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Mickelson Trail Makes List of Best Ten Car-Free Bike Paths in America

Mickelson Trail, South Dakota. Photo by Cory Allen Heidelberger, June 26, 2013.
Mica along the Mickelson Trail, heading up and south from Hill City toward Crazy Horse

Kevin Woster notes that the Mickelson Trail is drawing some positive press for the Black Hills. Bicycling includes the Mickelson Trail on its list of the ten best car-free bike paths in the country:

Fat tires were created for adventures like this 109-mile rail trail in South Dakota’s Black Hills, known by the Lakota natives as Paha Sapa and “the heart of everything that is.” It’s a movable feast for the eyes as you pass ponderosa pine forests, prairie lands, rugged mountain terrain, grazing cattle, swimmable creeks, and rocky canyons, feeling with every pedal stroke that you’re traveling on sacred ground. Though the route peaks at 6,100 feet of elevation, it rarely exceeds a four percent grade [Lauren Matison, "Ten Best Car-Free Bike Paths in the USA," Bicycling, 2014.09].

Contrary to Woster's report, the cycling magazine doesn't explicitly rank the Mickelson Trail the best of the best; the Mickelson is just the first item to click in a list that includes the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes in Idaho, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s Carriage Trails in Maine, and (closest to South Dakota) the Katy Trail in Missouri. But I'll vouch for the Mickelson Trail's visual stunningness and geological and ecological diversity. It's the best bike ride I've ever had, solo and with my family.


  1. Lynn 2014.09.19

    Great thing about this trail is that it is very versatile and there are a number of bicycles you could ride besides a fat tired mountain bike. If equipped with the right tires such as the excellent, comfortable and flat resistant schwalbe marathon series touring tires 700c on a touring bike or even a comfort bike.

    Horseback riding to cross country skiing would be a blast on this trail. What an asset for South Dakota

  2. Douglas Wiken 2014.09.19

    Somebody also might want to thank the SD convicts who worked on the trail and also the Black Hills guys who made this possible by buying out the demolition of bridges, etc. SDPB-TV had an excellent special on the history of this project.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.09.20

    I remember how upset some folks were about this trail and how it was going to trash up their land and hangouts. Didn't somebody sabotage a trestle crossing?

    Bicycling is huge nationwide. The Mickelson and other trails are great investments for SD.

    It's great that SD is getting some positive press too.

  4. Don Coyote 2014.09.20

    Meh. Rode the Mickelson from Custer to Deadwood. Nice country but lots of dust on the Hill City to Roachford stretch from the road that parallels the trail most of the way.

    If I want to ride old rail paths I usually stick to Lanesboro in E MN (paved - two thumbs up) or Elroy-Sparta in WI. Closer and frankly the scenery is better.

    @Lynn While I haven't ridden Schwalbe tires, I can't believe a tire a with a polyurethane insert built into it could have a ride better than a lumber wagon. All the extra weight tends to kill the feel of the ride. I ride a 28c (1 1/4-1 3/8) wide tire with a high thread count and never have flats on trails like the Mickelson.

    Forget the horses. They are spooked by bikes and leave piles everywhere.

  5. Lynn 2014.09.20

    Don Coyote I checked out Lanesboro, Root River Trail and Forestburg State Park just a few weeks ago. What a surprise! It is beautiful there! Minnesota and Wisconsin have a great network of trails.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.20

    One ding on the Mickelson: it's linear instead of a loop. Arguably the best part of the trail is between the Kirk and Englewood trailheads, where you can ride up one way and come back a different way... although that loop also includes the only grades that may be beyond the casual rider in granny gear.

  7. Jenny 2014.09.20

    Cory, don't get mad at me for changing topic, but this is one that will interest you. Reportedly, the Feds are investigating the Chamberlain school district for the racism issues there regarding the school board not allowing the Native Americans to play their honor song. Had you heard anything about that?

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.20

    (Don't do it, Jenny! I'll get a separate post on that topic soon!)

  9. Jenny 2014.09.20

    I wanted to make sure you knew.

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