Climbing in SoDaK

Why South Dakota?

The Black Hills are unknown to most but hold a perfect trifecta of rock climbing ranging from overhanging limestone canyons to multi-pitch granite all within an hours drive of the iconic Monolith, Devil’s Tower. All together with the closeness and diversity of these areas, the Black Hills should be considered to be a Mecca of North American climbing and a mandatory stop on every climber’s tick list.

What/Where to CLimb?
What’s the flavor of the day?  Take your pick, we have a special everyday on climbing.  Sample our selection below.

© Andrew Burr/Busse

Sport Climbing
Granite crystal crimping or limestone pocket pulling, take your pick?

For granite sport climbing head to Mt. Rushmore Memorial or Iron Mountain Picnic Area and support this website by purchasing our guidebook (which contains both areas) from us.

If you prefer more calcite and less distance between bolts, climb the limestone canyons of Spearfish Canyon (Spearfish), Victoria Canyon (Rapid City), or Falling Rock (Rapid City).

Traditional Climbing†
For bomber spliters head to Devi’s Tower.
For traditional, ground up classics make your way to Custer State Park.
For an array of mixed, Mt. Rushmore National Memorial or Woodpecker Ridge.

Old Baldy behind Mt. Rushmore National Memorial or Rubrik’s Ridge.

When to CLimb?

© Andrew Burr

South Dakota has four distinct seasons but within each distinct season it is possible to experience all four – now wrap your head around that. That being said climbing is possible all year long for locals, but the best weather can usually be found May-October

It should be noted that extremely windy days should be treated with caution to avoid being skewered by pine beetle deadfall.  

Spring weather is typically unstable in nature and can infrequently produce unexpected heavy precipitation periods (snow, rain, or a combination of both).  Temperatures are usually very conducive to climbing if the sporadic precipitation abates.

Summer is usually your ‘safest’ time of year to visit with regard to weather.  High temperatures can be slightly discouraging but easily avoided by gaining elevation and staying in the shade.  Make sure to be aware of approaching weather, and building thunderstorms, and avoid becoming a lightning rod on top of a spire.  A rain jacket should be a mandatory item on the gear list.

There is a voluntary climbing ban for Devil’s Tower in honor of our First Nations for the entire month of June.
During the first half of the August, the state’s population doubles with the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Climbing traffic generally doesn’t increase but motorcycle traffic and the noise it creates certainly does.  

The fall is highly recommended for climbing and the friction is off the hook.  The cool brisk mornings are met with a warming sun, which leads to pleasant afternoons basking in the sun.  The weather is typically very stable during the fall but the occasional front can bring colder temperatures earlier than expected.
Winter is anything but predictable, weather may prohibit climbing for weeks on end.  Luckily, the southern hills are generally fairly arid and lack any real snow deposits, making accessibility a possibility if temperatures permit climbing.  Winter temperatures can range from -20°F to 65°F in a given two-day period.  Winter climbing days are a joyous gift and should not be anticipated or wasted.

Modes of TraveL?

Getting Here:

Flying:  Rapid City Regional Airport hosts all major air carriers and serves as the central hub for air travel for the greater community.  It is a quick hour flight from Denver, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City.  A rental car is an absolute necessity for those arriving by air for the 25-minute drive to Keystone – the gateway city to Rushmores’ climbing.

Driving Distances:

Rapid City – Keystone (21 miles):

From the East (Twin Cities/ 576 miles):

South (Denver/ 375 miles):

West (Salt Lake City/ 630 miles):

North (Bozeman/ 489 miles):

What to Hang?

© Andrew Burr

Rope:  Generally, a 60m rope is ideal; however some routes will require a double rope rappel.  When rappelling always ensure your rope is on the ground before rappelling and tie knots in the ends if in doubt. This is serious and people have died in the area as a result of rappelling of the ropes’ end.

Sport Rack: For most sport routes 10-12 quickdraws will suffice.

Traditional Rack:  A standard rack in the Black Hills would consist of a set of micro-stoppers (brass), double set of stoppers, camming devices (doubles even triples for the Tower), quickdraws, and some shoulder length slings (floss-like slings are preferred for slinging large crystals in the Southern Hills).

Occasionally, a route will require doubling up on camming devices or a larger cam in the off-width realm.

In the Southern Hills it is recommended to always place gear when the option presents itself.  Never pass up a placement, and never bring a knife to a gunfight in Sodak.  

Climbing Locations


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