Rankin Ridge Trail In South Dakota

Here is everything you need to know about the Rankin Ridge Trail:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: South Dakota
  • Length: 1 miles.
  • Type: Hiking.
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Managed By: National Park Service
  • Permit Required?: Yes
  • Website: Info not available.

The Rankin Ridge Trail, located in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, holds a significant historical value. The trail is named after Dr. Valentine T. Rankin, a prominent figure in the early exploration and preservation of the park. Dr. Rankin was a physician from Hot Springs, South Dakota, who recognized the unique geological and biological features of the area and played a crucial role in its protection.

In the late 19th century, Dr. Rankin began exploring the region, fascinated by the mysterious cave formations and the diverse wildlife that inhabited the area. He recognized the importance of preserving this natural wonder and actively campaigned for its protection. His efforts led to the establishment of Wind Cave National Park in 1903, making it the seventh national park in the United States.

The Rankin Ridge Trail itself was developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program during the Great Depression. The CCC was responsible for constructing many of the park’s trails, roads, and buildings, including the Rankin Ridge Fire Tower. This tower, located at the end of the trail, served as a lookout point for detecting and monitoring wildfires in the surrounding area.

Today, the Rankin Ridge Trail stands as a testament to the early conservation efforts and the rich history of Wind Cave National Park. Visitors can hike the trail and experience the same awe-inspiring views that Dr. Rankin and the CCC workers once enjoyed. The trail provides a glimpse into the past and serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and appreciating our natural heritage.

While On The Trail

Access Points

The Rankin Ridge Trail is a 1.5-mile loop trail located in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. There are two major access points or trailheads along the Rankin Ridge Trail:

1. Rankin Ridge Fire Tower: This is the main access point for the Rankin Ridge Trail. The trail starts near the Rankin Ridge Fire Tower, which is a historic fire lookout tower. The fire tower offers panoramic views of the surrounding area and is a popular spot for visitors to enjoy the scenery.

2. Rankin Ridge Nature Trail: This is another access point for the Rankin Ridge Trail. The trail can also be accessed from the Rankin Ridge Nature Trail, which is a shorter loop trail that provides interpretive signs about the park’s geology, plants, and wildlife. The Rankin Ridge Nature Trail connects to the Rankin Ridge Trail, allowing visitors to explore both trails in one visit.

These are the two main access points or trailheads along the Rankin Ridge Trail. Visitors can choose to start their hike from either of these points and enjoy the beautiful scenery and unique features of Wind Cave National Park.

Transportation Available

1. Rankin Ridge Trailhead Parking Lot – Convenient parking lot located at the trailhead for Rankin Ridge Trail.
2. Custer State Park Shuttle – Shuttle service providing transportation within Custer State Park, including stops near Rankin Ridge Trail.
3. Black Hills Stage Lines – Bus service offering transportation to various destinations in the Black Hills region, including Custer State Park.
4. Uber – Ride-hailing service available in the area, providing convenient transportation options.
5. Lyft – Another ride-hailing service operating in the vicinity, offering reliable transportation solutions.
6. Rapid City Regional Airport – Nearest airport providing air travel options for those visiting Rankin Ridge Trail.
7. Local Taxi Services – Various taxi companies offering transportation services in the area, providing convenient rides to and from Rankin Ridge Trail.


The amenities available at the Rankin Ridge Trail include:

1. Restrooms: There are restroom facilities available at the trailhead or nearby.

2. Parking: There is a designated parking area for visitors to park their vehicles.

3. Camping Sites: The Rankin Ridge Trail offers camping sites for visitors who wish to stay overnight. These sites may have amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and access to water.

4. Picnic Areas: There are designated picnic areas along the trail where visitors can enjoy a meal or snack amidst the beautiful surroundings.

5. Interpretive Signs: The trail may have interpretive signs that provide information about the local flora, fauna, and geological features.

6. Scenic Overlooks: The trail may have scenic overlooks or viewpoints that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

7. Trail Markers: The trail is typically marked with signs or markers to guide visitors along the designated path.

8. Benches: There may be benches or seating areas along the trail where visitors can rest and take in the scenery.

9. Information Kiosk: An information kiosk may be available at the trailhead, providing maps, brochures, and other useful information for visitors.

10. Accessibility: The trail may have accessibility features such as paved paths, ramps, or handrails to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Please note that the availability of these amenities may vary, and it is always recommended to check with the local park authorities or visitor center for the most up-to-date information.

Nearby Services

1. Sylvan Lake Lodge – Rustic lodge offering lodging and dining options near the Rankin Ridge Trail.
2. Blue Bell Lodge – Cozy cabins and a restaurant located close to the trailhead.
3. State Game Lodge – Historic lodge with accommodations and dining facilities nearby.
4. Legion Lake Lodge – Lakeside lodge offering lodging and dining options.
5. Custer State Park Resort – Various lodging options including cabins, lodges, and campgrounds within the park.
6. Black Hills Burger and Bun Co. – Local burger joint serving delicious burgers and fries.
7. Baker’s Bakery & Cafe – Charming bakery and cafe offering breakfast and lunch options.
8. Black Hills Bagels – Popular bagel shop with a variety of bagels and sandwiches.
9. Rapid City Regional Hospital – Nearby hospital providing emergency medical services.
10. Custer Regional Hospital – Local hospital offering emergency medical services.

Rankin Ridge Trail Difficulty Notes

The Rankin Ridge Trail, located in Wind Cave National Park, offers a moderate level of difficulty for hikers. The trail spans approximately 1.5 miles and features a gradual incline, making it accessible for most fitness levels. While there are some rocky sections and uneven terrain, the trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, ensuring a relatively smooth hiking experience. The reward at the end of the trail is a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding Black Hills, making the moderate effort required to complete the Rankin Ridge Trail well worth it.

Features And Attractions

The Rankin Ridge Trail is located in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. While it is a relatively short trail, it offers several scenic views, historical sites, and natural landmarks. Here are some notable points of interest along the Rankin Ridge Trail:

1. Rankin Ridge Fire Tower: The trail begins at the Rankin Ridge Fire Tower, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. Visitors can climb the tower for an even better vantage point.

2. Prairie Grasslands: As you hike along the trail, you’ll pass through beautiful prairie grasslands, which are characteristic of the region. These grasslands are home to a variety of plant and animal species.

3. Wildlife: Keep an eye out for wildlife along the trail. Wind Cave National Park is known for its diverse wildlife population, including bison, elk, pronghorn, and various bird species.

4. Historic Significance: The Rankin Ridge Trail has historical significance as it was used by Native Americans and early settlers. Interpretive signs along the trail provide information about the area’s history and cultural significance.

5. Unique Geology: Wind Cave National Park is famous for its unique cave system, but the Rankin Ridge Trail showcases the park’s above-ground geology. You’ll see interesting rock formations and learn about the park’s geological history.

6. Scenic Overlooks: The trail offers several scenic overlooks where you can pause and take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. These overlooks provide great photo opportunities.

7. Wildflowers: Depending on the time of year, you may encounter a variety of wildflowers along the trail. Spring and early summer are particularly beautiful when the prairie is in bloom.

8. Interpretive Panels: Throughout the trail, you’ll find interpretive panels that provide information about the park’s ecology, geology, and history. These panels enhance the educational experience of hiking the Rankin Ridge Trail.

Remember to check with the park’s visitor center for any specific updates or closures before embarking on the Rankin Ridge Trail.

Usage Guidelines

– Pets are allowed on the Rankin Ridge Trail but must be kept on a leash at all times.
– Hiking is permitted year-round, but be aware of seasonal restrictions and closures due to weather conditions or maintenance work.
– Camping is not allowed along the trail or in the immediate vicinity.
– Leave no trace: Pack out all trash and dispose of it properly.
– Do not disturb or remove any natural or cultural resources.
– Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail.
– Hunting or fishing is not permitted on the Rankin Ridge Trail.
– Open fires are prohibited; only use designated fire rings or stoves where provided.
– Stay on designated trails and do not create new paths or shortcuts.
– Respect other hikers and maintain a peaceful and quiet environment.
– Follow any additional rules or guidelines posted at the trailhead or along the trail.

Seasonal Information

The Rankin Ridge Trail, located in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the park’s diverse landscape and witness breathtaking views from its highest point. When planning a visit to the Rankin Ridge Trail, it is essential to consider the best times of the year to make the most of your experience.

One of the best times to visit the Rankin Ridge Trail is during the spring season, from April to June. During this time, the park comes alive with vibrant wildflowers, and the weather is generally pleasant, with mild temperatures and less chance of rain. Hiking the trail during spring allows visitors to witness the park’s flora and fauna awakening from the winter slumber, creating a picturesque and serene atmosphere.

Another ideal time to explore the Rankin Ridge Trail is in the fall, from September to October. The autumn foliage paints the landscape with stunning shades of red, orange, and yellow, providing a breathtaking backdrop for hikers. The cooler temperatures during this season make hiking more comfortable, and the park is less crowded compared to the peak summer months.

It is important to note that the Rankin Ridge Trail may have seasonal closures due to weather conditions or maintenance. The trail is typically open from mid-May to mid-October, but specific dates may vary each year. Before planning your visit, it is advisable to check the park’s official website or contact the visitor center for the most up-to-date information on trail closures and accessibility.

Overall, the Rankin Ridge Trail offers a memorable hiking experience throughout the year. Whether you choose to visit during the vibrant spring or the colorful fall, you are sure to be captivated by the natural beauty and panoramic views that this trail has to offer.


1. Wheelchair Accessibility: The Rankin Ridge Trail is not wheelchair accessible due to its steep and rugged terrain.
2. ADA Accommodations: The trail does not have specific ADA accommodations, such as accessible parking, ramps, or designated accessible restrooms.
3. Trail Surface: The trail is primarily composed of natural surfaces, including dirt, rocks, and tree roots, which may pose challenges for wheelchair users.
4. Trail Width: The trail is narrow in some sections, making it difficult for wheelchairs to pass or maneuver comfortably.
5. Elevation Changes: The trail features significant elevation changes, including steep inclines and declines, which may be challenging for individuals with mobility limitations.
6. Trail Length: The Rankin Ridge Trail is approximately 1.5 miles long, which may be too long for some individuals with mobility impairments.
7. Scenic Overlooks: The trail offers scenic overlooks with breathtaking views, but these may not be easily accessible or visible for wheelchair users.
8. Assistance Required: Due to the trail’s rugged nature, individuals with mobility impairments may require assistance from others to navigate certain sections.
9. Alternative Accessible Trails: Visitors seeking wheelchair-accessible trails in Wind Cave National Park can explore the accessible trails near the visitor center, such as the Elk Mountain Nature Trail or the Prairie Vista Trail.

Safety Information

1. Trail Difficulty: The Rankin Ridge Trail is a moderately difficult trail with steep sections and uneven terrain, requiring proper hiking footwear and caution.
2. Weather Awareness: Be prepared for changing weather conditions, as the trail is exposed and can experience high winds, sudden temperature drops, and thunderstorms.
3. Sun Protection: Wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, as there is limited shade along the trail.
4. Water Availability: Carry an adequate amount of water, as there are no water sources along the trail.
5. Wildlife Encounter: Be cautious of encounters with wildlife, including bison and rattlesnakes, and maintain a safe distance if encountered.
6. Trail Markings: Pay attention to trail markers and signs to avoid getting lost, as the trail can be challenging to navigate in some areas.
7. Hiking Buddy: It is recommended to hike with a partner or in a group for safety and assistance if needed.
8. Emergency Preparedness: Carry a first aid kit, a whistle, and a map of the trail to be prepared for any emergencies or unexpected situations.
9. Leave No Trace: Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, staying on the designated trail, and respecting the natural environment.
10. Trail Conditions: Check for any trail closures or advisories before starting your hike, as conditions may change due to weather or maintenance work.

Conservation Notes

The Rankin Ridge Trail, located in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, holds a conservation status of utmost importance. The trail traverses through a unique ecosystem known as the Black Hills, which is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. The conservation efforts for this trail primarily focus on preserving the delicate balance of this ecosystem and protecting the species that inhabit it.

One of the key conservation concerns for the Rankin Ridge Trail is the preservation of the native vegetation. The Black Hills region is characterized by its mixed-grass prairies, ponderosa pine forests, and unique plant communities. Efforts are made to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive plant species that can disrupt the natural balance and outcompete native plants. By maintaining the integrity of the vegetation, the trail ensures the survival of numerous plant species and supports the overall health of the ecosystem.

Another critical aspect of conservation for the Rankin Ridge Trail is the protection of wildlife habitats. The Black Hills region is home to a variety of wildlife species, including elk, deer, bison, and numerous bird species. Conservation efforts aim to minimize disturbances to these habitats, such as avoiding excessive human presence and preventing habitat fragmentation. By safeguarding these habitats, the trail contributes to the long-term survival of these species and helps maintain the biodiversity of the area.

Overall, the conservation status of the Rankin Ridge Trail is of great significance, as it plays a vital role in preserving the unique ecosystem of the Black Hills. Efforts to protect native vegetation and wildlife habitats ensure the sustainability of this natural environment for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

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