Enjoying gorgeous fall weather & colors on the Mickelson Trail

The George S. Mickelson Trail in western South Dakota is a trail rich in history and beautiful views. For nearly 100 years, it served as the Burlington Railroad route. The narrow-gauge line cuts through the heart of the Black Hills, running 109 miles from Deadwood to Edgemont. Traffic came to a stop in the mid 1980’s and the railroad was abandoned. In 1991, a group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail’s potential, and with the support of Governor George S. Mickelson, it became South Dakota’s first rails-to-trails project.

Rail-to-Trail 101

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy describes rails-to-trails as “multipurpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. These paths are flat or gently sloping, making them easily accessible and a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Rail-to-trails are ideal for many types of activities–depending on the rules established by the local community–including walking, bicycling, wheelchair use, inline skating, cross-country skiing and horseback riding.”

In 2007, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy began recognizing exemplary trails around the country through its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame designation. Inductees are selected on merits such as scenic value, high use, trail and trailside amenities, historical significance, excellence in management and maintenance of facility, community connections and geographic distribution. In May 2010, the Mickelson Trail was named a Hall of Fame trail. With our recent purchase of two e-bikes, we are beginning to seek out these trails as part of our trip planning. Click here for a full list of Hall of Fame trails.

Logistics

The Mickelson Trail is 109 miles long and contains more than 100 converted railroad bridges, 4 rock tunnels, and 35 interpretative signs. The trail surface is primarily crushed limestone and gravel and does not exceed 4% grade making it an excellent trail for riders of all levels. There are 15 trailheads, all of which offer parking, self-sale trail pass stations, vault toilets, and tables. Many offer water, tools, and air.

A fee is charged to ride the Mickelson. Cost is $4 per day or $15 for an annual pass. The trail is closed to all users from ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise. Electric wheelchairs, electric scooters and class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed. Much of the trail passes through National Forest Service land, but there are parts that pass through privately owned land. Trail use in those areas is restricted to the trail only. Please be respectful of all private property! Click here to review the full trail policies. Click here for trail guide and map.

Trailheads have nice route maps

During our fall 2021 adventures in the Black Hills, we spent four days riding the Mickelson Trail. We saw approximately 40 of its 109 miles and enjoyed beautiful fall weather and colors. Traffic on the trail was light and we were super impressed with how well the trail is maintained. Kuddos to the South Dakota Game, Fish, & Parks for their exceptional job as trail steward.

Day 1: Mystic to Rochford

Our favorite day on the Mickelson was our first day. We started at the Mystic Trailhead and rode south through tunnels A and B. From there, we turned around and headed north, through Tunnel C to the town of Rochford. We enjoyed beautiful fall colors and had great conversations with several other e-bike riders. The highlight of the day was riding through three of the four tunnels along the route.

Day 2: Hill City to Mystic

For our second day on the Mickelson, we road from downtown Hill City north to Tunnel A just south of Mystic. We hadn’t planned on riding this stretch; however, we were easily convinced after a conversation with local trail riders the day before. They recommended this stretch for stunning fall colors and boy were they spot on! Thank you to those kind strangers for their recommendation!

Day 3: Hill City to Custer

In addition to the tunnels around Mystic, the Crazy Horse Memorial was a must see along the Mickelson Trail. When complete, Crazy Horse will be the world’s largest sculpture measuring 563′ high by 641′ long and will memorialize Lakota Indian warrior Crazy Horse. The mission of the memorial is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians. Our view of the memorial from the trail was rather distant, but it was still an impressive sight. Our next visit to the Black Hills will include a trip to the Memorial and its world-class museum.

Day 4: Minnekahta to Milepost 5

We hadn’t planned on a fourth day on the Mickelson, but we were really enjoying our rides and the glorious fall weather. The Sheep Canyon area between Pringle and Edgemont was recommended by fellow trail riders, so we headed toward the southern end of the trail to check that out. South of Pringle, the terrain transitions from forest to prairie providing for a very different trail experience compared to our first three days. We started at the Minnekahta Trailhead and road to milepost 5. The highlight of this stretch was scenic Sheep Canyon and some historic inscriptions on the rocks there.

The Adventure Continues

Be sure to join us for our next post as we visit two of the longest caves in the world! And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase, you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!

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