Off-roading in South Dakotas Black Hills

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 16-22, 1998
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Off-roading in South Dakota’s Black Hills
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Off-roading in South Dakota’s Black Hills
Question: Hi, I’m trying to plan a mountain bike trip in late July/early August. Could you give me some information about rides in South Dakota’s Black Hills area? I would prefer single-day single-track rides. Thanks in advance.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Adventure Adviser: Covering a 125-mile swatch of western South Dakota, the Black Hills encompass rugged rock formations, deep canyons, grassy meadows, cascading streams, azure lakes — and some surprisingly good mountainbiking trails. A large chunk of this wilderness — 35,000 acres to be exact — falls within a wildlife preserve and state park, most of which is maintained by the Forest Service. There are literally thousands of miles of old logging trails and fire roads, most of which are mountain-bike friendly. And numerous trailheads with multiple access points and easy-to-follow signage make riding here easy and fun. Here are some single-track selections to peruse. The friendly folk at Black Hills National Forest Headquarters (605-673-2251) can offer more details. One other thing — the Black Hills are teeming with wildlife, so wherever you’re riding be on the look-out for elk, bighorn sheep, buffalo and mountain goats.

The 16-mile Bear Mountain Trail (accessed at Medicine Mountain Boy Scout Camp, along Forest Road 317) is a peaceful, single-track joy of a ride. Although there are some steep climbs, much of the trail whirls along a limestone rim. You’ll also ride through thick aspen groves and probably see lots of wildlife (watch out for the mountain lions). Lake Loop Trail is a ten-mile jaunt around Deerfield Lake, starting from the campground along the north shore on Forest Road 417. The loop meanders through pine forest and meadows with sweeping vistas of the lake, and you can swim en route. Combine this with the Deerfield Trail, an offshoot to the east, which will tack on an additional 18 miles. The Deerfield eventually connect to the Mickelson and Centennial Trails if you’re after something even longer.

In the northern hills area, you’ll find a couple of stellar options. Just west of Cheyenne Crossing is the Eagle Cliff Trail system and several short loops, ranging in difficulty from the gentle, three-mile Bratwurst, to the longer and more difficult Dead Ox. This is a great network that’s easy to follow and suitable for riders of varying levels of expertise. You can also piece together a mighty fine ride on the Baldy, Rimrock and Little Spearfish Trails, which form an interconnected web of several loops. Each trail is about six miles, and you might be sharing riding space with elk and wild turkey. Access the trailhead at Timon campground, off of Road 222, about 20 miles south of Spearfish.

One of the newest additions to the mountain bike offerings is the moderate Hell Canyon Trail, a 5.5-mile loop with stellar views of limestone cliffs and canyons. It’s easily accessible from either Custer or Jewel Cave — follow Forest Road #284.2 north of Highway 16.

A spur of Black Hills National Forest is across the border in Wyoming, and from Sundance you can revel in the very popular Bearlodge network, mile and miles of single-track bliss (the annual Bearlodge Fattire Biking Challenge is held here). The Sundance and Carson Draw Trail systems are both popular, and you can access them from most of the nearby campgrounds, such as Reuter. Totalling more than 50 miles, the Sundance trails wind through oak woodlands and craggy canyons before climbing to ridges. Of these, the South Fork Tent and Edge trails are considered the most challenging. The more moderate and shorter Carson Draw Trail (6 miles) is a peaceful ride well-suited for less-experienced off-roaders.

If you tire of single-track, there are a couple of good dirt/gravel road options as well. A rails-to-trail effort, the George S. Mickelson Rail Trail will eventually run the full 110-miles from Deadwood to Edgewood. For now, you can enjoy two gentle segments: Deerfield to Pringle (42 miles) and Deadwood to Dumont (20 miles). You’ll need to purchase a $2 daily pass from the Black Hills Trails Office (605-584-3896) before you set out. The extremely popular Centennial Trail, often referred to as Trail #89, stretches 111 miles from Bear Butte State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south. Accessible from more than 20 spots, the Black Hills’ longest trail gives you full exposure to the region’s diversity, from wildflower-carpeted meadows to echoing canyons.

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