For most of the year Shanks Quarry is a popular haven for motorized recreation. The trails are often crowded with ATVs zooming through the forest on any warm afternoon. However, from December 15th to May 15th the main gates close to motorized vehicles and the trail system transforms into a winter wonderland open only to hikers and non-motorized transports.
Shanks Quarry is a labyrinth of marked and unmarked trails. There are miles of pathways to explore and a seemingly endless combination of routes to take, so we simply started at the beginning.
Located several miles west of Rapid City, South Dakota, is the Shanks Quarry Trailhead. After December 15th the entrance (which is marked Forest Service Road 603) is blocked off to motorized vehicles. We parked here and entered through the unlocked pedestrian gate.
The February trails were snowy but filled with the tracks of previous hikers and their dogs. After a short walk on USFS 603 a fork appeared. Instead of continuing straight on USFS 603 we took a right onto old Forest Service Road 395. This winds slowly uphill and further into the forest.
After a short distance the start to marked trail 6613 appeared to the left. This trail was a lovely walk in the woods among towering pines and protruding rock formations. It followed the rolling terrain gently up and down along the hills but wasn't strenuous.
Further along road 395 (past the marker for 6613) was the start of marked trail 6602. The short up-and-over path cuts through the forest and ends when it runs into 6613. This wooded trail is an example of the many alternate routes available throughout the system.
Near its end 6613 intersects with another (unmarked) trail. We took a left here which lead down the hill and back to USFS 603. This made a nice loop around the area. We followed 603 back out, passing by a decent sized parking area on the way. In the warmer months this would be filled with off-road vehicles plotting their routes for the day.
The snow made the trek take a little longer than it normally would have been, but we didn't mind. During a particularly harsh February we were willing to take whatever adventure we could get.
This loop only took about an hour, but was the right length for a winter day (when it finally gets above freezing).
The dogs had a great time being out in the forest. They were delighted to go exploring after days of me telling them it was too cold. Maggie enjoyed rolling in snow banks along the way, as she likes to do.
We were all excited to go out and get some exercise while taking in the beautiful snowy scenery.
When cabin fever sets in, a walk in the woods can be the perfect cure.
This was an easy place to access in the winter, with the trailhead being right along Highway 44. Although there was plenty of evidence of previous hikers and their canine companions, we had the trails all to ourselves. We didn't take the solitude of our hike for granted -there are few things in this world that evoke a sense of peace and tranquility quite like having the trails all to yourselves.
However, I couldn't shake the feeling of being watched while we were there. At one point, a subtle movement of tawny fur out of the corner of my eye made my heart jump; but it was just a giant whitetail deer. She was silently monitoring the visitors in her home before bounding off through the snowy forest.