The Terry Peak Lookout Tower

The Terry Peak summit road and lookout near Lead, SD.

Green mountains view as far as the eye can see


Several years ago, I had family visiting the Black Hills from the great (albeit flat) state of Indiana. 😊   They rented a cabin up near Terry Peak (and were almost blown out of it by the, incredibly unusual, tornado that went within a short distance of where they were staying!) 😳

My aunt and uncle brought their ATV along and were seeking an interesting destination to drive it to, so, we checked out the Terry Peak Lookout Tower. Mr. Trekker and I had visited there once before but it was cold and windy and we weren’t able to locate the trail to the actual tower.  This time, thanks to my aunt’s keen eye, we found it!

Where is the Terry Peak Lookout Tower?

The turnoff for the summit road can be found about four miles west of Nevada Gulch Road (the road you turn on to reach the Terry Peak Lodge).  Once you turn onto that road it’s about a three-mile drive to the summit.  The summit road is a dead-end, dirt road, but it is fairly well graded.  

I completed the drive in my Subaru Outback with no problem, so, any passenger vehicle–and certainly any truck or ATV with higher clearance–should be able to manage it (at least in good conditions).  There were a few rocks to negotiate, so, a typical, stock, sedan should take it easy.  The driver should gauge for themselves if the vehicle can clear the obstacles.  The road becomes a bit of a shelf road in a few spots (with no guardrail), so, while it can be easily managed, drive with caution.  

The road is wide enough for vehicles to pass, throughout, and while you aren’t likely to see many others on your drive, be watchful for those coming the other way (especially in areas where the hill you’re cresting is steep and/or the curve you’re negotiating is sharp).  The panoramic vistas of the surrounding hillsides, blanketed in aspen and pine, are spectacular though!

The sign for the trailhead is small and almost at ground level right next to the trail.  As you pull into the parking turnaround, the trail is to the right and almost behind you (depending on where you park).  If there are any snowdrifts around, the sign could easily be buried (which may be why Mr. Trekker and I missed it on our first attempt).

The Lookout itself can be achieved via a short hike up the hill using the charming cobblestone path that was intended for the purpose (there is a gravel road that can be driven–or traversed on foot–though it’s rather steep and narrow).  

Once you reach the tower, there is a short flight of metal stairs that must be climbed to reach the platform on top (though there are some lovely views from the base of the tower, as well).  Even speaking as an acrophobe, I didn’t find the height to be alarming.  The Lookout is placed in the middle of the hill with no steep drop-offs in the vicinity.  

Be aware, this is one of the higher points in the Black Hills and it tops out at just a little over 7000 feet (so flatlanders may find themselves huffing and puffing to excess). 😉  Full disclosure:  Mr. Trekker and I live at around 3000 feet and we find ourselves breathing a little extra hard hiking at that altitude. 😜

Cobblestone steps ascend a hill through the trees
The cobblestone path leading to the Lookout

What you’ll see from the Terry Peak Lookout Tower

The lookout provides a spectacular, 360-degree view of the Black Hills.  On clear days you should even be able to see parts of Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota, as well.  You can search out the various peaks in the local area (Crow Peak, Big Hill, etc.) and you get a unique view of the back side of the Terry Peak ski lift.  

The scenery would be more attractive without the large communication towers and their guide wires that populate the summit.  I wouldn’t recommend being up there during a lightning storm! 😱

Panoramic view of the flat lookout platform with many radio antennas in the background.
Did I mention the towers?  😩

We also had a commanding view of the Wharf Mine as well as several others scattered around the local area, and their “leavings” on our beautiful Black Hills (if you’re noting derision in my tone, you would be noting correctly). 😡   

But, this blog is all about tranquility and focusing on the positives, so, I’ll end my critique of the mines there.  My momma always taught me to look for the good things in life, so, I’ll offer one positive critique.  At least the mines provide good-paying jobs to local residents (though I slept better before phrases like “large vat of cyanide” ever entered my lexicon). 😒

Ski lift and building on a grassy hill with mountains in the background.
The Terry Peak ski lift

The three of us enjoyed the lookout so much, I took the rest of my relatives back there later in the day.  On the first trip, the colors of the surrounding Hills were muted by clouds.  However, by that afternoon, the sun had returned and its light, along with the shadows it created with the remaining clouds, made for spectacular viewing.

More pics from the top!

A hazy view from the top of the mountain
Lead as seen from the summit.  If you look really carefully in the distance you can see Bear Butte materializing through the haze.
An ATV drives down a steep, gravel road through the trees
My aunt and uncle driving down from the Lookout (I make no claims, pro or con, regarding the license plate on the front).  😇

If you’re looking for a unique place to visit in the northern Black Hills, check out the Terry Peak Lookout Tower! 

Have you visited the lookout?   What did you think?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

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