The Black Hills of South Dakota never fail to surprise…and impress. This western region of South Dakota is known as the home of Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and of course, for its Wild West history (Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane called the Black Hills home). More recently, however, the Black Hills have been recognized as an emerging mountain biking region, known for its amazing range of trails that includes everything from accessible paths and great beginner terrain for families to more advanced trails for avid bikers . Here’s where to go…
Families looking to add some mountain biking to their Black Hills road trip or vacation should start with the Mickelson Trail. This 109-mile trail curves through several Black Hills historic towns, including Deadwood, Hill City, and Custer. It’s a rail trail, which means it follows an abandoned railroad line, and is therefore a good grade for family riding (in other words, it’s not too steep).
There are 15 trailheads at which you can start your rail trail journey, assuming you’re not going to do the whole thing. Along the way, trestle bridges and rail tunnels add fun for kids, and the scenery is always gorgeous as the trail cuts through the limestone and granite of the Black Hills. It’s easy to follow the Mickelson Trail for a full day, stopping for a nice lunch and some sightseeing en route.
We recommend: Take the section from Hill City to Custer, which is about 15 miles from the Burlington Northern Hill City trailhead to the Harbach Park trailhead in Custer. This map is a useful planning tool.
Alkali Creek Trail
Families who have intermediate riders and are ready for a bigger challenge than the flat Mickelson Trail may want to try Alkali Creek. The entire length of the trail is 18 miles, but there’s not too much elevation gain. From I-90, you’ll want to take exit 34 near Black Hills National Cemetery, turn right (north) and follow the road for about one mile. For a bigger challenge, try Terry Peak, which is located past Deadwood by the Terry Peak Ski Area in the town of Lead.
Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park Trail Network
For families with beginner and intermediate riders who want a trail system that has a bit of everything, and is based close to Rapid City, the Hanson-Larsen network is located just outside town and offers great views of the city. Head up Skyline Drive to find it (park at Founders Park on Omaha), and be ready for some elevation gains and losses. The circuits are short however, allowing families to tailor the length of the ride to suit. Note: The Skyline Drive Trail is located just past Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, but its trails are more advanced.
Where To Rent Bikes
For families not road tripping with their mountain bikes, there are numerous places to rent bikes while on vacation in the Black Hills. We rented bikes at Rabbit Bicycles in Hill City because this shop is directly on the Mickelson Trail, making it very easy to go from renting to riding. They also offer a shuttle service for families who want to go one way on the trail and then be transported back.
Alternatives certainly exist: If you think you’ll want to ride bikes in many locations, and are flying or driving into Rapid City, consider renting at ACME Bicycles or Black Hills Bicycles in Rapid City. We also noted rental locations in Spearfish and Sturgis.
Tip: Make sure everyone in the family has a properly fitting helmet while riding, as well as shin guards and arm pads for single track (not necessary on the Mickelson Trail). We recommend G-Form pads.
This post was written in partnership with Travel South Dakota, and based on my personal experience in the Black Hills region. Interested in traveling to South Dakota? Get a free travel guide!