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"Wind Cave National Park includes 28,295 acres of prairie grasslands and
ponderosa pine forest. The park is a fascinating combination of ecosystems where 
eastern habitats meet western ones. They support a diverse assortment of life.
Hiking any of the 30 miles of trails can help visitors better understand the park.
You may even want to leave the trails and travel cross-country along
the ridges, through the canyons, or across the rolling prairie."
~ from the Wind Cave National Park 2011 newspaper, Passages
Ahhh . . . permission to color outside the lines!

How many parks encourage hikers or runners to go off-trail? Too often renegade AKA "social" trails damage tundra, cause erosion, or wreak other ecological havoc, but apparently not at Wind Cave National Park.

Jim and I both ended up doing a little bit of cross-country running/hiking during our separate treks today.

Seemingly endless prairie where you can hike or run free!
(literally and figuratively -- no entry fee, and you can go cross-country)

The photos on this and the next page are all from my two (yes, two) hikes today. You can see a map of all the trails in the park and read their descriptions at this link.

It was 41 F. and sunny in the park campground when we got up at 6:30 AM. Because dogs aren't allowed on the trails we'd be using today, Cody had to stay in the camper.

Poor puppy. He would have loved all the creeks and ponds.

Jim and I got on the trail by 8 AM. The Centennial trailhead parking area off SD 87 is small and we wanted to be sure we got a parking spot.

No worry today; only two other trucks were there when we pulled in, and only one when we were done. I don't know where those folks went because we didn't see anyone else on the trails we used. 

The sun felt plenty warm by 8 AM. We both started east on the Centennial Trail for about two miles, then I got on the Highland Creek Trail for about ˝ mile to the Lookout Point Trail, which loops back to the trailhead where I started. That was 4.85 miles (brochures say 4˝ ).

Jim did about 10 miles on the Centennial and Highland Creek Trails. He planned to go farther but his knee was hurting (has been off and on since the Jemez race).


The first two miles are in a grassy canyon and meadows along Beaver Creek, which we crossed about a dozen times.


We had to ford the overflowing creek three times. It was calf deep and 4-6 feet wide in those places. Other crossings had one or two flattened logs for bridges.

The trail goes in and out of wooded areas and grassy meadows:


This part of the loop was very scenic; we thoroughly enjoyed it.

I saw about a dozen kinds of wildflowers through this section. They weren’t prolific, as we've seen in the Bighorn and San Juan Mountains in June, but they were pretty.


There are many interesting boulders and cliffs in this canyon. I'll show more on the second page.



The trail was well-marked here (#89) but not after its first left turn in about two miles. Jim had trouble finding it (I didn’t go that way) and it wasn’t nearly as smooth of a trail after it left the creek valley.

The next half mile at the far end of this loop is mostly uphill and very rocky in places. The woods were more scruffy here. This is the only part of the Lookout Point Loop trail that I didn't like as much.

This part of the loop tops out at the intersection of Highland Creek and Lookout Point trails in a large, grassy, hilly prairie:


I was happy because I could see at least eight bison in the distance when I topped out! Here's a close-up of five of them:

I called Jim and found out he'd seen some bison and elk on the trail after we split. I never did see elk or deer, just this herd of bison and a lone bison near the trailhead at the end of my hike.

Most of the cross-country hiking I did was in this area as I tried to get closer to the bison herd -- without getting too close.

Then I returned to the Lookout Point Trail and hiked through the prairie the last 2+ miles of the loop:


I think this is Lookout Point (below); it seemed to be the highest point on the loop and I could see for miles in every direction:

The Lookout Point Trail is perfect for hiking or running. Most of it is grassy and about 18” wide. It was out in the open, with nice views in all directions. It doesn’t follow a creek until right at the end.

Almost all of the brown plastic trail markers were down on this trail; some had bison hair on them (look to the right of the red arrow):

I think the buffalo must rub up against the markers to scratch their shoulders and back, breaking the markers. I stood seven or eight of them up the first time around the loop but several had already fallen from the wind when Jim and I did the loop the second time a couple hours later (that story is on p. 2).

The next pictures are from the last half mile of the loop:


One last creek near the end of the loop:

About a quarter mile from the trailhead I spotted a single bison walking up toward the road (SD 87). I zoomed in on it from the trail to get this picture:  

When the big fella crossed over the road I hiked up the steep embankment to get a better view:


I finished the hike on the road the last 200 yards.

I spent a lot of time taking pictures, watching wildlife, and going off-trail; it took me about three hours to go 5+ miles but I sure had fun -- until I got back to the truck, that is.

Continued on the next page: more photos + hunting for the needle in the haystack (another one of our misadventures)

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil