Renowned for its rolling hills, fertile farm country, and sweeping plains bisected by scenic lakes and streams, South Dakota is a scenically stunning area and is home to a number of natural outdoor attractions, including Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Black Hills, and Badlands National Park, just to name a few. The state, which is situated in America’s Midwestern region, is also a wonderful, albeit relatively unknown paradise for mountain bikers; a state that offers exciting and challenging trails for riders of all ability levels.
To help introduce you to some of South Dakota’s outdoor wonders, below we have highlighted five of the state’s most popular and well-ridden trails and provided a brief description of each course.
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George S. Mickelson Trail
Located in the renowned town of Deadwood, South Dakota, the George S. Mickelson Trail is a 110-mile course that affords great riding opportunities for beginner and intermediate cyclists. The relatively easy and flat trail, which includes a mere 2 percent grade from start to finish, commences in Deadwood and stretches all the way to the city of Edgemont, treating riders to a handsome ride through the heart of the Black Hills, one that includes several cool train tunnels and majestic bridges.
The George S. Mickelson Trail is generally considered one of the nation’s premier “rail to trail” courses, a nickname given to trails that closely follow popular train routes. Outdoor enthusiasts seeking a picturesque and undemanding course amid the spectacular scenery of South Dakota will simply fall in love with this astonishing trail.
Advanced to expert riders looking to punish themselves for the sake of outdoor thrills should definitely put the Centennial Trail on their list of must-ride courses. Located in the town of Sturgis, South Dakota—the town made famous by the thousands of motorcyclists that flock to it during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Run—the Centennial Trail offers an entertaining mix of double and single track and, because of its high level of difficulty, it is definitely not recommended for beginner riders.
Featuring a 2,400 foot change in elevation, with rugged ascents and speedy downhills, the Centennial Trail often feels like a rollercoaster, one that includes tight switchbacks, stream crossings and unstable terrain consisting of loose gravel, berms and rocky outcroppings.
According to the locals that frequent this track, the Centennial Trail is a “single-track paradise,” one that stretches an incredible 111 miles in total distance. The course begins at Sturgis’ Bear Butte and winds its way through a series of rolling hills until it reaches Wind Cave National Park. Riders of the Centennial Trail have the unique opportunity to enjoy several attractions along the way, including the flora and fauna of Custer State Park and the slick, faster part of the track near Sheridan Lake and Pactola Lake.
Big Hill Trail System
Situated roughly 7 miles south of the small town of Spearfish, South Dakota, the Big Hill Trail System—ranked beginner to intermediate by the course’s designer—is a great course for practicing and perfecting a rider’s technical and bike handling skills. The trail system encompasses some 15 miles of unified loop trails that take riders through a heavily wooded region above Spearfish Canyon in the famed Black Hills.
Among the several marked trails in this popular cycling region are the easy “A-1” and “A” courses, the former structured as a ½ mile loop and the latter spanning just over 2 miles in length. Once riders get comfortable on these two beginner tracks they can then experiment on the popular “C Loop”—a five-mile ride that includes a few technical downhill sections over loose and unstable gravel and a couple of heart-pounding climbs.
Designed for beginners (and perfect for families), the Big Hill Trail system mostly meanders leisurely through the South Dakotan countryside, giving riders an up-close view of the state’s glorious landscapes and an occasional peak at the wildlife that populates the region.
Lovers Leap Trail
The course known as Lovers Leap Trail is a fun 4-mile loop located in Custer State Park and very near to the city of Custer in South Dakota. The trail is ranked moderate—intended primarily for intermediate to advanced riders—and includes a 480-foot elevation change through beautiful pine and oak forests and several daring creek crossings. Although not very lengthy in terms of total distance, the trail has more than its fair share of challenging obstacles and impediments.
From its tough, pedal-grinding climbs, tight switchbacks and uneven berms to its fast gravelly descents, the Lovers Leap Trail offers the ideal combination of speed and technical difficulty; a combination that consistently draws scores of riders each year looking to challenge themselves on one of the best courses South Dakota has to offer.
Used primarily for hiking, the trail is accessible from April through October, although early or late snowfall can shrink the time the course is available for the purpose of mountain biking.
Storm Mountain Trail
The Storm Mountain Trail is located in Rapid City, South Dakota, the second-largest city in the state (after Sioux Falls). The six-mile trail is part of a system that is rated moderate or intermediate in totality, but there are sections of the course that are perfect for all levels of riders, from beginners to advanced outdoor cyclists.
A well-marked and manicured track, with colorful orange, red and blue flags marking each section’s level of difficulty, Storm Mountain is an outdoor paradise for those seeking to perfect certain bike-handling skills in a single location. In addition to the trails gorgeous scenery, highlighted by aspens, pines and regal oaks, the trail features a seemingly endless number of ups and downs, the latter portions set up as single-track with a bevy of entertaining switchbacks, jumps and treacherous gravel that will test riders’ balance and steering prowess.
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