HikingParksSouth Dakota Tag: Jewel Cave National Monument

Hiking The Roof And Canyons Trail In Jewel Cave National Park

    The Canyons Trail is a 3 1/2 mile loop with around 430 feet of elevation gain and located at Jewel Cave National Monument. The trail begins on the Roof Trail located at the visitor center.

    If you’re not interested in a long hike the Roof trail is only a 1/4 mile long and circles the visitor center. The Roof trail is a short and easy hike that travels through a ponderosa pine forest.


    The Canyons Trail got it’s name from the two canyons it travels through, Hell Canyon and Lithograph Canyon. It has some moderate to steep inclines and pets are not permitted on trail.

    We also did the Discovery Cave Tour while we visited the monument and the elevators were down so you had to walk to the cave entrance for the tour. This was the reason we started the Canyons Trail clockwise from the visitor center, because that was the direction to go for the tour.


    We started with a 1/2-mile hike down the mountainside through a Ponderosa pine forest to the tour cave entrance, which includes 180 feet of elevation loss. We did our little tour (it was o.k., but if you have the time and are physically able I would suggest a longer tour) left the cave and continued on the Canyons Trail.

    This is by far the prettiest part of the trail. After leaving the cave we began hiking the floor of Lithograph Canyon. You will be traveling down an old service road for part of it, but that doesn’t take away from any of it’s beauty.


    As you’re making your way down this single-track gravel and dirt road you will be surrounded by cliffs and rocky outcroppings. Giant ponderosa pines are all around you and wildflowers line the trail.

    The forest will end and you will start your trek through meadows for a good stretch. The Jasper Fire in August 2000 raged through the area burning most of the trees and vegetation. Remains of the devastation can be seen all around you, but the area is coming back to life.

    Wildflowers are scattered throughout the meadow and birds were a constant presence. We saw at least three different species of woodpeckers during our hike.


    This part of the trail is really not that exciting or much to look out. Since all the trees were destroyed there is also no shade in this entire section so be sure to have plenty of water, wear a hat and apply sunscreen.

    The meadows will end and trees will start to appear again. You will leave the forest floor and start your climb towards the top of Hell Canyon. On the way you will pass the historic natural entrance to Jewel Cave. It’s blocked off so you can’t enter, but some tours do use this entrance.


    After passing the cave you will make your way up a set of stone steps. You are now entering the Jewel Cave Historic Area. You will stumble upon a cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 that’s worth checking out. Bathrooms, water fountains and picnic tables are available here and is the perfect spot for a little break.

    When you’re ready to continue your journey head across the parking lot and look for the signs. A 9/10 mile spur trail will lead you back to the visitor center and the end of your hike. Should probably mention this section does come with a little bit of a climb.


    Tours are on a first come first serve basis at Jewel Cave National Monument so if you have a bit of a wait before your tour begins why not take a hike. I think it took us less than two hours to complete.

    Though we thought the hike was just okay it’s still a good way to get in some exercise or kill time. The middle section, where the fire occurred, is a big part of the hike and pretty boring. There are some very pretty parts and cool attractions to be found as well though.

    Whenever we go to a new place we always like to check out the hiking trails. You never know when you are going to stumble upon a hidden gem. We have found some of our favorite trails by doing random hikes we discovered on our travels.


    Even though I wouldn’t hike this trail again I’m still glad we did it. If you don’t hike these trails you never know what wonders you might be missing.





    Leave a Reply