Monday, January 12, 2015

Best trails for seeing Wind Cave’s wonders

The Fairground of Wind Cave.
Photo courtesy of  Wave Cave NPS.
While Wind Cave National Park is best known for its cave system, there are plenty of other above ground sites to see as well. In fact, among the best ways to enjoy national park’s top sights is via a day hike.

Just four short trails will allow you to take in each of the South Dakota park’s highlights – boxwork in the caves, a prairie dog farm, panoramic views of the Black Hills, and a variety of nesting birds.

Boxwork in caves
Scientists have no idea how the mysterious “boxwork” – thin sheets of calcite that form honeycomb-like patterns on the cave ceilings – form. Your best opportunity to see these natural patterns is the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, a ranger-led 0.5-mile walk.

Prairie dog farm
A large prairie dog farm sits among the rolling hills in the park’s northwest section. The 6.2-mile round trip Sanctuary Trail heads through the prairie dog farm and passes a fire tower, which is closed to the public.

Panoramic views of Black Hills
Among the best vistas for seeing the beautiful Black Hills to the west is the Rankin Ridge Nature Trail. Interpretive signs about the area’s ecology dot the 1-mile loop.

Wind Cave Canyon’s limestone cliffs and standing dead trees offer excellent nesting grounds for a variety of birds – cliff swallows and great horned owls in the case of the former and woodpeckers in the latter. The 3.6-mile round trip Wind Cave Canyon Trail heads through the habitat.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.