One of the most historic and scenic rails to trails conversions in America!
There are dozens of trails in the Black Hills, but perhaps, none as historically significant as the George S. Mickelson Trail. For nearly 100 years, it served as the Burlington (train) route, transporting people, freight, mail and livestock from town to town along its passage. Construction began in Deadwood in 1888, and in within ten months the route to Edgemont was complete.
Train traffic came to a stop in the mid 1980’s and the railroad was abandoned and removed. In 1991, a group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail’s potential, and with the support of Governor George S. Mickelson, it became the South Dakota’s first rails to trails project. That same year, the first segment was opened and in 1998, the trail was finished. Tragically, Governor Mickelson was killed in a plane crash in 1993, and never saw the full realization of the project.
Today, the route’s surface is a crushed limestone trail, that offers some of the most unique experiences the Black Hills has to offer. Whether you’re biking, horseback riding, running, skiing or walking, the variety of endless views will not disappoint. Naturalist, John Muir said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” You’ll find truth in these words if you spend some time on the MT.
The Mickelson Trail transports you to a quiet world, into the heart of the landscape. In spring and summer months, this world is lush and inviting, the countryside is dotted with wildflowers and the air is alive with birdsongs. In autumn, everything transforms – from the buffalo grass to the aspen tops, colors explode into a mosaic of crimson orange and gold. In winter, everything falls silent under the season’s blanket of snow.
From Deadwood to Pringle, the trail follows meandering creeks, winds around towering rock formations, past sprawling meadows and through dense forest. South of Pringle and into Edgemont, the terrain opens into prairie and ranch land, providing splendid views of the horizon.
In total, there are 4 tunnels (between Hill City and Rochford) 35 interpretative signs (great lessons in history) and more than 100 bridges.
Remnants of the past can still be seen in a few places along the trail and catching a glimpse of one is always a treat. Be on the lookout for the occasional cast-away, peeking from the grass or dirt – perhaps you’ll see a forgotten railroad tie, a chunk of rusty iron or an old sign. But please leave them as they are; departing the trail with souvenirs is not allowed.
If you’d like to rent a bike, need to have one repaired, or require transportation from one trailhead to another, there are a number of shuttle services and bike shops within communities along the trail.
Individuals 12 and older are required to purchase and carry a trail pass. (except within city limits) Passes are available at self-serve stations at each trailhead, or at any of these locations. Cost: $4 per day or $15 annually.
Motorized vehicles are not allowed. However, in winter months, if snow cover allows, the stretch from Dumont to Deadwood is open to snowmobile traffic.
To learn more about the trail, and the rich history of each community along its route, be sure to pick up a copy or “A Trail Guide for the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills, SD” (written by Aleen Golis) and available here.
Purchase a trail pass:
• Chamber of Commerce
• Rabbit Bicycles
• Bikes & Boats
• Pine Rest Cabins
• Lead Area Chamber of Commerce
• Black Hills Trails Office
Guest Article by Jeanine Barone
As I bicycle into Rochford, South Dakota, with Carrie Bowers, owner of Black Hills Adventure Tours, and about a dozen other locals, it seems as if a time warp has opened into the Wild West, albeit during a decidedly peaceful moment. On this spring weekday afternoon, the tiny former mining town’s hub of activity—what little there is—centers on the wooden porch of the Moonshine Gulch Saloon, a weatherworn building seemingly plucked right out of a U.S. history book. A pair of middle-aged men lounge on chairs, rolling cigarettes and chain smoking. Nearby, three gents in cowboy hats chat with each other, standing smack in the middle of the main road with no concern whatsoever for traffic—because there’s no sign of any. The scene was likely very different during the frenetic activity of the Gold Rush in the late 1800s. Pedaling along this portion of the 109-some-mile George S. Mickelson Trail, one of the nation’s most beloved greenways, I’m constantly reminded of this bygone era of U.S. history.
Mickelson Trail Affiliates is not associated with SDPB or any department of the Federal or State government
Brief history of the Mickelson Trail: The first 6 miles of trail were dedicated in 1991. After years of hard work, and collaboration between the US Forest Service, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, the National Guard, the South Dakota Department of Transportation, the South Dakota Department of Corrections, and the local Friends of the Mickelson Trail, the trail was completed in 1998.
The surface is primarily crushed limestone and gravel. There are currently 15 trailheads which all offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations ($4 daily or $15 annual), vault toilets, and tables. The grades of the trail do not exceed 4 percent for the most part, but parts of the trail are considered strenuous. Traveling from Deadwood (4550 feet) in the southern direction toward Edgemont (3400 feet), the trail loses approximately 1150 feet in overall elevation.
The trail's gentle slopes and easy access allow people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills.
Much of the trail passes through National Forest land, but there are stretches that pass through private property, where trail use is restricted to the trail only. It is vital to the future of the trail that users respect the land and others on the trail.