I will grant you that Rankin Ridge is not going to be the most exciting summit you’ll ever visit. With a short nature trail ascending its slopes to the summit, it certainly is not the most challenging peak to hike. The views from the top, while pleasant, certainly are not spellbinding.
But this ranked South Dakota peak does have something special for it: It is a U.S. National Park Highpoint, specifically that of Wind Cave. In a park that many visit for its underground splendors, the peak can share with you wide-open vistas of the Black Hills, and even get you as up close and personal as you are foolish enough to be with a keystone species of this region, the American Bison. (Seriously, folks, admire these animals from a great distance!) According to National Geographic, this heaviest of North American land mammals can rise to 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 to 2 meters) tall at the shoulder and weigh in excess of 1 ton (971 kg). Best yet, they sport pointed horns and can run at speeds of up to 40 mph (65 kph). There are many reasons to steer clear of these massive beasts during your visit to Rankin Ridge, and during our visit, they were quite plentiful on the flatlands below the slopes of this little mountain.
The summit is capped by a metal fire lookout tower. While the tower apparently is off-limits to visitors, views are readily available in part thanks to the Mountain Pine Beetle that no doubt “assisted” in opening up the vistas. A few interpretive kiosks, courtesy of the Park Service, also stand at the summit.
Rank: 149th highest peak in South Dakotaka
Prominence: 403 feet
USGS Quad: Mount Coolidge
Planning Map: Trails Illustrated #238 Black Hills South
Rank & Prominence: Lists of John
Getting There & Route Information
Per the National Park Service, from I-90 in Rapid City, exit onto U.S. Route 79 south. Follow Route 79 south approximately 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Turn right onto U.S. Route 385 North, which will take you through Hot Springs and into Wind Cave National Park. The turnoff for Rankin Ridge is roughly 4 miles north of U.S. Route 385 on Route 79. Turn right (east) up the short road to the parking area.
The parking lot is accessible via paved road to all standard motor vehicles not pulling a trailer. The walking route to the summit tower is approximately 1.2 miles roundtrip. The elevation gain is negligible.
As this peak resides within Wind Cave National Park, the red tape is thick. The red tape stated here is only a high-level overview.
• The good news is, there are no fees for driving through or hiking in the park. (Fees are associated with other activities such as camping and cave tours.)
• Stay far away from wildlife including Bison and rattlesnakes.
• Pets are not permitted in the backcountry, nor should they be left unattended in vehicles. They are allowed only on two short nature trails (excluding the one to the summit of Rankin Ridge).
• To protect wildlife, speed limits and off-road driving are strictly enforced.
For more information, visit this NPS website.
Elk Mountain Campground | National Park Service
• $12/night high season; $6/night low season
• First come, first served
• Running water and flush toilets (high season)
• Elevation 4,923 feet
Blue Bell Campground | US Forest Service
• $18/night (standard) or $22/night (electric hookup)
• 35 sites
• Running water and showers
• Elevation 4,165 feet
Weather & Seasons
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The views from the top of Rankin Ridge may not be the most stunning, but they exemplify the vastness openness of western South Dakota. Hills seem to roll on forever under a wide-open sky. The views open up wide to the east from the summit or Rankin Ridge.