Roof Trail Loop

Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

Trip Date: Friday, September 21st, 2018
Last Updated: Thursday, December 13th, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★☆☆(3/5)
Overall Difficulty Easy
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 0.25 miles roundtrip
Time 30 minutes
Terrain A few hills
Best Seasons All
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly No
Accessible No


Hike Summary

The Roof Trail is by no means a destination hike, but rather something to do while you wait for your tour of Jewel Cave. Even though the cave is the main feature of the park, there is still an entire surface world with some pretty pine covered hills to enjoy. Throughout the hike, try to imagine the hundreds of miles of cave passages located deep underground -- passages that you will be experiencing soon!

From the visitor center courtyard, walk around to the back side of the building to find the start of the trail. In a very short distance on this dirt path, you'll reach a wooden platform overlooking Hell Canyon and the bare hills beyond the park boundary, pictured below. If you are able to do a longer hike, you can venture down into the canyon via the 3.5 mile roundtrip Canyons Trail, which meets with this trail just past the platform. For an even better but longer hike at 5.5 miles roundtrip, you can drive about a mile away to the Hell Canyon Trail in the Black Hills National Forest.

The view of Hell Canyon from the wooden platform

The view of Hell Canyon from the wooden platform

After the platform, the trail curves north under the shad of tall pines, as pictured below. You'll pass the first intersection with the Canyons Trail on the left side, then continue through the forest with a gradual incline until you reach the hillside meadow shown in the second picture below. This was my favorite part of the hike, partly because I watched two squirrels chasing each other up and down and around one tree nonstop for what seemed like 10 minutes.
The trail traveling through pine forest

The trail traveling through pine forest

A grassy hill on the side of the trail

A grassy hill on the side of the trail

Past that grassy hill, the trail intersects again with the Canyons Trail. As you near the visitor center, the trail widens and looks like a service road. Once back at the visitor center, hopefully you don't have to wait much longer until your tour starts! If you have more time, check out the exhibits in the visitor center or try to crawl through the 8"x24" block in the courtyard, a prerequisite for anyone daring enough to try the Wild Caving Tour offered here. Connect with me using the social media links below and share your adventures!

Important Information

Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails in Jewel Cave National Monument. This short loop trail is perfect for the whole family and is an excellent way to spend time waiting for a cave tour rather than sitting bored in the visitor center. You can hike this trail in all four seasons. Expect to see plenty of people on this trail.


From Rapid City, take U.S. Highway 16 to U.S. Highway 385 and turn left. After entering Custer, turn right onto U.S. Highway 16. Continue straight out of town, then turn left at the signed turn for Jewel Cave National Monument.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

Parking is free since cave tours are the park's main source of revenue. There are restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop, and educational exhibits in the visitor center -- note there is no food available here.

Nearby Hikes

A seam of crystals near the start of the tour
Jewel Cave Scenic Tour
Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota
The view looking south towards your next destinations: the Cathedral Spires and Little Devils Tower
Black Elk Peak Loop (South Dakota State Highpoint)
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Looking eastward from the top of Rankin Ridge at the rolling prairie below
Rankin Ridge Loop
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Typical Black Hills rock formations seen in the distance
Breezy Point
Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

External Links