When we pulled into the Stonewall Overlook Trailhead parking lot off Skyline Drive the wind was raging. The strong breeze was a nuisance, so we decided to hike down into the Southern Gully of the Skyline Wilderness Area. The blustery conditions made a hike down into the valley seem very appealing on this crisp autumn day; as we descended trees and hillsides would block out the gusts. We followed the beginning of the main trail from the parking area across the street and down into the Skyline Wilderness.
This fantastic park is home to over 150 acres of forest within Rapid City, South Dakota. There are several different trailheads and entrances to the park. We started at the southernmost trailhead along Skyline Drive and began heading (generally) east.
Upon making our way into the park we came to the first big fork in the trail. Keeping straight would lead us along the Skyline Trail, but we wanted to head down into the depths of the wilderness area, so we took a right onto the Amphitheater Trail. Soon we came to a fork in the path at trail marker 388. We took a right and continued following the trails heading down.
Even though autumn was upon us the grass was still tall and imposing. The surrounding plants grew thick and crowded the trail. This section of the wilderness park provides an ideal habitat for all sorts of nasty critters during the summer (snakes, ticks, mosquitoes, etc.) and in the winter it can become dangerously icy. However, in the fall and early spring the southeastern part of the park can be a wonderful place to explore.
Down in the gully the wind had stopped. The foliage in the ravine was dense and parted only to allow a small trickling brook to flow through. Stones naturally lined parts of the path, making this section seem particularly enchanting. The forest enveloped us as we navigated our way downwards, further into the valley.
The trail splintered off here and there, but we kept making our way through the deep ravine. We continued past a small footbridge at the start of another trail leading up the hill to our left.
Occasionally the dogs would hear or smell something off in the bushes. The thick brush provided ample cover for small creatures, and whatever critters were there would remain hidden. The girls really enjoyed exploring this exciting area, their noses working hard the entire time.
The trail widened out slightly for the last part of the trek down the hill. The path opened up and reached its end at the gated St. Patrick Street Entrance. There was no real parking area or welcome signs at this end. We had unceremoniously made it to the far southeastern edge of the Skyline Wilderness Area.
I congratulated the girls on successfully navigating their way from Stonewall Overlook to the St. Patrick Street Entrance. We only hung around the bottom for a minute before heading back into the woods along the trail.
We soon came upon a fork in the trail and decided to take a left. We had come down the path to the right during our descent through the valley.
We made our way up this unmarked trail that was surrounded on all sides by thick foliage. The trees bent over the path as autumn leaves gently fell. It was like something out of a fairy tale.
This trail climbed steadily uphill through the dense forest. We walked over and among interesting stone formations and rock exposures. This little trail eventually connected back to the path we had traversed on the way down. We had now made a small loop.
We approached the little wooden footbridge we had passed on the way down, now on our right. We followed the trail over the bridge, which was a narrow path that continued uphill. We passed through more interesting rock formations. Deer bounded away from us in the distance. It was a lovely section of the park.
This section of trail was fairly short. Before long we had come upon another intersection at trail marker 386. There were options on which way to go next. Of the three choices (left, right, or straight) we chose to go straight, up another interesting looking unmarked trail.
We continued our gradual climb out of the ravine. The woods were still dense despite the trees having shed much of their leaves. The dogs continued their search for chipmunks and squirrels as we trekked along through the forest. The autumn foliage was beautiful and made for quite a charming hike.
Eventually we emerged from the southern gully near trail marker 346. We headed left (or south) along the path, now making our way back to the main trail out of the park.
Views of the city became clear through the trees off to our left. Soon we made it back to the trail we had originated from -the one that led to the Stonewall Overlook parking lot.
We had essentially made an oddly shaped figure-8 on our trek through the park. We were back to the raging winds but thankfully the car wasn't far away. Upon completing our adventure we took in some of the sights from atop Stonewall Overlook before retreating to the vehicle and out of the cold breeze.
This hike took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete, but we stopped frequently to sniff or take a quick treat and water break. The trek was a lot of fun and provided good exercise and enrichment. It wasn't too strenuous but still felt like a decent accomplishment when we were done.
Even though Skyline Wilderness Area is in the middle of Rapid City, it still very much feels like being in the forest. This ended up being the perfect hike for a crisp autumn day -the weather down in the gully was actually pleasant. The trek itself was interesting, enjoyable, and just a little bit challenging. The dogs seemed to have a great time along the way; there were endless things for them to sniff and investigate. We all really enjoyed this trip through the southern part of the wilderness park and would gladly come back again, especially in the throws of autumn's splendor.