We recently tried out this trail in the Wyoming Black Hills…
Near Ranch A south of Beulah, WY. Take exit 205 off I-90 (first exit as you come into WY). Then take FR 863 south about 6 miles to the Trailhead. It’s an easy 1-hour trip from Rapid City. As you near the end of the drive you’re rewarded with a gorgeous expanse of red sandstone on the Western side of the Black Hills.
The Botanical Trail is a 9 mile loop (4.6 mi out to the loop and back, then 4.4 for the actual loop). We didn’t complete the entire route as it started thundering–when your hiking partner is a Meteorologist, you defer to his expertise on these things. The trail was secluded and free of road noise. It has a gentle ascent the entire way to the loop but the slope is gradual. The path is fairly root/rock free so overall it’s not strenuous. It’s well marked and very visible as it fluctuates between a single track and a path that’s large enough for several people to walk side-by-side; much of it follows old Forest Roads.
The trail begins in lush undergrowth surrounded by leafy trees (it was warm and humid on Memorial Day weekend) and eventually gives way to more open pine forest as you increase in elevation. This contrast equates to a unique change in ecosystems as you travel up the gulch. The path is fairly narrow to start so be watchful for others sharing the trail. This also goes for the flora/fauna you may encounter–specifically snakes and Poison Ivy. I won’t comment on the GIANT spider we saw sunbathing on the rocks but we did enjoy a close encounter with a friendly Bull Snake on this particular hike.
As the thunder started before we reached the top I can’t speak for the full sights the trail offers but the views of the canyon walls are gorgeous (especially on the return trip). The variance in rock color from slate gray to reddish orange as your eyes travel up the rock face is incredible. On much of the trail you’re accompanied by a bubbling brook and this along with constant bird chatter add aesthetic delight to the hike.
We chose to hike this particular day but the trail could be amenable for other activities as well. Once you reach the loop the wide, gradual slope would make for an enjoyable bike ride and the lack of obstacles on the path would present great snowshoeing or cross country skiing opportunities in the winter months.
My verdict: it’s not the most beautiful trail I’ve ever seen but the views of the canyon walls, the peaceful solitude, and the ease of the path make for an enjoyable afternoon.
A picture of our new friend is below: 😊