The stone ruins of an old fire tower sit solemnly atop this 6,937 foot Black Hills peak. It is one of the tallest mountains in the area, and the 11th highest peak in South Dakota. Although it's quite remote (approximately 20 miles from Hill City, the nearest town), Flag Mountain was fairly easy to find.
There are several ways to reach it, but we chose the most common route. Heading west on Deerfield Road, we took a right onto South Rochford Road (just past Deerfield Lake itself). A short drive along this road led us to the beginning of Flag Mountain Road (a.k.a. USFS Road 189), which was a left turn located just to the west of the Custer Trails area of northern Deerfield Lake. We traveled Flag Mountain Road searching for USFS Road 416, which leads the last mile up to the summit of Flag Mountain. Thankfully, the Forest Service map we were using made it clear which turn to take because the road itself was marked only with the orange triangles that signify a snowmobile trail (labeled as 2F East). There was no other signage or road numbers indicating that we were in the correct place.
We began the ascent up the rocky road. Even with high clearance and 4WD, it was still treacherous. This would make a fine road to hike up, but it was a precarious drive. We would have gladly pulled over and hiked the rest of the way, except there wasn't any place to do so. It was a slow and careful drive to the top where luckily there was enough room to turn around and park.
A warning: we don't recommend driving up the mountain (unless you have some type of OHV or ATV). The last stretch is only about a mile (and wouldn't make a bad hike) but once you start up the hill in an SUV or truck, you're committed. There is no place to pull over or turn around until you reach the top of the mountain.
Waiting for us at the top was an impressive rock formation that made up the summit ridge. Among it was a stone staircase leading up to the lookout.
We climbed the stone steps and were greeted by amazing views at the top. We were surrounded by panoramic vistas of forested hills and various peaks in the distance.
The lower half of an old tower stood atop the summit. This fire lookout station had a well constructed stone base that had clearly been built to withstand the elements. Long since abandoned, its wooden top was gone but the bottom portion was standing strong, like a small fortress atop a mountain.
The remains of an old wooden outhouse sat defying time on one side of the cliff below the tower. The door and roof were missing but it was otherwise mostly intact. The dogs were curious about this structure, which was no doubt riddled with ages of intriguing smells. I wouldn't let them get too close -a troublesome open pit sat in the center of the small building.
Another stone staircase led from the old latrine back to the lookout. We were high up enough to watch distant thunderstorms raining miles away, even though the sun glowed over our heads.
We entered the stone ruins of the lookout tower. It provided a nice shelter from the wind, but the walls were too tall for the dogs to be able to look over. It was, however, the perfect spot for a water break, fully protected from the mountain breeze.
Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery from the old tower. The walls were sturdy and provided a giant safety barrier between us and the edge of the mountain. This was an amazing place to take in the surrounding views, and the distant storms made it even more dramatic.
There were plenty of other places along the summit ridge for the girls to enjoy the view. We explored the top of the rock formation, appreciating all there was to see.
The girls were delighted to discover chipmunks darting around the mountaintop. For them, it really completed the majesty and appeal of this wonderful place. I was glad they were on their leashes though -the thought of them fervently chasing a chipmunk over the edge of these cliffs was just too terrifying.
The scenery from the mountaintop was mesmerizing. Distant cliffs, country roads, wooded peaks, and rolling grasslands spread out below us in all directions. Parts of Deerfield Lake and Reynolds Prairie were visible in the distance. After taking everything in, we made our way back down to the car and began the slow and precarious trip back down the mountain.
This was a beautiful and interesting place to visit. The views were great and the historical remnants were fascinating. We all enjoyed this obscure mountain lookout -it was well worth the trip to the top.