Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why should I climb with a guide?

    Our exceptional guides are well trained and they are excellent teachers eager to pass on the traditions of climbing outdoors to beginners and experienced climbers alike. You can rest easy knowing that Sylvan Rocks is the only guide service in South Dakota and Northeast Wyoming accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association. Our guides are skilled at helping their clients learn and enjoy the sport of rock climbing, a passion that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. They also know many of the great climbing routes within the maze of granite spires in the Needles of Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore, as well as at Devils Tower and Palisades State Park.
  • Can kids climb?

    We work with kids ages 5 and up as long as they have an adult in their group who is participating in the climbing with us. Rock climbing is an awesome way to enjoy the outdoors with your friends and family and probably not as physically challenging as you might imagine…unless you want us to make it harder. We have awesome summits and exciting routes of all difficulty levels.
  • What is the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA)?

    To quote their website, “The American Mountain Guides Association is a non-profit organization that seeks to represent the interests of American mountain guides by providing support, education, and standards.” They are the authoritative voice in the guiding world. They offer classes and certification of individual guides and climbing schools by setting high safety standards of operation. Sylvan Rocks has been an AMGA accredited climbing guide service since 1991.
  • Is rock climbing a good family activity - how old must children be to take a course with Sylvan Rocks?

    Rock climbing is an awesome adventure for the entire family! Children ages 5 and up can take most of our courses if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, but parents are the best judge about when their child is ready to learn to climb. All minors MUST be accompanied by an adult. In general, most children five years or older with good verbal skills will have fun rock climbing at their own level.
  • What are my options for reaching the summit of Devils Tower?

    If you are wanting to make it to the top of Devils Tower, you will need to consider our two or three day Devils Tower Blitz trips. Click here to learn more!
  • How many students are in each course?

    Our Discover Climbing adventure (4 hours) is our group course and you will typically be climbing with other people in a 6 to 1 ratio of clients to guides. Our Explore Climbing course (6 hours) and Adventure Climbing course (8 hours) are private courses for your group, typically with one guide for every two or three climbers.
  • Should I tip my guide?

    If you feel your guide provided a good experience for you, tipping is certainly appropriate and greatly appreciated. For perspective, you normally tip your waiter, who brings you food. Your climbing guide takes you on the experience of a lifetime!
  • Are reservations necessary and what is your reservation policy?

    Advanced reservations are suggested. Our climbing courses generally begin at 7:45 am (Mountain Time), therefore, same day bookings are very difficult to accommodate. Online bookings must be made at least two days in advance. NOT all of our courses are offered for online booking. If you have any questions, or would like to make a booking for a course not offered online, please call us at 605-484-7585

    We have a limited number of booking times available for guided climbing trips, and we fill our calendar on a first-come, first-served basis.

    All trips meet at the South Dakota Outdoor Shop at 632 Mount Rushmore Road in Custer, South Dakota unless otherwise arranged.

    We provide all necessary rock climbing equipment. You are welcome to bring your own equipment, but we will inspect it prior to allowing you to use it. If we determine that it is unsafe to use, we may require that you use our equipment instead.

    All participants must be at least five (5) years of age.

    All groups with minors must have at least one adult that is participating in the course.

    Rock climbing is not a risk free activity. You will be required to fill out and sign waivers of liability prior to participating in any course. The waivers should be completed and submitted online no later than two days before your scheduled course.

    Minors must have a parent or legal guardian sign the liability waivers. Other adults, such as grandparents, troop leaders, aunts/uncles, etc. will NOT BE ALLOWED to sign the waiver for a minor on behalf of the parents. No one will be allowed to participate without properly executed liability waivers. Failure to properly complete the required waivers may result in the individual being treated as a “no show” and still being charged the full price for the course. Please call us at 605-484-7585 if you have any questions regarding liability waivers.
  • Where do I find the waiver of liability forms required for all rock climbing courses?

    You will receive an email confirmation of your booking with Sylvan Rocks which will include links to the required liability waiver package for the course you are taking. Click here to view sample liability waivers.
  • What is your deposit and refund policy?

    Please understand that making a reservation for a climbing trip is similar to ordering live lobster at a restaurant. Once you order it, it gets thrown into boiling water, and it’s yours. When you make a climbing reservation, we schedule a guide for your trip, which prevents us from accepting another reservation. We want you to fully enjoy your planned climbing experience with us, but we do understand that plans sometimes change. We hope you understand that cancellations, especially with short notice, negatively impact us as well.

    When making your reservation, full payment for the course cost will be applied to your credit card and used to hold your slot on the calendar. This is refundable up to 30 days prior to your course date, minus a $35 administration fee.

    If you cancel less than 30 days in advance, but more than 48 hours in advance, 50% of your payment will be refunded. If you do not show up on the day of your course or cancel less than 48 hours prior to the date of your course, you will not be eligible for any refund.

    Up to 14 days in advance, you may reschedule your climbing trip for an alternate date within the same climbing season at no additional charge.

    Short-notice reservations made less than 48 hours before the scheduled course will not be eligible for refund.

    Sylvan Rocks is not responsible for other costs which may be incurred, such as entrance fees to Custer State Park or Devils Tower National Monument, camping, lodging, or food.

    Trip insurance is encouraged and can be purchased from several places online or from your favorite travel agent.
  • What is the policy for rain or bad weather?

    You should come prepared to climb regardless of the weather. If Sylvan Rocks, in its sole discretion, decides that climbing is not feasible due to weather, we will provide a full refund for your trip (less a 3% credit card fee), or you can reschedule it for an alternate date within the same climbing season at no additional cost. If a course is shortened due to weather, you will receive a prorated refund. If you are able to complete at least two thirds of the scheduled course duration, no refunds will be given.
  • What time do courses begin each day?

    Most courses meet at 7:45 am each day and usually finish up between 12:00 and 4:30 pm (depending on the course). We attempt to complete our trips prior to the late afternoon thunderstorms, which are common in our area. If you sign up for a six-hour Explore Climbing course or eight-hour Adventure Climbing course, we have more flexibility regarding start times, but still prefer to start at 7:45 am. We may delay start times early or late in the season if morning temperatures are cold. Some guided climbs, particularly those at Devils Tower, may start much earlier (3:30 am) and last longer. If you are climbing Devils Tower, plan to stay near the Tower the night before because we often start as early as 3:30 am during the summer months.
  • Can You Accommodate Large Groups?

    We routinely guide large groups ranging from 14 to more than 50 climbers. We don’t allow large groups to book online; we’ve found it works best to discuss our various course options (including customized group experiences) to find the adventure that best fits each particular group. We encourage large groups to make reservations well in advance.

    For Boy Scout groups, we do have a certified merit badge counselor on staff and can work with your scouts to help them complete key requirements toward earning their Climbing merit badge.
  • What should I pack to prepare for my climbing course?

    We provide all necessary rock climbing gear, including climbing shoes, climbing harness and helmet.

    Here is a brief checklist of what to bring with you:

    Long pants with the knees intact
    Rain/wind jacket
    Several layers of clothing - it can be cold in the morning
    Hat and gloves for spring and fall climbing
    Comfortable, closed-toed walking shoes - NO sandals or flip flops
    Sunscreen and sunglasses
    Water in plastic or metal bottles (AT LEAST 1 liter per person)
    Lunch and snacks that carry well in a backpack
    Small daypack (if you have one)
    (optional) Personal climbing gear and shoes

    WE DO NOT ALLOW PETS ON OUR TRIPS. They will need to be boarded during the climbing day. Some of our guests have used to find a pet sitter.

    Additional Details:

    During the Black Hills climbing season, usually mid-April through mid-October, the weather is generally pleasant. You should obviously dress for the season, and remember that the weather at the climbing areas is often different than in the nearby towns - typically cooler with higher winds. For example, the elevation of Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park is more than 6000 feet, while Palisades State Park in eastern South Dakota is less than 1400 feet and can be quite humid.

    To be prepared for possible inclement weather, you should pack a wind shirt or rain jacket and a fleece jacket. Even during the summer months, temperatures can vary from the 40s to the 80s (up to 100+ at Devil’s Tower and Palisades). The weather can change quickly and afternoon thunderstorms are common. Normally comfortable pants, t-shirts, and sweatshirts work well during the summer. In the spring and fall, it is wise to have polypro tops and bottoms (long underwear) as well as a warm hat and light gloves. Wear comfortable closed-toed shoes (heavy hiking boots are not necessary) but no sandals or flip-flops. Select footwear that is made for scrambling over uneven terrain.

    Cameras are also great to bring along. The summit views and scenery are truly spectacular. Smaller cameras and phones are generally preferred since they are easier to pack and carry while climbing.

    You are welcome to bring your own climbing equipment. However, if we consider it unsafe or unacceptable for use, we may insist that you use ours. All necessary climbing equipment is included in our course fees.

    Bring at least 1 liter of water in a personal, plastic water bottle or hydration bag. Remaining hydrated is very important, especially for kids. Our climate is dry and you will be exerting more energy than normal. Also bring a good sack lunch and some snacks, such as energy bars. They will need to be packed in a backpack, so plan accordingly.
  • Where is Sylvan Rocks located?

    Sylvan Rocks is located at the South Dakota Outdoor Shop, 632 Mount Rushmore Road, Custer, South Dakota.

    Get Directions
  • Where will we climb?

    Many options exist: Within the Needles of Custer State Park there are the Outlets behind Sylvan Lake, the Ten Pins along Needles Highway, the Cathedral Spires, the Needles Eye area, and many more granite spires.

    We also offer climbing tours at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, and Palisades State Park (on the eastern side of South Dakota). If you are climbing with us for several days, we will generally choose a different area each day based on your abilities, desires, and the teaching objectives for the day.
  • How far will we have to hike?

    The climbs behind Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park and around Mount Rushmore can generally be reached with a 10-15 minute relatively flat walk. The approaches for Cathedral Spires and Devil’s Tower are generally quite steep and can take from 20 to 50 minutes from the car. The hike to most of the climbs in Palisades State Park is short. We strive to take our clients to areas where we can do more climbing and less walking.
  • Do I need to be able to do a pull up in order to rock climb?

    No. You don’t need to be particularly strong to enjoy rock climbing. Attitude is everything. One of the best things about rock climbing is that so many people enjoy it at so many levels. If you are eager to learn, enthusiastic and in reasonably good shape, you’ll likely enjoy climbing outdoors. Best of all, with the great sticky rubber climbing shoes we supply, you use your legs and feet much more than your hands and arms. Your guide will teach you to climb efficiently.
  • Is climbing dangerous?

    Climbing is an adventure, and certainly can be dangerous, particularly without proper training and equipment. When you ride in a car driving down the highway at 60 mph, your driver cannot promise total safety; similarly, neither can we. However, riding in a car is something most of us do safely every day. We work with you to minimize the risk of climbing as much as we can by following the “rules of the road” and using specialized equipment. Prior to participating in any course with Sylvan Rocks, you will be asked to review, complete and sign a waiver package.
  • How safe is the equipment?

    Climbing gear has come a long way from the hemp ropes, steel carabiners and pitons of the past. Most of the nylon ropes, harnesses and other gear are sufficiently strong to tow a car after the end of its useful life as rock climbing gear.
  • How high will we climb?

    That depends on the course you take, your ability, and comfort level. The climbing routes in the Needles of Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore usually range in length from one to three pitches. A typical “pitch” is 100 feet. At Devils Tower, many of the climbs are nearly twice that long, and in Palisades State Park most of the climbs are less than 60 feet.
  • Is it normal to be afraid of heights?

    In a word, YES. Respect of heights is part of what makes climbing outdoors both fun and exciting. The fear of heights during climbing should never totally go away, but with education and proper understanding of the equipment, it is generally very controllable.
  • Where are the best places to climb?

    Each route and rock carries its own unique character. We will take you up a variety of routes and let you make that decision for yourself.
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