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The Stratobowl

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Several miles southwest of Rapid City, South Dakota, lies a peculiar valley of historical value. A short trek through the woods leads to clifftops overlooking the Stratobowl below.

Stratobowl Rim Trail is actually an old service road leading back to the area, so it makes for a nice wide path (perfect for walking two dogs). The trailhead and parking are located directly off Highway 16.

After less than a mile of walking the ridge of the Stratobowl starts to appear. Below, deep in the valley, sits a huge circular flat depression surrounded by wooded hills and rocky cliffs. Upon nearing the formation, footpaths emerge leading to different lookout spots. Wooden railings line the high cliffs above the bowl. Engraved cement monoliths detail the history of the valley.

This was the site of two significant balloon launches. In the 1930s the Army Air Corps teamed up with the National Geographic Society to send manned balloon flights into the stratosphere from this exact spot. The geology of the area made it perfect; a flat depression protected from strong winds by the surrounding hills. These missions were considered to be the beginnings of the Space Age.

The view from the top of the cliffs is fantastic. Spring Creek cuts through the distant hills, making the scenery even more special.

This fairly short trail was fun, undemanding, and easy to access. The dogs enjoyed the wide path through the woods. They seemed to take in the scenery and appreciate the views from above the Stratobowl. This hike is great any time of year; just remember to watch your step along the cliff tops.

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