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Bicycling the Mickelson Trail near Custer, South Dakota

South Dakota

Biking the Black Hills: 5 Days on South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail

By: Joel Welin

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  • States:
    South Dakota

Get ready for one of the most memorable and breathtaking trips you’ll ever take.

Winding its way through the heart of South Dakota’s famed Black Hills, from Deadwood in the north to Edgemont in the south, the 175-kilometer George S. Mickelson Trail offers not only one of the best bicycle rides in the world, but also innumerable opportunities for off-trail adventures such as rock climbing, hiking and swimming.

About the Trail

Completed in 1998, the trail – a converted Burlington Northern rail bed – was named in honor of a former South Dakota governor. Trail passes are required ($3 daily) and are available along the trail.

Before you get started, a few tips: You can rent gear or bring your own. Overnight camping on the trail is prohibited, so make arrangements with hotels and campgrounds in neighboring towns. Remember that you’ll be at elevation; climbs are typically an easy 4 percent grade but can be quite long. You’ll need plenty of food and water, as well as sunscreen and hats, as there are few opportunities once you’re on the trail. Be prepared: The weather can change in a heartbeat.

Plaque marking the Mickelson Trail

Plaque marking the Mickelson Trail
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Day One: Deadwood to Dumont

The trailhead is in Deadwood, where the crushed-gravel path leads to Dumont, about 18 kilometers away – mostly an uphill stretch. You’ll pass the famed gold-mining town of Lead on your way. Once you hit Dumont, this is one of the few sections of the trail where snowmobiling is permitted in the wintertime.

The scenery on the Mickelson Trail in the southern Black Hills ranges from forest and meadows to rocky cliffs.

The scenery on the Mickelson Trail in the southern Black Hills ranges from forest and meadows to rocky cliffs.
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Day Two: Dumont to Mystic

Downhill again from Dumont to Mystic, about 29 kilometers. Remnants of abandoned gold mines abound and you’ll pass through two tunnels – north and south of Rochford – and a long, tall bridge. At this point you’re about 14.5 kilometers from Rochford and the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.

The Mickelson Trail near Rochford, between Deadwood and Mystic, leads past abandoned gold mines.

The Mickelson Trail near Rochford, between Deadwood and Mystic, leads past abandoned gold mines.
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Day Three: Mystic to Hill City

Leaving the old ghost town of Mystic – site of a million-dollar failed experiment in gold mining at the beginning of the last century – you’ll pedal about 11 gentle kilometers uphill, followed by 11 kilometers downhill to Hill City.

You never know what stunning landscape you’ll see next when rounding a curve on the Mickelson Trail.

You never know what stunning landscape you’ll see next when rounding a curve on the Mickelson Trail.
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Day Four: Hill City to Pringle

Before heading to Pringle from Hill City, take a short side trip to Custer for a superb view of Crazy Horse Memorial. Along the Hill City-to-Pringle section (45 kilometers), which is known for its abundance of deer and turkey, the landscape changes from forest to meadow. Keep an eye peeled for bighorn sheep.

Ride alongside landmarks on the Mickelson Trail such as this historic railcar near Pringle.

Ride alongside landmarks on the Mickelson Trail such as this historic railcar near Pringle.
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Day Five: Pringle to Edgemont

As you leave the sweet smells of Ponderosa pine forest and coast down the mountain and into the old uranium-mining town of Edgemont (51 kilometers), the temperature will warm noticeably. It’s time for a cool shower and a cold drink; you’ve earned it. 

The Mickelson Trail covers a range of terrains and altitude levels across its 175 kilometers.

The Mickelson Trail covers a range of terrains and altitude levels across its 175 kilometers.
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Getting There

Getting to South Dakota is easy and convenient via connecting flights from many international gateway airports including: Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota, Denver in Colorado, Chicago O’Hare in Illinois, Salt Lake City in Utah, Dallas/Fort Worth in Texas and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Classic Pontiac Fieros at the Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum
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Destination

Pontiac