If possible, the best way to hike the Highland Creek Trail is to either leave a car at the Wind Cave Canyon Trail
Parking Area and get a ride to the Highland Creek Trail Parking Area, or to leave one car at each parking area and shuttle back. Without a ride or shuttle, the Highland Creek Trail can turn from a wonderful 9 mile journey into a 18 mile slog.
For those wishing to experience the Highland Creek Trail in an abridged length, the trail can be connected with lengths of the Sanctuary Trail
and Centennial Trail
for a loop that leaves you back on Highland Ridge Road relatively close to your car.
Starting at the Highland Creek Trail Parking Area, head south on the trail through rolling hills populated by native grasses and dense patches of stout ponderosa pines. Continue past numerous trail junctions along the way, making sure to stay left until about 5 miles into the trek, where the trail descends sharply to a canyon floor flowing with Beaver Creek. Along Beaver Creek, enjoy a change in scenery as the prairie-ponderosa landscape changes to a riparian one rich with water-loving plants. From this point, the trail climbs out of the canyon and back to the prairie-dominated plateau.
Descending one last time from the plateau, the trail travels down the steep valley walls to Cottonwood Creek, where it reaches a T-intersection with the Wind Cave Canyon Trail
. At the intersection, head right (west) along the Wind Cave Canyon Trail
, climbing gently on a smooth dirt tread to the Wind Cave Canyon Trail Parking Area.
Prarie and riparian ecosystems dominate the area along this trail.