A Grisly Discovery While Hiking Wind Cave Canyon Trail
The Wind Cave Canyon Trail is a 3.6 mile out and back trail located in Wind Cave National Park. It’s an easy trail with only about 200 feet in elevation gain. The trailhead is located off Highway 385 and there is a small dirt parking lot.
The trail is on an old fire service road so it’s easy to follow. Multiple other trails intersect with or branch off from this trail. The trail ends at the park boundary fence.
This trail is considered one of the best places in the park for bird watching. The sandstone cliffs provide perfect nesting spots for cliff swallows, canyon wrens, and great horned owls. Snag trees in the area are the nesting spots of Red-headed and Lewis’ woodpeckers. Flocks of turkeys can be seen walking around in search of fruits, berries, seeds and insects.
Bison are known to frequent the area as well. Many times they can be found taking a nap near the trail so always keep your eyes peeled while hiking. If you do have a wildlife encounter give them their space. A flock of turkeys crossed the trail in front of us while we were hiking, but that was the only wildlife we saw during our visit.
We ended up only doing about half of this trail. It was already pushing noon and getting hot out. There is hardly anything in the way of shade on this trail and it seemed like mostly open meadows ahead of us so we made the decision to turn around. We had already passed through, what we thought, was probably the best part of the trail anyways.
Was there something cooler ahead of us if we had made it all the way to the end?
Possibly, but we thought the odds were in our favor that there wasn’t. Plus we had already ran into more than our fair share of bison during previous hikes in the park.
Have you hiked this trail before?
We’re we wrong?
Did we miss something amazing?
It was on our way back to the truck that we made our grisly discovery. There were some cool sandstone cliffs I wanted to check out so I hopped off trail to get a closer look. (Wind Cave National Park is an open hike park so you are allowed to hike off designated trails.)
As I was walking toward the cliff I noticed a collection of large bones scattered around its muddy base. They appeared to be the the remains of a long deceased bison. We could identify many leg, rib, vertebrae and pelvic bones among the mud.
No flesh or hide was in sight, I’m assuming being picked cleaned by scavengers long ago. Most of the skeleton was missing so I’m assuming those pieces were dragged away by much larger predators.
While it may have been a macabre discovery for some, we thought stumbling upon the old bison bones was cool. I like to think he curled up in the shade of the cliff and fell into a deep sleep passing away peacefully in the night. It’s the circle of life baby!
The Wind Cave Canyon Trail is a popular hike in the park. It’s an easy stroll down the fire road with some great scenery and multiple opportunities for wildlife encounters. I suggest an early morning or late afternoon hike though to avoid that heat.