Biking South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail

Biking South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail

Well consider me sold on South Dakota!

South Dakota Mickelson Bike TourAs a cycling enthusiast, I seek out trails anywhere I go! But I had not even heard of the Mickelson Trail, until planning a trip to the Black Hills. From Edgemont to Deadwood, the trail stretches nearly 109 miles (which is damn near all the way up and down the Black Hills National Forest).


The Mickelson Trail, or The Big Mick, is a one-two punch of nature and history, but misses the body blow. Sure it’s hilly, and can be a challenge, but being a rail-trail it’s doable.

The history of the George S. Mickelson Trail is as rich as the hills! From the lawless, gunfightin’, stagecoach robbin’ crooks to Native American heroes, this trail takes riders through a gold mine of history.


 My new friend, Big Mick, is a proud member of the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame.


Built on top of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy rail line, it was originally completed in 1891 and was operated by the Burlington Northern up until 1983. As soon as the last train rolled down those tracks, theGeorge S Mickelson Trail tunnel citizens aware of this trail’s historic value started making noise, and the state’s first Rails to Trails initiative was underway. In 1991, the first section of the trail was opened and dubbed the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail. However, the then governor, George S. Mickelson, one of the trail’s earliest supporters, suffered an untimely death in 1993 and the trail was renamed in his honor.


Rolling down this trail, you go through four tunnels and cross over more than 100 trestles. Building this rail line some 125 years ago must have been an incredible challenge given the terrain that it cuts through. Following the North Fork Rapid Creek, and the Whitewood Creek (among others), the ascent maxes at about 6250ft, and gently descends to around 3250ft. The Big Mick has earned it’s Rails to Trails Hall of Fame status, providing amazing views of the back country the whole way!


The Adventure begins in Edgemont, South Dakota.

Edgemont South Dakota Mickelson Bike Trail


Edgemont possesses some quintessential historical elements that are common in towns you will roll through while traversing the Big Mick. A small town that looks like it used to be something, but that something has since vanished. The city was started when the railroad built a depot there, but was mainly a cow town with little hope until gold was discovered not far away.  Word spreads fast when it comes to gold, and within a week this town went from a population of 100+ to almost 10,000.  Businesses sprung up to handle the crowds demands. Restaurants were opened, a hospital, a school, and homes were being built as fast as they could. Then eventually, the gold ran out and everyone disappeared.



The trail ends in Deadwood, South Dakota.South Dakota Mickelson Bike Trail

Edgemont is an interesting contrast to that of the bustling, northern most terminus, Deadwood, SD. The entire town of Deadwood was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. It was originally settled in Lakota territory (land that we had just given to the Native Americans before Gen. Custer’s boys found gold near there). It blossomed into the town where gambling and prostitution ran wild, and famous figures like Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane spent their last days. After the gold rush, mining set in and a prosperous town was born, but the lawless backbone remained, even until today. Sandwiched in between these towns are more recognizable names like Custer, Crazy Horse, and Rushmore (the last not directly on the trail, but not far off of it).


A Daily Elevation and Topography map for the Mickelson Trail is on our blog for more details about the trip.

The Big Mick’s surface is mostly crushed limestone, with some gravel stretches, so I wouldn’t recommend attacking this trail on a street bike. However, a mountain bike, fat tire, hybrid, or cyclocross bike will work fine.


The Mickelson Trail is a cyclists dream!deer on South Dakota Mickelson Bike Tour

All you have to do is get started on this trail and you will be wowed. With its largely uninterrupted 108.8 mile course, the Big Mick offers something for every cyclist. It has tons of history, beautiful landscapes, and critters galore.


Keep your eyes open for turkeys, deer, coyotes, big horn sheep, and, unfortunately, snakes.


I can’t say enough about this trail, it quickly become one of my favorites ever, I just can’t believe it took me this long to find it.




JAMES OERDING bike tour guide south dakota

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Wilderness Voyageurs is a bike tour operator based in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania along the Great Allegheny Passage.  Give us a shout at 800-272-4141, we make bike vacations easy.