, Needles Eye Area, Ten Pins, and the Cathedral Spires have traditional ethics. If a new route is to be bolted, this must be done from the ground up on lead with no direct aid. This creates climbs that aren't as well protected as a sport route but they have a great "feel" to them. There are many traditional climbs in this area, especially in the Cathedral Spires.

Needles Eye Area

Parking area for this is right near the one way tunnel. Parking is available on both sides of the road. This is a very busy area for tourists because of the Eye of the Needle. There are several routes on this formation, but many are not well protected. The 5.9 route is best to protect, but you will have to deal with questions from the people in the parking lot.

Recommended Climbs

Ten Pins

This area is easy to get to. The parking lot is in the notch of the curvy road. Park and walk back up hill and the pins are in the woods on the left. Our favorite climb in this area is the Tricouni Nail. The climb is nice and gives the climbers an opportunity for a simul-rap. If you can only do one climb in the Black Hills, we recommend this one.

Recommended Climbs

Middle Earth/Outlets

The Outlets were very easy to get to from out campsite at Sylvan Lake Campground. When we climbed in this area, we learned that even a bolted 5.4 can be scary.

Recommended Climbs

Cathedral Spires

We were told that all of the spires are fun. There are 90 summits in 500 thousand square feet.

Recommended Climbs


Rushmore is the sport climbing area. We visited this area for the Beans and Beaners climbing social sponsored by Granite Sports. Both the climbing and the food was excellent! One of the locals brought us around the entire South Seas area, describing all of the climbs he thought we should try. The people out in South Dakota are really friendly!

Recommended Climbs

Guide Books

Cori on X Marks the Spot

Recommended Climbing Routes in the Needles of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota by John Page (There is no publisher info in the book). - The title is longer than the book, but it was useful. This book can be purchased at Granite Sports in Hill City, SD. We called ahead to buy books from them and they mailed everything to us before we came to the area. Call: 605 574-2425.

Touch the Sky by Paul Piana (Out of print, and sorry, we don't know where to get a copy and ours is not for sale)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial Climber's Guide by Vernon R. Phinney. We purchased this book from Granite Sports in Hill City, SD.


Since the guidebook with the maps is no longer in publication, we are providing copies of a few of the maps.

Needle's Eye Area
Outlets and Middle Earth Area (Sylvan Lake)
Cathedral Spires
Ten Pins Area

Please always purchase a copy of guidebooks when available to support the authors. They are part of our climbing community and provide books to our small community and will never earn what Stephen King makes. Please support them!