Get Your Hike On
When someone asks me what my favorite things are I have to answer, the smell of the ponderosa pine that fills my nostrils when I go hiking. You will find the majority of hiking adventures in the Black Hills National Forest or Custer State Park, but there is a place right in Rapid City any adventure junkie could consider their happy place. In honor of National Take a Hike Day on Nov. 17, let me tell you about the 300 acres and 20 miles of groomed trails that make up Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park. While there are several trails to choose from in this system here is my usual route and what to expect when you're out.
Start On The Cowboy Hill Climb (M-East)
There are a few trailheads at M-Hill, but my favorite place to start is M-East or the Cowboy Hill Climb. This trailhead connects Cowboy Hill Road to the trail systems and is a steep start to your hike. Since I’m a runner, I usually start here as a warm-up. Right after the initial climb, there is a downhill that forks off, so you have options for where you want to go next.
Move On To M-West
What’s so great about M-hill is how diverse all the trails are. M-West brings you on one of the more intense climbs of the system. It has a few switchbacks and weaves through trees and openings that give you different perspectives of Rapid City. Even though I usually run and hike north, I suggest turning around every once in a while. Once I decided to do my usual route backward and I found an excellent view of Mount Rushmore Road.
West To Sunset
The trail opens up when you make it to Sunset North. You really could watch a sunset from this trail because it is very open and along the outermost ridge of the trail system. This path offers a great view of west Rapid and I always run into a lot of rabbits on this section. You can also get to one of the most unique views of Rapid City. All you have to do is follow Sunset North to Sun Climb and you’ll be blown away. I’ve only made it there once, but when I did I risked leg cramps and messing up my stats in Strava just to take in the view. It’s a hard climb but very worth it.
If You Don’t Do Sun Climb, Prepare To Run Like A Turkey
Since I have a pretty solid route, I usually stick with it. After all the climbing you’ll make it to my favorite section of trail, Wild Turkey. This section earned it's name thanks to the technical series of downhill switchbacks. When I run this course, it’s my slowest split because I’m afraid to fall on my face. I love it because it brings me into thick trees which makes me feel like I’m out in the Black Hills but then opens up and I know I’m on the homestretch of any run or hike I’m on! (Pro-tip: Watch for loose rocks in this section especially going down-hill the steepest rockiest sections are on switchbacks here.)
Switchback To Far East And You’ve Made It.
The Far East section of trail is the last section of this route and always makes me think of a path Frodo might have taken in The Lord of The Rings. It's not all downhill and dips up and down and brings you around the lower half of M-Hill then ends at the parking lot. I like to do a little cooldown and run over to the Founders Park Fish and back or run on the bike path for a few meters before running back to where ever I've parked my car.
There you have it, my favorite sections of Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park. In total this route it about 3.5 miles which is a perfect distance for a day hike. Rapid City is so fortunate to have such a great trail system right in the middle of town.