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Since our relocation to the Black Hills, a view of Crow Peak has been virtually ever-present. It quite literally stood in the background of everything that we did after moving to Spearfish, from walking the dog in the park to driving off onto forest service roads. Yet despite it being ever present, I gave very little thought to hiking Crow Peak during the winter months. I definitely had it on my radar for things to do this year, but inclement weather kept it on the back burner until recently.
Clarissa bagged the peak before I drove out and joined her here, but the closest I had come was after heavy snows in January when we tested the Ranger’s four-wheel-drive on the road to the trailhead. But Clarissa’s brother came to stay with us last weekend, and we figured putting boots to trail would be the best way to show him why we love it here. And that’s how we ended up hiking Crow Peak on a warm, sunny Saturday.
Hiking Crow Peak
If you want to experience a bit of Black Hills magic, and the time and energy to do it, hiking Crow Peak will provide you with some great views, and some enjoyable — and at times challenging — hiking. Officially the distance is 3.5 miles to the summit, which means another 3.5 back. That said, we tracked a little over 8 miles on the hike. We did step off the trail a few times to give the dog some water, so that could explain some of the discrepancy… Or the trail could also be a little longer than noted. Just know that your mileage may vary, literally.
You’ll gain roughly 1,570 feet of elevation, and depending on your experience, you’ll feel it. I’ll admit it slowed me down a little! The summit is 5,760 feet, so nothing crazy, but high enough to feel like you’ve conquered a mountain. While you’ll probably pass a few people along the way, we didn’t run into too many hikers. Overall, we saw maybe 15-20 other people on our way up and down. The trail is only open to hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers, so you won’t see any off-road vehicles.
There are a few sections of trail where you will essentially walk across a rock slide. You’re not in too much danger, but if you bring your dog I would recommend keeping them on leash in these sections, even if they normally do well off-leash. Larger dogs probably won’t have the same trouble, but Inkling struggled to find the best footing on these sections.
If you’d like to add a little something extra, there’s a half mile spur off the main trail that leads to an overlook at Beaver Ridge. We didn’t add this to our hike. When we were on Crow Peak, this section looked overgrown, and some branches were down across the spur — almost as if someone was discouraging hikers from taking it. A call to the Northern Hills Ranger District office in Spearfish confirmed that the spur is not officially closed, so your experience might be different.
How to Get There
It’s pretty easy to get to Crow Peak Trailhead. From Spearfish, just head west on Hillsview Road and turn onto Higgins Gulch Road (Forest Service Road 214). Drive about 7 miles and you’ll see a decent sized gravel parking area on your right. This will also come up on Google Maps if you search for Crow Peak Trailhead. You won’t see a trail sign in the lot, but you will see a gate leading into the woods. That’s where you need to go.
Hitting the Trail
Go through the previously mentioned gate, closing it behind you, and get to stepping. Before long you’ll come to the trail sign. There’s a bit of info here, but most of it you’ll know from reading this post. Do keep in mind that you need to pack out your trash and dog waste if you’ve got your four-legged friends with you.
Also, remember that this is a multi-use trail. The sign indicates that as a hiker you yield right of way to both mountain bikers and horseback riders. The trail map suggests that bikes yield to hikers and both hikers and riders yield to horses. I doubt that this inconsistency is a huge problem. Just be alert — as on most trails, if you’re friendly and polite, most people will treat you that way too.
Before long you’ll start hiking upward. With the exception of a few flat spots along the way, you’ll continue upward for the entirety of your hike. For the most part it’s a gradual elevation gain, but there are a few places where switchbacks turn and you’ll have to fight the incline a little. Still, nothing too taxing. Just take your time, and don’t be afraid to take a break now and again.
Signs of Fire
As you hike along, you’ll see quite a few burnt trees — remnants of the 2016 Crow Peak Fire. 2733 acres burned during the blaze, but you’ll see how a lot of that vegetation is making a comeback. While a lightning strike ignited that wildfire, the burned trees you’ll pass on the trail make a good reminder to be mindful of anything that could cause a flame.
There’s absolutely no fires allowed in this area, and if you smoke you need to take extra care when extinguishing your cigarettes — and don’t forget to pack your butts out.
Most of Crow Peak Trail is pleasant enough. The elevation gain may feel a bit grinding at times, but just keep stepping, The scenery is beautiful, and you’ll have some great views along the way. The higher you go, the more challenging the trail gets — more rocks in your path make for more chances to catch a toe and trip. That’s only going to get worse, so keep picking your feet up. There’s a lot of opportunity for turned ankles on these rocks, so exercise caution.
Aside from sections with more embedded rocks, the trail remains quite enjoyable. If the uphill grade starts to wear you out, just slow down a bit. Hike your own hike, it’s not a race. Though you’ll spend some time walking through the sun, you’ll find lots of shady spots to cool yourself, and depending on where you’re at on the mountain, you’ll catch a breeze here and there.
Remember how I just said it only gets rockier the higher you go? Or how I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post that you’ll run into loose rock sections while hiking Crow Peak Trail? Well here you go friends.
This rock will move on you. It probably won’t slide and take you down the side of the mountain, but it definitely will shift and move as you walk on it. Tread carefully to protect your feet and ankles. Inkling struggled a bit on these sections — the stones moved under her and she was not a fan! I gave her plenty of space so that I wouldn’t accidentally shift any stones and catch her paws under them. Just keep cruising and you’ll end up back in the treeline, on part of the trail that doesn’t move as easily underfoot.
Turning the Corner… And Another… And Another…
In the last mile or so of trail, you’ll start turning corners. It will feel like the summit should be just beyond the next turn, or over the next ridge line. And then it isn’t. Don’t let that bring you down. You ARE getting close. I don’t know what it is about this last stretch — maybe it was just excitement and anticipation, but it seemed to go on forever!
Mo Rocks, Mo Scrambling
Before you reach the final push, you’ll go through more loose rock. It’s pretty much the same as before — not too dangerous, just mind your footing and don’t rush. Again, I could see it being fairly easy to turn an ankle here, and it wouldn’t be too much fun to deal with that when you’ve got less than a mile to go.
At the end of all that loose rock, you’ll reach a section of solid rock that you need to scramble over. It’s more fun than treacherous though, and not technical at all. No rock climbing skills needed.
Then we found ourselves turning the last rocky corner and staring straight ahead. And upward. The corners disappear now, but I still found myself tricked a few times as we continued hiking upward. “This is it!” I’d say to myself as I made my way up, only to see more trail once I gained a few more feet of elevation…
You can already start to see Spearfish and some of the surrounding area to your left. Keep going, the view is about to get even better…
At this point, you’re seriously right there. Just keep stepping. And finally, you’ll see the end of the trail…
Welcome to the Summit of Crow Peak
At this point, if you’re like me, you’ll feel elated. And you should! The air smells clean and fresh, you’ll probably have a breeze cooling your sweat, and you can look out over one hell of a view. You’ve made it to the summit of Crow Peak.
From the summit, you’ll have a great view of Spearfish, Lookout Mountain, Bear Butte, Crook Mountain, Polo Peak, Spearfish Mountain, Little Crow Peak, Terry Peak, Deer Mountain, and Citadel Rock. You probably won’t know which is which — I didn’t — but you can pick up or download a copy of the trail map before you go. It has a handy diagram that will illustrate what you see in front of you.
Don’t be in a rush to head back down. You’ve hiked all the way up here, might as well stick around and enjoy the view. Have a snack, drink some water, make sure you take a summit selfie…
And don’t forget to sign the unofficial summit registry in the ammo can next to the sign post. Lots of people have left cool stickers and other mementos — feel free to take one if you leave something in return. Unless it’s one of the Intrepid Daily stickers. You’re welcome to take one of those regardless.
Back Down to Earth
Of course, what goes up must come down. As tempting as it might be, you can’t stay on the summit forever. Thus, we began hiking Crow Peak Trail once again, just in reverse. Since this is an out and back trail, you’ll cover the exact same ground you did on your way up.
Oddly enough, I know more people who get hurt coming back down summit trails than going up. It makes sense though — you’re more tired on the descent, and in some ways it’s harder to hike downhill than up. Add the fact that you may still be riding some of that excitement from achieving your goal, and you can see why some of those accidents happen.
While the trek is challenging at times, most people in decent shape and in reasonable health can tackle it without any issues — I’ve not heard of any serious accidents on Crow Peak, so while I like to emphasize safety, you’ve got little to worry about if you’re careful. Just take your time and enjoy the hike.
A Few Extra Tips
If you’re from the Spearfish area or have plans to visit the Northern Black Hills, you should absolutely add hiking Crow Peak to your itinerary. It provides enough of a challenge to keep things interesting while still remaining accessible to most hikers. Plus you’ll get those views. I wish I had thought to take more pictures of them, although I’m sure cameras wouldn’t do them justice.
Before you hit the trail, here are a few things to consider that will improve your experience.
Carry Snacks and Plenty of Water
Hiking is thirsty work, especially when you gain elevation. You want to stay hydrated. Snacks also greatly improve the hiking experience, since you’re burning off a lot of calories as you go. I carried my Cotopaxi Luzon with a hydration pouch for my water and munchies for all of us. We were all happy to have them.
Choose the Right Footwear
Not everyone loves hiking boots — some people prefer approach shoes, trail runners, or even sneakers. I prefer something with good tread and ankle support, especially on trails with loose rock. On Crow Peak, I wore a pair of Keen Targhee III hiking boots that I recently started testing out.
These boots have really worked out well for me lately, and did a stellar job on Crow Peak. That said, tons of people hit this trail in running shoes or even sandals. Those wouldn’t be my first choices, but I’m confident my more casual boots from Ridgemont Outfitters would have handled the terrain just fine.
You’re only about 7 or 8 miles from Spearfish, which is a cool town. You’ve just hiked up a mountain, you should probably head to one of the three local breweries to celebrate. If you really want to finish strong, consider a visit to Crow Peak Brewing, named for the mountain you just hiked.
Hiking Crow Peak: A Great Time to be Had
We all had fun on our trek up (and down) Crow Peak Trail. It’s a little challenging in some places, and requires some strenuous effort at times, but the experience it provides is amazing — as are the views.
So when you get the opportunity, head for the trailhead and start making tracks. Whether you’re local or just visiting, this little Black Hills mountain will give you a whole new perspective, and you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.