Distance: 4.5 mile loop (7.2 km)
Elevation: 3,900-4,480 feet (1190 - 1366 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Any Time (be prepared for cold and snow in winter)
This relatively easy stroll across the prairie and down through a limestone canyon provides an excellent opportunity to see all of the main features of Wind Cave National Park, and if you are lucky (or not) a close up of Bison on the prairies.
|Hidden amongst the prairie grasses are cactus|
Here, you can go either direction, but I will describe it by taking the Lookout Point trail first. The trail starts out descending to a creekside before climbing the grassy hills. Watch out for poison ivy along the rocky sections. As the trail climbs out of the drainage and onto the ridgetop, the views increase and you can see buffalo wallows and other signs of their presence on the prairie.
|Approaching a large male bison on the trail|
|The bison on the otherside after taking a large detour through the woods|
|Two more laying about 200 feet of the trail|
Beyond Lookout Point, you head across a grassy swale with large buffalo wallows and a colony of prairie dogs. In 2007, Wind Cave NP also reintroduced Black-footed ferrets, whose primary prey are prairie dogs. The Black-footed ferret, if you did not know, was thought to be extinct for decades before a small colony was discovered on a ranch in Montana. They were wiped out by ranchers who were poisoning prairie dogs and by their extreme sensitively to canine distemper.
From here, the trail enters a ponderosa pine forest and begins to descends about 400 feet into Beaver Canyon. Once in Beaver Canyon, you follow the dry creek bed with high limestone cliffs above you. This grassy meadow also has nice riparian vegetation along its edges. At one point, you will come to a rocky cliff where you suddenly encounter water. The creek here suddenly drops into a cave and you can hear the rushing waters falling down below. Thus, it leaves the rest of the creekbed dry, except in high water.