5 Useful Tips for a Fun Hike Cathedral Spires Trail

It was Day 5 of our South Dakota road trip. Dedicating our entire day to exploring Custer State Park, we spent the morning hiking Sunday Gulch Trail and Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. After canoeing in Sylvan Lake and enjoying a sack lunch, we headed down Needles Highway to hike Cathedral Spires Trail.

After an incredible experience, Buddy and I are sharing our Top 5 Tips for a fun hike on the Cathedral Spires Trail.

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A photo of the sign on the Cathedral Spires Trail Head,
Cathedral Spires Trailhead

First, the details. Cathedral Spires Trail is a 2.3-mile out & back trail that is listed as strenuous. The Custer State Park Trail Mix guidebook lists the trail says the trail will take 1-2 hours. We completed the trail in 46 minutes, slightly under an hour. We spent a lot of time at the trail end, enjoying the views and exploring the area.


Top 5 Tips

1. Enjoy the ride!

Driving to the Cathedral Spires Trail from Sylvan Lake you will take Needles Highway. This path will lead you through the famous Needles Eye Tunnel. Keep a look out for the rock formation that looks like a Needles Eye as you drive through. If you are heading east on Needles Highway, the rock formation appears right after you exit the tunnel.

A photo of the Needles Eye rock formation with the sun shinning through haze in the background.
Needles Eye

2. Where to Park

There is a small parking lot near the Cathedral Spires trailhead. It is located on a hair pin turn. The area can fill up and become quite busy rather easily. Be careful when parking and crossing the highway to access the trailhead.

We were very lucky to have found a space to park in the parking lot the afternoon of our visit. It was very busy at that time. Arriving earlier than we did to ensure a parking spot is recommended.

3. Be prepare to climb

The most difficult part of the trail is at the beginning. Be prepared to scale large boulders at the start of the hike. Hang in there!  The demanding section of the trail is only for a small stretch. The views on the other side are worth it!

Regarding the boulders, Buddy says “Just be aware the boulders you have to climb over are not as big as you think.”

Buddy dressed in blue is walking over large boulders on the Cathedral Spires Trail. There trail is surrounded by pine trees and other greenery.
Buddy climbing over the boulders at the outset of the Cathedral Spires Trail.

4. Look for Mountain Goats

There are some beautiful views at the end of the trail and a lot of different areas to explore. A fellow hiker pointed out mountain goats on the rocks above. Look up and keep your eye out for wildlife!

The spires are lovely! We had a great time exploring the different views and climbing up several rock formations at the end of the trail.

Spire mark formation near the Cathedral Spires Trail at Custer State Park.
Can you spot the mountain goat?

5. What to bring

These are just a few recommended items. Please personalize this list, adding to it what you see fit.

The basics: Sunscreen, a water bottle, and a first aid kit like the HART Outdoor Day Hike First Aid Kit available at REI.

When hiking, we also always carry a whistle that also has a compass and thermometer, hand sanitizer, a pocketknife, and bear spray.

I want to note that the bear spray was not necessary on any of our hikes in South Dakota. We have, however, needed it for hikes in Arizona. Luckily, we have never had to use it.

“The scenery was very beautiful.”

Buddy

Bonus Tip: What to wear

Some hiking shoes with ankle support. My go to hiking shoes are the Merrell Women’s Siren Spork Hiking Shoe. This is my third Merrell Siren shoe. I highly recommend them. Buddy wore his Kid’s Hydro H2O Hiker Sandal by Merrell and they worked just fine.

A hat and sunscreen.

If you are opting for leggings on your hike, leggings with pockets are a must! This is especially true if you want easy access to your phone or the trail map. It is much easier to access these items from a pocket in your leggings than having to shift through your backpack.

I purchased a few of high-quality leggings with pockets from Stitch Fix prior to my hike. Fun fact, you can see the Custer State Park Trail Mix guidebook sticking out of my legging pocket in all of the Movement Postcards we filmed in Custer State Park!

A light jacket. The temperature changes quickly in the mountains and I regretted not bringing a light jacket on this hike.

Buddy and Chava walking arm and arm on the Cathedral Spires Trail.
Cathedral Spires Trail

All in all, we had a lot of fun on the Cathedral Spires Hike. So much fun that we were inspired to film not one, but three Movement Postcards on the trail.

Have you hiked Custer State Park? What is your favorite trail? Let us know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “5 Useful Tips for a Fun Hike Cathedral Spires Trail

  1. Wow! Those are some beautiful pictures! Sounds like great fun and gorgeous scenery. I looked for the goat but never found it!
    I hope to go there someday before I get too old. 😊

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