Hiking

East Bison Flats Trail with Buffalo Gap visible in the distance.
East Bison Flats Trail with Buffalo Gap visible in the distance.

NPS

 

Over 30 miles of hiking trails meander through mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest. Mileages listed below are one-way unless otherwise noted. Go prepared:

  • Carry and drink plenty of water.
  • Check the weather forecast before starting and bring extra layers.
  • Large wildlife, including bison, elk, and mountain lions roam throughout the park. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Regulations require at least 25 yards from bison and elk at all times.
  • Topographic maps for each trail are available at the links below or can be purchased at the visitor center bookstore. Off-trail hiking is allowed and may be the best way to avoid large wildlife.
 

Easy Trails

Elk Mountain

Trailhead: Located in the Elk Mountain Campground, across from the amphitheater.
Pets: Leashed pets permitted.
Distance (round trip): 1 mile / 1.6 kilometer
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour
Description: The grassland and forest meet on this trail around the campground.

Prairie Vista

Trailhead: Begin this loop trail at the Visitor Center or at the picnic area, located 1000 feet north of the visitor center.
Pets: Leashed pets permitted. Start this trail from the picnic area, 1/4 mile north of the Visitor Center with a pet.
Distance (round trip): approximately 1 mile / 1.6 kilometer
Estimated hiking time: 30 minutes
Description: Stroll the prairie grasslands from the visitor center. Waysides provide information along the way.

Rankin Ridge

Trailhead: Follow Route 87 in the park, and look for signage leading towards Rankin Ridge Nature Trail. RVs and trailers are not permitted at trailhead; hikers may park at nearby pulloff and walk to trailhead (approx. 1200 feet to trailhead).
Pets: Not permitted.
Distance (round trip): approximately 1 mile/ 1.6 kilometer
Estimated hiking time: 45 minutes
Description: Gain spectacular views from the highest point in the park. This nature trail, like those above, is a loop great for families or those with little time to explore. Download the Rankin Ridge Nature Trail Guide or pick up a copy at the trailhead. (1 mile)

Wind Cave Canyon (#2)

Trailhead: Located along Route 385 just east of the visitor center. Look for the gravel parking area east of the road.
Pets: Not permited
Distance (one way): 1.8 miles / 2.9 kilometers. Note: this is an out-and-back trail.
Estimated hiking time: 3 hours
Description: This former road follows Wind Cave Canyon to the park boundary. Limestone cliffs provide nesting areas for cliff swallows, canyon wrens, and great horned owls. Look for Red-headed and Lewis' woodpeckers among the snag trees of forested hillsides.

 

Moderate Trails

Cold Brook Canyon (#1)

Trailhead: Located along Route 385 approximately 1 mile south of the visitor center.
Pets: Not permitted.
Distance (one way): 1.4 miles / 3.5 kilometers. Note: this is an out-and-back trail.
Estimated hiking time: 2 hours
Description: This trail winds through Cold Brook Canyon to the park boundary. Along the way a ponderosa forest gives way to the open prairie and crosses a prairie dog town, a good place to see prairie falcons and other raptors

Lookout Point (#4)

Trailhead: Located along Route 87 north of the visitor center.
Pets: Not permitted
Distance (one way): 2.2 miles / 3.5 km. Note: this is an out-and-back trail.
Estimated hiking time: 3 hours
Description: Follow the rolling hills of the prairie across Lookout Point to Beaver Creek. A side trip up Lookout Point offers views of the American Elk Prescribed Fire from 2010. This trail can be combined with part of the Highland Creek and Centennial trails to make a 4.5-mile loop.

 

Strenuous Trails

Sanctuary (#5)

Trailhead: About one mile north of the Rankin Ridge fire tower turnoff.
Pets: Not permitted.
Distance (one way): 3.6 miles / 5.8 kilometers.
Estimated hiking time: 2.5 hours
Description: This trail follows the rolling hills of the prairie, crosses a large prairie dog town, and ends where it meets the Highland Creek Trail.

East Bison Flats (#3)

Trailhead: Located just north of the park's southern boundary along Route 385.
Pets: Not permitted.
Distance (one way): 3.7 miles / 6 kilometers
Estimated hiking time: 2 hours
Description: Hike one-half mile down the Wind Cave Canyon Trail to reach the East Bison Flats Trail where a brief, steep climb leads to the rolling hills of the praririe. Panoramic views of the prairie, Buffalo Gap and the Black Hills await.

Centennial (#6/89)

Trailhead: this trail can be reached by Hwy 87 or NPS 5.
Pets: Not permitted
Distance (one way): 6 miles / 9.7 kilometers
Estimated hiking time: 4 hours
Description: This section is the southernmost part of a 111-mile trail through the Black Hills, ending at Bear Butte State Park. Here it crosses prairies, ponderosa forests, and winds along Beaver Creek.

Highland Creek (#7)

Trailhead: This trail can be reached by a 1-mile hike down the Wind Cave Canyon trail or from the northern trailhead on NPS 5.
Pets: Not permitted.
Distance (one way): 8.6 miles / 13.8 kilometers
Estimated hiking time: 5 hours
Description: This trail is the longest and most diverse trail in the park, crossing mixed-grass prairies, ponderosa pine forests, and riparian habitats of Highland Creek, Beaver Creek, and Wind Cave Canyon.

Boland Ridge (#8)

Trailhead: The trail begins at a small parking area on NPS 6, one mile north of the junction with NPS 5.
Pets: Not permitted
Distance (one way): 2.6 miles / 4.2 kilometers
Estimated hiking time: 2 hours
Description: A series of climbs offer panoramic views of the Black Hills, Red Valley, and the plains beyond. Elk are often seen from this trail.

 
 

Last updated: September 26, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747

Phone:

(605) 745-4600

Contact Us