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Biking the George S. Mickelson Trail

The George S. Mickelson Trail spans 109 miles through the heart of the Black Hills in South Dakota. It's a testament to the area's rich history and breathtaking natural beauty. Once a railroad corridor, this trail is now a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable biking adventure.

Cycling the George S. Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The George S. Mickelson Trail

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a popular destination for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The stunning route

  • The historic significance of the trail and nearby towns

  • The ease of accessibility and amenities along the route

  • The variety of wildlife that may be seen along the way

  • Local attractions and services

Let's dive deeper.

Scenic route

The George S. Mickelson Trail winds through the picturesque Black Hills, showcasing a stunning array of landscapes, including dense forests, open meadows, granite spires, and serene creeks. This means breathtaking vistas at every turn — so you might want to strap on your GoPro for this one.

Historic significance

The Mickelson Trail is a premier example of rail-to-trail conversion. Built over old railroad lines, it now presents a smooth, well-maintained path, winding through diverse landscapes, from spruce-covered mountainsides to open plains and lush forests. Cyclists can relish the easy gradients and gentle curves, perfect for leisurely rides or challenging workouts.

Accessibility and amenities

With numerous access points along its 109-mile stretch, the trail accommodates riders of varying skill levels, offering parking, restrooms, and services at various points.

The trail's well-kept surface makes it suitable for both leisurely rides and more challenging cycling experiences.

Throughout the journey, bikers can find essential amenities such as restrooms, water stations, and trail shelters at regular intervals. Towns along the way offer a variety of dining options, accommodation, bike rentals, and supplies to refuel and rejuvenate.

Popular places to eat and hydrate along the trail include:

  • Deadwood. This historic town offers numerous dining options, cafes, and restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, perfect for a pre-ride meal or a post-ride feast. Visitors can find everything from hearty breakfasts to fine dining experiences.

  • Lead.Near the trailhead, Lead provides cafes, diners, and eateries serving delicious meals and refreshing beverages. It's an ideal stop for bikers looking to recharge before hitting the trail.

  • Hill City. As a central hub along the trail, Hill City boasts several restaurants, cafes, and ice cream shops where cyclists can grab a bite to eat or indulge in a refreshing treat. It's a popular spot for a mid-ride break.

  • Custer. Situated at the southern terminus, Custer offers various dining options ranging from local eateries to fine dining restaurants. It's an excellent place for bikers to replenish their energy before or after their trail adventure.

  • Hot Springs. Hot Springs has several restaurants and cafes where cyclists can enjoy a meal. Cuisine options may vary, but you can typically find a range of choices from casual to more formal dining.

Other trailside services include:

  • Various rest stops

  • Water stations

  • Restrooms

  • Vending machines

These local stops and trailside locations are scattered along the trail, provide cyclists with opportunities to hydrate, enjoy local cuisine, and take breaks to fuel up before continuing their journey through the captivating landscapes of the George S. Mickelson Trail.

Wildlife and nature

The George S. Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota offers a diverse habitat, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The trail passes through pristine landscapes and offering opportunities for birdwatching and enjoying the local flora and fauna.

Cyclists pedaling through this scenic route might encounter various species of wildlife, including:

  • Deer. White-tailed deer are commonly spotted along the trail, especially in wooded areas or near streams.

  • Elk. These majestic creatures can occasionally be seen in the more remote and forested sections of the trail, particularly during certain times of the year.

  • Turkeys. Wild turkeys are frequent sightings, especially in open areas and meadows adjacent to the trail.

  • Birds. The trail attracts a plethora of bird species, including songbirds, raptors like hawks and eagles, woodpeckers, and more. Birdwatchers can enjoy spotting various avian species throughout the journey.

  • Small mammals. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and other small mammals are often seen darting across the trail or foraging in the surrounding forests.

  • Occasional larger predators. While uncommon, black bears, mountain lions, or bobcats inhabit the region but are typically elusive and tend to avoid human presence.

  • Reptiles and amphibians. Snakes, lizards, and various amphibians might also be observed, particularly near water sources or in more secluded areas.

It's important to respect wildlife from a distance, maintain a safe distance if encountering larger animals, and avoid feeding or disturbing any wildlife along the trail. Enjoy the beauty of these creatures in their natural habitat while biking through the George S. Mickelson Trail.

What's the prettiest part of the George S. Mickelson Trail?

If you're looking for a stunning ride, check out the areas just north and south of the Mystic Trailhead. Riding north, you'll parallel a beautiful creek. You'll also see all four of the train tunnels found on the Mickelson in the sections just north and just south of this trailhead.

What towns are along the Mickelson Trail?

  1. Deadwood: Northern trailhead.

  2. Lead: Near Deadwood along the trail.

  3. Rochford: Along the trail.

  4. Mystic: Along the trail.

  5. Hill City: Central point along the trail.

  6. Custer: Near or through Custer.

  7. Pringle: South of Custer along the trail.

  8. Hot Springs: Along the trail.

  9. Edgemont: Southern trailhead.

Trailheads and starting points

The trail boasts a variety of access points or trailheads, making it easily accessible for riders of all levels. The main trailheads are located in:

  1. Deadwood. Situated in the northern part of the trail, Deadwood's trailhead offers a historical backdrop, ample parking, and facilities for visitors. This iconic Wild West town sets the stage for the northern entrance to the Mickelson Trail.

  2. Englewood. Located just south of Deadwood, Englewood serves as a trailhead for cyclists. While it may not have extensive facilities, it's a crucial stop for those traversing the northern section.

  3. Terry Peak. Positioned further south along the trail, Terry Peak's trailhead provides a starting point for those aiming to explore the central part of the Mickelson Trail. While more limited in amenities, it offers easy access for cyclists.

  4. Lead. Nestled close to the Homestake Mine, the Lead trailhead offers parking, restrooms, and services for bikers, making it a convenient stop for those exploring the midsection of the trail.

  5. Rochford. As a midway point on the trail, Rochford offers facilities, parking, and a serene setting for visitors to rest and refuel before continuing their journey.

  6. Mystic. Further south, Mystic serves as another trailhead on the Mickelson Trail. While it may have more limited facilities compared to larger towns, it still provides a crucial stop for cyclists.

  7. Hill City. Positioned centrally, Hill City boasts a large trailhead equipped with amenities, parking, and services. It serves as a popular starting point for bikers exploring both northern and southern sections of the trail.

  8. Custer. Custer's trailhead offers facilities and a warm welcome for tired riders nearing the end of their journey through the Black Hills.

  9. Hot Springs. Hot Springs offers a trailhead for bikers as they journey through the southern portion of the trail. It provides amenities, parking, and access points for visitors exploring this part of the Mickelson Trail.

  10. Edgemont. Edgemont is considered the southern trailhead of the George S. Mickelson Trail.

How hard is the George Mickelson Trail?

It's generally considered a moderate trail, suitable for a variety of skill levels. It's a rail trail that follows the abandoned Burlington Northern Hill City to Edgemont railroad line in South Dakota. The trail is well-maintained, and its crushed limestone surface makes it accessible for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

Here are some key points about the difficulty level of the Mickelson Trail:

  1. Terrain. The trail is relatively flat compared to many other trails in the region. However, it does traverse through the Black Hills, so there are some gradual inclines and declines. The trail provides a good balance of flat sections and gentle slopes.

  2. Length. The Mickelson Trail is approximately 109 miles long, so the difficulty can also depend on the distance you plan to cover. Some people may find longer distances more challenging, especially if they are not used to extended periods of physical activity.

  3. Altitude. The trail passes through elevations ranging from around 3,400 feet in Edgemont to approximately 5,100 feet in the higher sections. While not extremely high, it's worth considering if you're not accustomed to higher altitudes.

  4. Trail surface. The crushed limestone surface of the trail is generally smooth and well-maintained. This makes it suitable for various activities, including biking.

  5. Services. There are towns along the trail, such as Hill City, Custer, and Hot Springs where you can find services, amenities, and supplies. However, the availability of services may vary, and it's advisable to plan accordingly.

While the Mickelson Trail is often described as moderate, individual perceptions of difficulty can vary based on factors like fitness level, experience, and personal preferences. If you're planning to explore the trail, it's a good idea to assess your own abilities and plan your trip accordingly, taking into account the specific sections of the trail you intend to traverse. Always check for the most recent trail conditions and any updates from local authorities before embarking on your journey.

Considerations before starting

Before embarking on the Mickelson Trail, consider the following:

  1. Weather. The Black Hills experience variable weather; check forecasts and prepare for sudden changes.

  2. Trail conditions. Although well-maintained, parts of the trail may have gravel or other surfaces — choose appropriate gear.

  3. Hydration and nutrition. Carry ample water and snacks, especially on longer stretches between amenities.

  4. Safety. Wear appropriate safety gear and be aware of wildlife, sharing the trail with hikers and other bikers.

How much does it cost to go on the George S. Mickelson Trail?

Trail passes are required for individuals 12 and older (except within city limits). The cost is $4/day or $15/annually. You may purchase a pass at self-serve stations at each trailhead.

The Mickelson Trail experience

Biking the George S. Mickelson Trail is an immersive journey through South Dakota's natural wonders and historic landscapes. Whether reveling in the panoramic vistas or savoring the small-town hospitality along the way, cyclists of all levels will find this trail an enriching and rewarding experience.

Plan your trip with this Mickelson Trail planning guide and book your stay at Highland Meadows Resort during your ride. With private cabins, tipis, and a lodge, you can choose the accommodations that fit your group. The privacy on the mesa, and the surrounding view is a breathtaking way to begin or end your cycling trip.


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