The George S. Mickelson Trail, named after a prominent South Dakotan politician, runs the north-south length of the Black Hills, 109 miles from Deadwood to Edgemont.
Established first as the Burlington Northern Railroad line that ran between towns and the many gold mines in the Black Hills, the rails were abandoned in 1983.
A handful of outdoor enthusiasts jumped on the chance to make the scenic railroad into South Dakota’s very first Rails-to-Trails project. A packed gravel, largely level trail, it is popular with locals, and many use parts of it for snowmobiles during the long, South Dakota winters that make the narrow, curvaceous roads treacherously slippery with ice and snow.
The pleasant trail passes through canyons of brilliant orange rock, abandoned and not-yet-abandoned gold mines, around rusty equipment and past ghost towns.
We started the day at our campsite, Whistler Gulch, just south of Deadwood. Popular with bikers, it felt like a mini-Sturgis already. It’s an easy bike ride into town, and cheaper than a seedy motel, and our campsite was right across the street from a BLM mine, complete with dangerously enticing, abandoned mining equipment. And, importantly, mini-golf (which is apparently NOT putt-putt in South Dakota). Our goal that morning was the Mt. Moriah Cemetery. “Let’s just ride for a few minutes on that bike trail,” we said.
Two hours and 15 miles later, we had disappeared onto the trail, passing through-riders and those out for a leisurely morning, before the afternoon sun started to bake the air. We did a scenic Deadwood-Lead-Middle of Nowhere loop, taking us up and over cliffs and mines and into the heart of the Black Hills.
The Mickelson Trail does pass through state park land, and they do ask that you pay a measly $3 for use of the well-maintained trail. There are 15 trailheads and maps along the way, and keep a look out for private property, “No Trespassing” signs and active mines (extremely dangerous!) along the trail. Most are clearly marked, complete with photographic histories of the area. If you’re interested in a longer bicycle event, check out the Mickelson Trail Trek, held in mid-September (in 2011: Sept. 16-18), which travels the length of the trail in just about the best time of year.
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