Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rankin Ridge Trail (Wind Cave NP)

Rankin Ridge Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 4,751 ft.
High Point Elevation:4,992 ft.
Distance: 1.35 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 225 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 3:30pm
End Time: 4:00pm

Trip Report:
Wind Cave has a number of nice, mostly short trails that are worth checking out. If I had a few days and time I would love to see them all. Some of the rolling prairie mixed into the forests of the southern Black Hills would make for fantastic landscape. I wanted to get a hike in somewhere in this beautiful park and in my typical style, I found one that hit a high point. I also needed something short in length to fit the family schedule for the day. The Rankin Ridge trail would check all the boxes for today.
Buffalo in the meadow just before the trailhead
From the visitor center we drove north onto SD87 to the turnoff oa road heading up hill. There is some basic signage and parking at the road turnoff. My wife and two youngest kids would end up staying at this lower trailhead where there is a fantastic prairie dog town. First, however, they drove my older son and I up the road to an upper trailhead for Rankin Ridge. A few other vehicles were there already.

Luke on his way up the trail

Most of the ascent trail looked like this
The Rankin Ridge trail is essentially a loop. The trail is a nice forest trail heading northeast to start. It is singletrack and winds up the slope at a typical pace. Luke and I were just carrying a nalgene of water knowing the trail to be only a bit over a mile in length. About 0.4 miles in the trail begins to hit the ridgeline and makes a turn due south. Just another tenth of a mile and it all tops out by a watchtower for forest fires. Elevation was just shy of 5000 feet. The views to the east were nice and on a clear day the Badlands can be spotted. The tower and trees on the ridge block a lot of the views to the north and northwest of the Black Hills.

On the ridge, the watch tower hidden in the trees ahead

From atop the ridge
For our descent we completed the loop. Heading south along the ridge the trail is now doubletrack following what must be a service road to gain the watch tower. It follows the ridge for 0.3 miles until heading west down the slope. The loop was complete at just a hair over a mile. We walked another 0.3 miles down the road to the lower trailhead to meet the family at the prairie dog town.

Descending the double track service road

Back at the upper TH


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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