Hiking Trails

A brown trail sign with distances to the Historic Area and Visitor Center, showing a worn path in the background.
The surface trails at the monument are fairly easy to follow, due to the worn paths. However, trail signage in different areas help guide hikers from one location to the next.

NPS Photo / Quentin Bucker

Although most visitors only take part in ranger-guided cave tours while visiting the monument, outdoor recreation is becoming increasingly popular on the surface. There are two self-guided trails at the monument, which include the one-quarter-mile Roof Trail and 3.5 mile Canyons Trail. A third trail is nearby on the Black Hills National Forest, which is the 5.5 mile Hell Canyon Trail.

Printed trail guides are available at the visitor center, and additional trail information can be obtained at the Jewel Cave Historic Area during the summer months. During the winter season, snowshoes are available for loan at the visitor center.



Roof Trail

Length: ¼ mile (0.4 km) Loop
Hiking Time: 30-45 minutes
Trail Head: The trail begins on the south side of the visitor center, along a sidewalk from the main patio.
Terrain: Moderate inclines. Not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.
Difficulty: Easy
Features: This trail meanders through a ponderosa pine forest, circling the visitor center and returning to the parking lot. It displays a number of wildflowers during the spring, summer, and fall seasons, as well as offers wildlife viewing opportunities at random times.

Canyons Trail

Length: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) Loop
Hiking Time: 2-4 hours
Trail Head: The trail begins along the Roof Trail, approximately 650 feet from the visitor center. The trail can also be accessed from the Jewel Cave Historic Area, located about one mile west of the visitor center.
Terrain: Moderate to steep inclines. Not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Features: This trail winds through Lithograph and Hell Canyons into open meadows surrounded by cliffs and rocky outcroppings. During the summer season, the open meadows often display a large assortment of wildflowers, and birdwatching is a popular activity within the canyons year round. This trail also goes by the historic entrance of Jewel Cave and treks through the Jewel Cave Historic Area before following a 9/10 mile spur trail back to the visitor center.

NOTE: Due to the Jasper Fire in August 2000, the Canyons Trail does not offer many trees for sun protection. Hikers are encouraged to pack plenty of water, wear a hat, and/or apply sunscreen.

 

Black Hills National Forest

If you are looking for a longer and more adventurous trail than those found in the monument, the Hell Canyon Trail (Trail Number 32) is another option nearby for hikers. The trail is maintained for hikers, horseback riders, and bicycles; no motorized use is allowed. There is about 500 feet in elevation difference between the parking lot and the canyon overlooks, making the trail challenging, yet enjoyable for the casual hiker.

For additional trail options within the Black Hills National Forest, several day trips are available with links to trail descriptions. For those seeking backcountry experiences, the Forest Service also offers options for two to three day trips.

Hell Canyon Trail

Length: 5.3 miles (8.9 km) Loop
Hiking Time: 2-4 hours
Trail Head: The trail begins approximately one mile west of the visitor center along Hwy 16; a parking lot is located on the north side of the highway.
Terrain: Moderate to steep inclines. Not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.
Difficulty: Moderate
Features: This trail ascends a steep incline for about one-half mile, then follows a limestone cliff overlooking Hell Canyon and the surrounding area.

 
A small, red-colored dog tick is crawling on a finger.
Dog ticks are not uncommon within the monument during the late spring and summer seasons. This is the most common tick species in the Black Hills and can easily be removed when noticed. Hikers are encouraged to check themselves and their clothing frequently while exploring the trails at Jewel Cave.

NPS Photo / Bradley Block

Remember ... Before You Go Hiking

Hiking in the Black Hills is an enjoyable recreational experience. Yet, every so often, things happen which make for frustrating moments or even dangerous conditions. Whether you are hiking at the monument or elsewhere in western South Dakota, it is important to be safe on the trail and know your limits. The following trail tips will help you avoid "bad" situations.

• Never hike alone ...
• Alert others to your whereabouts and hiking times ...
• Stay on marked trails ...
• Do not take any flowers, rocks, or artifacts from the monument ...
• Pack plenty of water and wear (or bring) appropriate clothes ...
• Carry a map of the hiking area ...
• Watch for poison ivy, loose rocks, wildlife, and other hazards along the trail ...
• Check your body and clothing frequently for ticks ...
• Pay close attention to the weather and be aware of any inclement weather forecasts ...
• Report any suspicious behavior and/or safety issues to a park ranger ...

Last updated: November 7, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

11149 U.S. Hwy. 16
Building B12

Custer, SD 57730

Phone:

(605) 673-8300
The main phone line connects visitors with staff at the visitor center. Throughout the year, the phone line is monitored by staff on a daily basis, excluding holidays and days with limited visitor services. Please be advised that after-hours messages are not taken on the system; visitors are encouraged to call the visitor center during normal operations and speak with a park ranger for assistance.

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