Take a Hike: Buzzard’s Roost

Located just a few miles west of Rapid City, Buzzard’s Roost feels like it’s hours from civilization. It’s a fairly straightforward hike with several different options, making it suitable for all skill levels. Stunning views of the forested Black Hills, and prairie to the east, are your reward for making it to the top.

The Lowdown

Buzzard’s Roost is an easy four-mile drive west on Highway 44. It bears mentioning that there is another Buzzard’s Roost in Spearfish Canyon, but that refers to the overlook at the top of the ’76 Trail. It’s still a worthwhile hike, but not the one we’re talking about this time.

The Buzzard’s Roost trail is relatively new, having been completed in 2014. There’s a gravel parking lot on the left (south) side of the road, just past a Black Hills National Forest sign; it doesn’t have room for a lot of vehicles, but fortunately, the trail is never as crowded as you might expect it to be, given its close proximity to town and decidedly dramatic views.

Cross through the gate and start hiking south on the North Buzzard trail. Stick with this one for the easiest and quickest way to the top, or branch off to the right for the more challenging Sun Up or Sun Down trails. Before long, you’ll have another option to head up Jack’s Trail – a slightly steeper climb, but one that provides a more direct route to the summit, if that’s your main goal. There are over a dozen different trails, ranging from easy to difficult, totaling over ten miles. They’re all interconnected, giving you a seemingly endless variety of options and ensuring repeat visits will never be boring.

After a short ascent, you’ll arrive at a level field. The South Rim trail offers breathtaking views of the Hills; be sure to explore this route before heading west to the Buzzard’s Roost Lookout spur. Take a sharp left here and, after a short climb, you’ll reach the summit, a granite outcropping some 700 feet above Dark Canyon and Rapid Creek. Plan to spend a while here taking in the scenery.

To turn the hike into a loop rather than an out-and-back, return on the Pretty Vulture trail. A series of switchbacks winds its way through a shallow forest, offering views of Hisega, a small town to the west, as you gradually descend.

PROS: Variety of trails for all skill levels; spectacular views; light crowds.
CONS: Poison ivy grows abundant in some spots; rattlesnakes are a possibility.

Insider’s tip: Hike the trail in autumn, when the aspens are turning yellow and black currant shrubs are blazing red.

The Wow Factor

The rocky summit of Buzzard’s Roost offers spectacular views of the surrounding Black Hills. Look for other notable summits like Black Elk Peak and Boulder Hill, as well as the limestone cliffs of Dark Canyon. Also visible on clear days: the rolling prairie to the east, a stark golden contrast to the forested valley below. Ample wildflowers are in bloom during peak months and deer frequent the area.

Odds & Ends

  • The network of trails at Buzzard’s Roost are popular with mountain bikers and trail runners. Be alert to their presence.
  • Dogs are allowed.
  • Pay attention to the weather, which can change quickly. The exposed lookout offers no protection from the elements.

Don’t forget these essentials: Mosquito repellant, sunscreen, long pants if you are planning on taking side trails where poison ivy is common.