• Wind Cave National Park - Two Worlds

    Wind Cave

    National Park South Dakota

Hiking

Imagine walking across a prairie and viewing scenery similar to that seen by Black Hills pioneers in the 1890s. Such landscapes can be seen from the 30 miles of hiking trails in Wind Cave National Park. From these trails you can view one of the best examples of mixed-grass prairie in the United States. Seventy percent of the park is mixed-grass prairie and the balance is ponderosa pine forest and riparian habitat.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping offers an opportunity to learn firsthand about the plants and the animals of the prairie and forest. The backcountry camping area is located in the northwest part of the park. All backcountry campers must obtain a free Backcountry Use Permit at the visitor center or at Centennial Trail access points. Information gained from backcountry permits help park rangers protect the resources while allowing for use of the backcounty of Wind Cave National Park.

Nature Trails

There are 3 nature trails in the park. The Elk Mountain, Prairie Vista and Rankin Ridge nature trails are all loops and all are one mile in distance.

 
Wind Cave National Park hiking trails
Hiking trails at Wind Cave National Park.
 

1. Cold Brook Canyon Trail

1.4 Miles
The trail begins on the west side of Hwy 385 two miles south of the visitor center. This mildly strenuous trail traverses across a former prairie dog town, along the edge of a prescribed fire and through Cold Brook Canyon to the park boundary fence. Because of the Mytle Fire in 2012 and the lack of vegetation within that area, flash flooding may occur in Cold Brook Canyon. Always be aware of the weather and move uphill if flooding occurs.

2. Wind Cave Canyon Trail

1.8 Miles
The trail begins on the east side of Hwy 385 one mile north of the southern access road to the visitor center. This easily walked trail follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary fence. Wind Cave Canyon is one of the best places in the park for bird watching. Limestone cliffs provide good nesting areas for cliff swallows and great horned owls. Standing dead trees serve as homes for red-headed and Lewis woodpeckers.

3. East Bison Flats Trail

3.7 Miles
The trail begins along the Wind Cave Canyon Trail. Hike ½ mile down the Wind Cave Canyon Trail to pick up the East Bison Flats Trail. This mildly strenuous trail leads hikers across the rolling hills of the prairie. From this trail you may see panoramic views of Wind Cave National Park, Buffalo Gap and the Black Hills.

4. Lookout Point Trail

1.9 Miles
The trail begins at the Centennial Trailhead on the east side of Hwy 87. The trailhead is 0.7 miles north of its junction with Hwy 385. This mildly strenuous trail follows the rolling hills of the prairie, traverses Lookout Point and ends at Beaver Creek. Take a side trip up Lookout Point to see views of the 1986 prescribed fire. This trail can also be combined with part of Trail 7, Highland Creek Trail, and Trail 6, Centennial Trail, to create a 4.5 mile loop that begins and ends at the Centennial Trailhead.

5. Sanctuary Trail

3.6 Miles
The trail begins on the east side of Hwy 87 about one mile north of the Rankin Ridge fire tower road. This mildly strenuous trail follows the rolling hills of the prairie, crosses a large prairie dog town and ends at the Highland Creek Trail. View the Rankin Ridge fire tower at the intersection of the Centennial Trail. This trail provided a fire break for the 2000 wildfire of 1135 acres.

6. Centennial Trail

6.0 Miles
The southern access to the trail is on the east side of S.D. 87. The trailhead is 0.7 miles north of the junction of U.S. 385 and S.D. 87. The northern access is on NPS 5, 1.4 miles east of its junction with S.D. 87. This moderately strenuous trail is part of a 111-mile trail through the Black Hills. The trail leads hikers across prairies, through forested areas, and along Beaver Creek. The trail is marked with posts and trees bearing the Centennial Trail logo. Much of this trailis within the area of the 2012 American Elk prescribed fire. Notice how the grasses and shrubs are thriving because more sunlight is reaching the forest floor. Thinning the forest is an important part of forest ecology.

7. Highland Creek Trail

8.6 Miles
The southern trail begins along the Wind Cave Canyon Trail one mile east of Hwy 385. The northern trail begins on NPS 5, 2.8 miles east of Hwy 87. This strenuous trail is the longest and the most diverse in the park. The trail traverses mixed-grass prairies, ponderosa pine forests and riparian habitats of Highland Creek, Beaver Creek and Wind Cave Canyon.

8. Boland Ridge Trail

2.7 Miles
The trail begins one mile north of the NPS 5 and NPS 6 junction. This strenuous trail climbs the ridge to panoramic views of Wind Cave National Park, the Black Hills, Red Valley and Battle Mountain.

9. Elk Mountain Nature Trail

1.2 Miles
Trail begins at the campground. Nine interpretive stops.
Elk Mountain Trail Guide - 1.8 m PDF

10. Rankin Ridge Nature Trail

1.0 Miles
Trail is a loop beginning and ending at the parking lot at Rankin Ridge. There are 14 interpretive stops placed at irregular intervals along the path. The fire tower itself is closed to public access, but the trail provides great panoramic views of the Black Hills.
Rankin Ridge Nature Trail Guide - 4.21 MB PDF

11. Prairie Vista Trail

1.0 Mile
Trail begins at the picnic area near the visitor center. Interpretive wayside exhibits provide information for this trail.

 

HELP PROTECT YOURSELF AND THE PARK

Resources. All plants, wildlife, and natural or cultural features in the park are protected and should be left in place.

Bison. Bison roam freely throughout the park. While appearing docile, they are wild and can charge at surprising speed. Bison are particularly unpredictable in July and August during the rut (mating season).

Rattlesnakes. Hikers should be particularly watchful for prairie rattlesnakes when near prairie dog towns, cliffs and rocky areas. Rattlesnakes will not usually strike unless provoked.

Mountain Lions are present in the park. Although the chance of meeting a mountain lion is extremely small, it is possible. Lions are most active from dusk to dawn, although they will travel and hunt in daylight. Closely supervise children whenever they play outdoors. If you encounter a lion, do not run, stay calm, and back away slowly only if you can do so safely. Try to scare the lion by making yourself appear bigger and creating a lot of noise.

Insects. Hikers may encounter biting deer flies in July and August and wood ticks in spring.

Water. Hikers should carry in their water as it is not readily available along the trails. All water obtained from backcountry sources should be treated or boiled.

Travel. Horses, pets, bicycles and motorized equipment are not allowed on park trails. Horse permits are available for off trail use

Fires. Open fires are not permitted.

Did You Know?

Sign used at Wind Cave in 1903 when the cave became a national park.

Wind Cave is the first cave in the world to be designated as a national park. That occurred on January 9, 1903.