Just outside the small community of Farmingdale, about 20 minutes east of Rapid City on Highway 44, is a wonderful playground for off-roading. Turn south from Highway 44 on 160th Ave. You will know you are in the right place when you reach a large dirt parking area with a pit toilet. There is plenty of room for campers and trailers in this lot, and many elect to set up right here if staying the night. Bring water and resources, as there are no hookups or amenities besides the toilet. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout the Railroad Buttes OHV area, but there is little shade or suitable trailer parking elsewhere. The area is popular with dirt bikes and includes multiple small dirt bike tracks and many single-track paths. Railroad Buttes is open year-round. However, it is best run when dry, as the clay turns into very slick "gumbo" after rain or snowmelt. In regular conditions, 503 and other trails in this area can be run with any stock 4x4 with decent ground clearance.
To access 503, head out of the parking area, across 160th Ave, and pass through the cattle gate. The actual "Railroad Buttes" can be seen rising from the prairie past the gate. Follow the main trail, marked by signs bearing 503 and directional arrows. There are a few easily visible alternative paths up to the top. Railroad Buttes is an open off-roading area, so feel free to try them out if so inclined, but some are more suited for narrow vehicles and dirt bikes.
At the top, the path becomes rocky with a couple of small steps and baby-head rocks, but they are short-lived. Looking back west, the beautiful Black Hills, topped by Black Elk Peak, are readily visible. Soon after, the trail crosses small but steep rolling hills, which feel like an off-road rollercoaster. This area looks like a mini version of Badlands National Park, located about 30 minutes east. If you follow an older map, you may notice the trail signs deviate from the maps. Wash-outs and erosion caused the Forest Service to change the trail. The maps haven't caught up yet. Follow the signs as the trail goes out into the rolling prairie before returning to the Mars-like terrain. Pay attention; certain areas are washed out, narrow, or have ruts, cracks, and crevices. 503 can be run out and back, or you can spur off onto one of the other trails in the area, several of which circles back to 160th Ave.
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