The Black Hills and Badlands make it easy to enjoy the best outdoor recreation activities. In all honesty, the hiking options are endless! To help you navigate where to start, we’ve put together a three-part series highlighting some of our favorite medium-grade hikes throughout the region. Now sit back and get ready to jot down your 2017 hiking to-do list!
M-Hill & Skyline Drive Trails
Both of these trail groups are great as you don’t have to travel far to reach them because they’re both conveniently located in downtown Rapid City! For both areas, watch for mountain bikers (and bikers should watch for hikers) as there are lots of twists and turns on these trails and visibility can be limited. Also, be attentive for rattlesnakes. Mountain lions have been rumored in both of these areas though sightings are extremely rare.
This area offers close to 20 miles of trails accessible year-round. The main entrance is from Founders Park on Omaha St. in “The Gap” (though there’s a second entrance on the north side off Thrush Drive). The main trail is wide but fairly steep and mostly winds up the southern exposure of the Hill. Other trails snake around the Hill and, while less steep, are also longer—I personally prefer these trails as they tend to be less busy. Depending on where you are on the Hill, you can see most of downtown Rapid City as well as the surrounding prairie and forested hills to the West. You do tend to notice more road noise in this area as several of the city’s busiest roads are nearby.
At over 150 acres, these trails can be reached from several different trailheads, including Quincy Street on the north, Flormann Street near the center portion, and Tower Road from the south. Depending on which trail you’re on, these paths are quieter than the ones on M-Hill as they tend to be a bit more secluded. They’re relatively level single-tracks as Skyline Drive encompasses a highland area on the top of the hillside. These trails also offer stunning views of town and the surrounding countryside.
At 23.2 miles total, this trail has a unique history. A Flume (a u-shaped tube made of wood that was used to transport water in the goldmining days) was formally constructed here. Much of the trail follows in the footprints of the original Flume and remnants of it are still visible in some areas. The trail traverses an area from Sheridan Lake eastward to Sheridan Lake Road and south to Highway 16 near Rockerville. There are several trailheads providing access to this trail and it connects with other trails in the local area. Be aware, there are numerous water crossings throughout. While these can be nice in the heat of the summer, in the cooler months they can put a damper on your enjoyment. There are log bridges at some of these crossings though they can be hindered by high water. In the spring, when water levels tend to be higher, expect these crossings to be more formidable and the water to be much deeper and swifter than at other times of the year. The trail is single-track in some places but in areas where it directly follows the old Flume it is usually wide, smooth, and relatively flat. Another unusual characteristic of this trail is…tunnels! There are several locations along the trail’s length where you pass through short tunnels through the rock. These are original to the Flume though they have been shored up in recent years to promote stability and safety. For those who may get claustrophobic, the longer tunnel does have a walk-around, though it requires climbing some larger rocks and bushwhacking through an overgrown area. This walk-around also may not be reachable in the winter due to snow and ice buildup.
At a little over a mile each way, the trailhead can be reached from Sheridan Lake Road off the Dakota Point Picnic Area access road on Sheridan Lake. The turnoff is about 2 miles west of the Spring Creek trailhead that provides access to the Flume Trail listed above. This trail is a good one for an afternoon hike as it’s wide and not overly difficult. It starts with mild rolling hills (this is a prime area for spotting wild turkeys); although, near the terminus at Dakota Point there is a substantial descent…which obviously equates to a substantial ascent on the way back. However, the view of Sheridan Lake at the end makes it worth the trouble. The trail takes you to the tip of the easternmost finger of the lake. As you cross a beautiful bridge you can look to the east down a canyon formed by Spring Creek or to the west at a spectacular panoramic view of the lake spreading out in front of you (watch for bald eagles that frequent this area). If you continue on past the Point and cross the Sheridan Lake spillway, you can look down and see the Flume Trail (the Dakota Point trail links with the Flume Trail on the far side of the spillway). The trail can also be used as a connector to various parts of the Centennial Trail.