Updated: May 30, 2020
From December 15th to May 15th Shanks Quarry Trail System is closed to vehicles and open only to hikers and non-motorized transports. This transforms normal dirt roads into wide snow-covered paths fit for winter exploring.
We parked at and started from gated Forest Service Road 603, just several miles west of Rapid City, South Dakota, on Highway 44. This was an easy place to access in the winter, with parking located directly off a main highway. The trails were snowy and a little slushy, but that was to be expected this time of year.
We followed USFS 603 past several other trails. The first right turn would have taken us up USFS 395 and toward the beginnings of Trails 6613 & 6602. We passed what normally would have been a parking lot during the warmer months, filled with off-road vehicles preparing for adventure.
USFS 603 was a lovely walk in the woods, and fairly easy for the most part (the wet snow added a degree of difficulty). After a short while the road forked. We chose to take a left, along Forest Service Road 603.1A. We continued on this road through a charming stretch of forest.
Numerous whitetail deer bounded through the area, much to the dogs' delight. Soon we came upon the marker for Trail 6608 on our left. This section of 6608 heads south and uphill. We decided to try the trail, knowing it would lead us in the right direction to make a loop through the area. 6608 led up a thickly wooded hillside. It was slightly steep at times, but nothing terribly rough or strenuous. We did pause for a few water breaks along the way; the sun was warm on our backs despite the chilly snow under our paws and feet.
In some places it was difficult to follow the trail under all the snow. It's entirely possible that at some point we were actually following a deer trail for part of the walk up the hill. When the path reached the crest of the hill, there were views of distant peaks through gaps in the trees.
We sat down for a water and treat break among a large rocky spot atop the hill. We came upon several older, worn wooden boards. After looking at their arrangement, they seemed to point in the direction of the trail we were about to intersect -The Rim Trail.
The Rim Trail is a long stretch that begins behind the Shanks Quarry seasonal parking lot. We came upon it and took a left, following it back in the general direction we had started from. The trail led down the hill and to the backside of the parking area that we had passed near the beginning of our journey. The slope going down was muddy and we all emerged in desperate need of a toweling off. Afterwards, we followed snowy USFS 603 back to the car.
The girls had a great time. They constantly startled deer along the way, much to their elation. They followed plenty of interesting smells throughout our trek. The dogs were quite enthusiastic about the entire adventure from start to finish.
The Shanks Quarry Trail System has a labyrinth of pathways, roads, and trails (both marked and unmarked). There are many different combinations of routes to take, which makes it a fun place to explore -especially in winter.