Black Hills National Forest (605) 673-9200. Deer and elk are abundant in the area, though the elk remain somewhat reclusive. These are the same elk that migrate to and from Wind Cave National Park to the north and east. Pronghorns may be seen here, though less frequently. There is a mountain lion population around the canyon and though rarely seen, they leave evidence in the form of tracks and scat. Most of the snakes seen in the canyon are harmless, but some rattlesnakes do reside in the area, so caution is warranted. The large number and variety of birds seen and heard in the canyon would seem to make this a great location for bird watchers. Sometimes cattle are seen grazing in various parts of the area, but there is no way to tell when or where you will encounter them.
There are no official trails in the canyon. The lower part of the canyon at one time had a 2-track road through it, originating at the Lady C Ranch. But there are only faint traces of that old road left. The grade for that old roadbed is mostly still intact, though overgrown with grasses. Mountain bikers often visit the canyon and have left a mostly narrow trail that can be followed through the upper half of the canyon. A relatively new mountain bike race, The Wildcat Classic, is so named because the whole race centers on the Wildcat Canyon area.
Onyx Cave Stalactites & Stalagmites
Perhaps the best way to reference route options is from the current access points. The map above will show four access points from which hikers could make exploration route choices, though the fourth would require property owner permission.
For a 4.5-mile (one-way) out-and-back from the west, you can travel one mile north past FSR682.2N and park alongside the road there. This is just above where the watershed turns into a canyon. Following the canyon 4.5 miles downstream will take you to the mouth of the canyon where it joins Cold Brook Canyon. You will encounter “no trespassing” private property less than a quarter-mile from where Wildcat Creek joins Cold Brook Canyon. Of course, you can also do an out-and-back of any shorter length you wish from this access point too.
A loop route from Song Dog Road would be possible by exiting the canyon at Access Point 2 and hiking back on FSR682.2Q, FSR682.2N and Song Dog Road back to your start point. This loop would be about 3.8 miles. Or, if you wanted a little longer loop route that included Onyx Cave, you could exit the canyon at Access Point 3 and hike FSR682.2N back to Song Dog Road and your start point. This loop would be about 4 miles.
Access Point 2 - FSR682.2Q through the floor in the upper half of the canyon:
Out-and-back options from here would be to Song Dog Road for a one-way hike of 1.4 miles; or a 3.1 miles (one-way) hike to the canyon mouth and back. You could do the second loop route described above, but starting your hike from this point instead. If you just want to do a short loop to see Onyx Cave and a short section of the canyon, you can hike over to Access Point 3, then up to the junction of FSR682.2N & FSR682.2Q, then back to Access Point 2 for a 1.7-mile loop.
An out-and-back from here to Song Dog Road is 1.9 miles (one-way), and an out-and-back from here to the canyon mouth is 2.6 miles (one-way). You can also do any of the loop routes listed above that include Access Point 3. There is generally very little traffic on Song Dog Road and even less on FSR682.2N and FSR682.2Q. So, it’s very possible that if you choose to do any loop hike, you will have these roads to yourself.
Access Point 4 - Lady C Ranch Road:
Even though various maps show a road (Lady C Ranch Road) at the mouth of the canyon, that road has been modified and would require crossing private property with landowner permission to reach the public land at the mouth of the canyon. So, there is currently no readily accessible public route option from that end of the canyon, but it is still possible if one obtains permission from the property owner for the land between the canyon mouth and Lady C Ranch Road.
Red TapeSince this is national forest land, the canyon can be accessed year-around without any permits. It is when people want to use firearms or build campfires where potential problems could arise. Fossils and unusual rocks are abundant in the area, but removal of fossils and rocks from public lands is illegal. Carrying guns is legal, but if you carry a rifle that is specific for use in a particular hunting season that is in progress, and you have no license to hunt, you could wind up with a huge fine. If you are concerned about the mountain lions in the area, pepper spray is legal year-around.
When to Explore
Wind Cave National Park Weather
Hunting seasons do impact visits to the canyon. For more information on South Dakota hunting seasons and regulations, check out this link: Black Hills Hunting Seasons
Black Hills National Forest Camping Regulations.
For other nearby camping options, check out the links below:
Wind Cave National Park Camping
Cold Brook Reservoir Camping
Allen Ranch Camping & Lodging
Hot Springs Area Camping & Lodging