The hunt for Poet’s Table.

J and I both grew up on the east side of the state. We’re talking farm country, with flat fields and rolling prairie as far as the eye can see. When we moved West River just over two years ago, we both wanted to take full advantage of all the hiking/biking/Scheels-worthy opportunities that the Black Hills have to offer. So, as always, I made a list.

Our Black Hills bucket list is mostly made up of various hikes (Harney Peak, Little Devil’s Tower, Cathedral Spires, etc), and over two summers we’ve managed to hit the majority of them. This year, the hike at the top of my list was the one that has eluded us: Poet’s Table.

Poet’s Table is literally a set of chairs and a table, carried up the mountain some decades ago and perched on a hidden hilltop. Its location is a pseudo-secret (locals mostly know how to get there, but you won’t find it in a guidebook). A few years ago a friend gave me a hand-drawn map, passed on to her by a family friend. The vague directions included steps like “continue 200 paces past the foot bridge” and “go past the first rock window.” It would have been very helpful, but the Forest Service recently tore down the old trail and moved it – making the age-old directions obsolete. We didn’t discover this until last year, when we tried to follow the map and wound up a little lost and frusterated.

So…I used the Google machine and found directions that were still vague, but more recent. We set out after work last night, pup in tow, hoping to find the Table. We quickly found the lone leaning birch that pointed us up a flowery slope – so far so good!


After a 15-minute hike, we found ourselves….exactly where we got lost last time. J climbed on a rock to see if he could spot anything, and guess what? He found Poet’s Table. When we tried to find it last year, we were literally 100 feet away from it. The Table is hidden from the deer trail, so if you don’t know where to look, you probably won’t find it. But when you do, it’s like stumbling upon a happy little secret.

In addition to the rickety table and chairs, there’s a cabinet filled with notebooks of poetry and musings left by other hikers. Dozens of trinkets sit nestled along the rockwall, left as tokens of good luck or evidence that others once sat there. It’s quiet and peaceful, and I can understand why this spot has a reputation for inspiring creativity.

As we looked through the notes and tokens, we spotted a giant plume of smoke rising in the distance. Another wildfire was erupting outside the park, and it’s sad to think that parts of these beautiful hills are burning to the ground.

We left everything as we found it and trekked back down the mountain, feeling proud that we found it and happy to be in on the secret. That’s one more hike to cross off the bucket list – and one more reason we’re so lucky to call the Black Hills home.


11 thoughts on “The hunt for Poet’s Table.

  1. blackhillsmom

    I recently heard of the poets’ table and it’s become part of my Black Hill’s bucket list as well. I came accross this post in search for directions. So far I haven’t been able to find much. Help, please with some directions?

    1. theupel

      These are the best directions we can give: Start from the Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead in Custer State Park. After about 5 minutes, you’ll see a lone leaning birch tree pointing up the hill. Head up the draw, staying to the right of the highest peak. When you reach the ridge, climb on the rocks at the peak – the table is on the other side. Good luck!

      1. blackhillsmom

        Thanks! We found it. We first went a little further to the right, just around the other high peak, and found the coolest little cave with rocks and sticks built up around it. There was a blanket, alarm clock and a little stool, as well as a jewelry box where people had left notes. I think a lot of people probably find this place and not the actual table, because I’ve seen a few posts about the table no longer being there. Anyway, after finding that, we were still curious. We followed the path over to the other peak and found the table as well. It was like a fun little treasure hunt.

    1. sue ambrosino

      wall, trying to follow everyone’s directions and even looking for some GPS coordinates we were given…we found the cave, which was really neat. The jewelry box was still there, but no stool. We added a stick to the pile and read a few notes before heading out again to find the table. As we continued, we found another alcove where people left trinkets. We were getting hungry and almost ready to head back and try another day when Bridgette and Ernie (a.k.a. Freddie Feldspar!)…a local couple who graciously led us to the elusive Poet’s Table. Well, it was a real treat….we felt as if we ‘earned’ our way in, but did feel a teeny bit guilty that we needed to be shown the way. We were actually only 20 feet away at one point, but it was so well concealed that we didn’t know we were so close.
      Anyway, it was a very special day for us and I left my note (to my Mom, who passed away last year)-I truly felt that I was close to her in that spot and that she was with me as well.
      So, I will keep the ‘secret’ of the PT and yet I will share my extraordinary experien

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  3. an old hippy I know led me and a friend up to Poet’s Table the way that he knew from many treks going back two decades. For him and his friends, this part of Custer State Park was a playland. They had and 18 hole golf course set up, by which i mean they had 18 places from which to his balls and never find them again, ever. We took a scenic route that started at little devil’s tower trail head, soon after veered right, led past a little pool (say 10 feet across) with a tiny waterfall dripping down. Then we followed a cliffy wall by this pool and turned left to find a 60% gnarly rocky crack to scramble up. Our guide called this the “middle way,” because apparently he knew an easy way to Poet’s Table, a medium way, and a hard way that I’ve no interest in because this rocky crack was enough for me. We continued upwards and found a flat, windy, rocky plateau about the area of a typical gas station, and Poet’s Table was 10 minutes past it. I realize the directions will do few any good, but I loved the hike and this is how it went for me. It’s worth finding, so use whatever resources you have to make your way. Make sure to prepare your own little relic to leave behind. Mine was a very, very tiny book. Cheers!

  4. I lived in Custer for seven years and visited Poet’s Table regularly. My favorite times were in the winter, when the Needle’s Highway was closed. We’d park at the Sylvan Lake parking lot and walk down the middle of the Needle’s Highway (you can also take a cut-across trail, but it’s difficult with snow) to the LDT trailhead.

    Over the years, we came across things people would leave as clues…yellow ribbons, arrows on the ground, even a makeshift sign. I would always remove them! Why? Because it’s a place that needs to be kept special. When you’re shown where it is by someone, you feel entrusted to keep it that way. When anyone can find it by following signs or looking up GPS coordinates, it will end up being vandalized, etc. In my scores of trips, I’ve only seen people on three occasions. What would it be like if every tourist easily found it? Not only would the trail be obvious, but the solitude you enjoy while there would be totally gone.

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