Easy to find and access, The Buzzard's Roost Trail System is a favored destination among hikers and mountain bikers. The parking area and trailhead are conveniently located just west of Rapid City, South Dakota, on Highway 44.
When we pulled into the ample parking lot, several cars were already waiting. No problem -Buzzard's Roost has plenty of trails to share. On this occasion we were interested in a nice hike through the forest along some of the trails on the eastern side of the system.
The parking lot was icy, as was the start of the main trail, but we were betting that the paths on the eastern side of the network would be drier and mostly clear. We passed through the gate and carefully made our way up the main pathway, known as North Buzzard (or former USFS Road 596). This wide trail runs through the middle of the system with many other paths either stemming from or connecting back to it.
We soon came to the start of the Buzzards Loop Trail off to our left. This would lead us away from the main path and into the eastern part of the trail system. As predicted, the snow began to recede away from the path as the dirt trail wound slowly up and around the hill.
As the trail curved along the hillside we came to another marked fork; the start of two other paths appeared on our right. Markers in the trees indicated that a turn here would put us on the start of Elvis and Jeramy. The markers also indicated the difficulty of the trails. We noted that Jeramy was rated as "Extreme Difficulty" (for mountain bikers) due to its rocky terrain and sharp corners. It occurred to me that with two dogs, Jeramy might best be attempted from north to south in order to follow it uphill. We thought about which route to take as we stepped off the trail for water and treats.
After a little break we decided to take the right turn, which put us on the start of Elvis and Jeramy (the two trails would separate after a short distance). It only took us a few minutes to reach the spot where the trails diverged. Elvis continued to the west while Jeramy led off to the south. The pathway looked clear and dry so we decided to give Jeramy a shot.
Jeramy began to head uphill along rocky terrain, just as we had anticipated. The dogs were having a fun afternoon. We had been to this system several times before, but had never explored this particular path.
The girls continued on with enthusiasm. A sudden crack of branches broke the silence of the forest. A herd of over half a dozen deer came bounding through the woods just ahead of us. The quiet tranquility of the forest was utterly destroyed by the barks of two excited dogs. We paused to let the deer go on their way while the girls slowly composed themselves. The commotion died down and the dogs resumed our hike with even more gusto.
The trail was fun and fairly easy to traverse, despite having to step carefully. This section of path was littered with protruding rocks.
The conditions for tackling this trail were just right during our visit. The trail wasn't icy or muddy and it was cool enough out that an uphill trek among stones and boulders seemed comfortable. The girls followed the path at a fast pace (no doubt spurred on by the thrilling presence of deer). We completed the trail fairly quickly; it seemed like no time at all before we had reached the end of Jeramy.
Jeramy ended when it ran into the backside of the Buzzards Loop Trail. We took a right at the trail marker and made our way over to a sign on a post. It was a map of the trail system, and well-placed too. We were near the southern end of the system with several choices of which way to go. Buzzards Loop spread out to our left and right. On a previous visit the dogs and I had explored the trail to our right, which led back down the hill and eventually connected to North Buzzard. We decided to create a larger loop by taking a connector trail that led off directly in front of us.
The connector trail led us to another intersection only 100 feet beyond the map on the post. We took a right at the intersection and less than 1,000 feet later we took another right onto the south end of North Buzzard. This wide path would take us the rest of the way down the hill and back to the parking lot.
Snow began to appear along this section of trail, which was less than a mile long. As we reached the bottom, the ground near the gate became solid ice. The last twenty feet of our journey ended up being the most treacherous part of all. We had been correct about the eastern trails though -they had been mostly clear and dry (much different than the ice rink that the parking lot had turned into).
We had made a large loop through the Buzzard's Roost Trail System, but our route was only about 2 miles long from start to finish. It had been a fun trek through the woods. We had a delightful time traversing the trails through rocky, forested hills. This was a great place to get some outdoor exercise without straying too far from the comforts of civilization.