Updated: Feb 10, 2019
Skyline Drive in South Dakota provides some of the best scenery in Rapid City; winding up and above town it has views of both the west and east sides. Driving along you'll spot several trails and trailheads because hidden in this area is one of the city's most extensive trail systems.
The Skyline Wilderness Area has over 150 acres of undeveloped nature containing a labyrinth of trails, all within the city. The Amphitheater Trail can be reached from several places, however we chose to park at and start from the Petrified Forest Trailhead. This spot is popular with hikers and dogs, as well as mountain bikers. The parking area has a nice view of the city below.
In general, the Skyline Trails are well maintained and fun to hike, however it is easy to get turned around once you're in the woods. Within the wilderness area is a maze of paths heading off in every direction. The Amphitheater Trail is marked for the most part, and there are signs to direct you along the way.
The terrain changes throughout the hike, keeping things interesting. Although they are mostly dirt trails, the geology of the area varies so greatly that one minute you could be walking on solid rock and then suddenly find yourself trekking through sand. Another wonder of the hike are the beautiful views of the city below that pop up along the way. This is hiking in the city, although you are most definitely in the woods -the deer bounding through the forest can attest.
The Amphitheater Trail is so named because hidden deep in the heart of this area are the remains of what would have been a natural amphitheater. In the 1930s construction began on terracing a hillside for what was intended to be seating for hundreds. The amphitheater itself was never built and the project was forgotten. The remains are a hillside with what seems to be giant steps shaped into it, covered in foliage. This abandoned project is now a hiking destination. You do have to watch for it though, it isn't terribly obvious unless you know what you're looking for.
You could explore this area all day and still not cover every path. On this trip we did the Forest Hills Loop and the entire Amphitheater Trail before making a loop back around and heading out past the petrified wood. Yes, the Petrified Wood Trailhead does indeed have large chunks of petrified wood, right along the path. These pieces are located near the parking area, on the steepest part of the trail.
There are so many little pathways to explore that you could choose a different trail every time and come up with a seemingly endless combination of routes . The dogs love coming here; there's so much for them to sniff and discover. There are several benches spread along the trails, providing convenient places to stop for a water and treat break. This is a great place to go hiking without ever actually leaving the city.