Top Ten Mountain Bike Meccas (Beyond Moab)
The rugged Black Hills rising from the rolling prairies of western South Dakota have long been thought of as a place for physical and spiritual renewal. In recent years, mountain bikers have begun joining the pilgrims flocking to explore the area's natural wonders. Toward the southern end of this hilly region, tucked into the Black Hills National Forest near Custer State Park, you'll find the small town of Custer, a friendly little town of about 2,000 people that serves as an excellent jumping-off point for your Black Hills biking adventure.
The city is located just south of the geological center of the Black Hills. Harney Peak at 7,242 feet and the nearby Needles rock formations form the core of an area created by the uplifting of the earth's crust millions of years ago. Surrounding this core are rings of sedimentary rocksâ€”sandstones, limestones, and shalesâ€”which have allowed for the formation of well-known caves such as Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.
What better way to get to know this unique region than on two wheels? The following are our top picks for mountain biking trails around Custer.
Described by the owner of Trailside Bikes, Jim Grimes, as "a gonzo, break-your-butt type trail," the Centennial is one of the area's most well-known routes. It passes by many historical sites and comes within a mile of Mount Rushmore. You might even see some bison along the way. Not all sections are "gonzo." How can they be? This is an 111-mile trail that runs the length of the Black Hills, from Bear Butte State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south. Twenty-two miles of the trail are located in Custer State Park, just nine miles from Custer. If you're looking for a challenge, be sure to check out the Badger Hole to French Creek section there in the park. Most trailheads are marked with signs, and the trail itself is marked with a combination of brown fiberglass posts and gray diamonds fastened to trees. The trailhead closest to Custer is located just west of Legion Lake on 16A going north. Note that mountain biking isn't allowed in the Black Elk Wilderness.
A bit more mellow than the Centennial but equally lengthy, the Mickelson follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington-Northern rail line. It was named after the state's Governor George S. Mickelson, who was instrumental in starting the rails-to-trails project. This trail passes through Custer, and you can find the trailhead in Harbach City Park. Bicyclists, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers 16 and older are required to purchase a $2 daily or $6 annual trail pass.
This 16.1-mile high-mountain trail system takes you through some beautiful country, which includes some of the most breathtaking views in the Black Hills. It begins at Medicine Mountain Boy Scout Camp, on FR 317. From there it wanders among picturesque pine and spruce stands along a limestone rim and plunges through draws thickly lined with aspen. The entire area is rich in wildlife.
Custer State Park (605) 255-4514
More on biking in Black Hills National Forest
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication