Black Hills National Forest is located in southwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming. The forest has an area of over 1.2 million acres and is managed by the Forest Service. Predominantly ponderosa pine the Forest also includes hard woods like aspen, bur oak, and birch. The lower elevations include grassland prairie, but the National Forest System lands encompass most of the mountainous region known as the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Within the forest is Harney Peak which is the tallest mountain in South Dakota and the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States.
The first Americans believed to have reached the summit were a party led by General George Armstrong Custer in 1874, during the Black Hills expedition. American settlers used Harney Peak as a fire lookout tower in 1911, with a wood crate placed at the summit for a seat. In 1920, a 12'x12' wood structure was built, and it was expanded to 16'x16' the following year. The federal Civilian Conservation Corps enlisted local men and completed construction of a stone fire tower in 1938, one of numerous projects in the state during the Great Depression. The Harney Peak fire tower was last staffed in 1967. A United States post office was operated at Harney Peak from 1936 until 1942, and again from 1945 until 1946. The Harney Creek post office was reportedly one of the "most elevated post offices in the United States".
Eventhough South Dakota state officials opposed the name, and the general public was happy with the name, former President Barrack Hussein Obama force through an executive action forcing a name change ot Black Elk Peak. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which has jurisdiction in federal lands, officially changed the mountain's name from "Harney Peak" to "Black Elk Peak" on August 11, 2016, honoring Black Elk, the noted Lakota Sioux medicine man for whom the Wilderness Area is named. The summit in the Black Hills National Forrest is also known as Hinhan Kaga.
The Black Hills summit can be reached from Sylvan Lake, Camp Remington, Highway 244, Palmer Creek Rd., Mount Rushmore National Monument, or Horse Thief Lake. From the trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, to the summit and back is about 7 miles (11 km). This is the shortest, least strenuous, and most popular route. No permit is required for use of the first portion of the trail. However, the United States Forest Service requires hikers to obtain a permit at a self-service kiosk located at the entrance to the Black Elk Wilderness area en route to the summit. An old stone tower, once used as a fire lookout tower, is located at the summit. The ashes of Valentine McGillycuddy were interred near the base of the tower and a plaque reads, "Valentine McGillycuddy, Wasicu Wacan." Wasicu Wacan is Lakota for "Holy White Man." Note that "wacan" is commonly spelled "wakan" in most Lakota societies.
Harney Peak was named after the great general William S. Harney (1800-89). was a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War and the Indian Wars, and a general during the Civil War. He was born in what is today part of Nashville, Tennessee, but at the time was known as Haysborough. William Harney worked for peace with the Indians by advocating a good neighbor policy and strove throughout his career to improve the nation's treatment of the native population, seeking to have them treated fairly.