Hiking To The Highest Point in Wind Cave National Park
The Rankin Ridge Interpretive Trail is a one mile loop with around 250 feet elevation gain located inside Wind Cave National Park. When you reach the fire tower at the top you will be standing in the highest point in the park.
Pets are not permitted on the trail.
A nature trail brochure is usually available for purchase for a mere fifty cents at the trailhead. There are 14 interpretive sites along the trail and each are described in the brochure making this not only a fun, but educational hike.
There were no brochures available at the trailhead when we visited, but they can also be purchased at the bookstore at the visitor center. If interested I would highly recommend picking one up there before doing the hike.
If you plan on doing other hikes in the park I also recommend asking for those brochures as well. I know they were a couple others hikes that had them also.
We went clockwise on the trail which starts as a climb up a mature forest of ponderosa pines. Make sure to take time to admire the views to your left as you travel through the pine forest and rocky outcroppings.
You will continue climbing until reaching a set of stone steps taking you up to top of the ridge. While walking the ridge you will start to get some great views of the surrounding areas. You may also notice the devastation left by previous fires leaving some areas devoid of trees. Continue traveling up the ridgeline until reaching the old fire tower at the top.
The tower is made entirely of steel, stands 53 feet tall and was built in 1956. Today the fire tower is staffed only during periods of extreme fire danger and following intense electrical storms. Jamey was very disappointed you couldn’t climb to the top of the tower, but they have it closed for safety reasons.
On a clear day they claim you can see as far as the Badlands from this viewpoint. There was a lot of smoke in the air when we visited so we had no such luck, but even with the hazy skies the views from the top were pretty awesome. I would love to hike the trail again on a clear day, because I bet the views are epic.
Once you have soaked up all those amazing views you’re journey back to the car begins. The rest of your trek is an easy downhill hike on the old service road. This section still provides you with views as you weave your way through the pine forest.
Jamey has a thing for fire towers so this was his favorite hike in the park. Even without the fire tower it still would of been our favorite hike in the park. It’s just a great, short trail that only requires a little bit of real physical exertion.
If you only have time for one hike in the park I suggest this one.
I wish I would of known about the trail guide though, because I would of picked up one of those first for sure. Who doesn’t love a little education with their hike!