All summer I’ve wanted to bike a section of the 109 mile long Mickelson trail.
Why not when you’re spending the whole summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota! I did some research and decided that the section from Rochford to Hill City would give me some great photo ops, with tunnels and trestle bridges and the like. The trek would be 22 miles long.
To backtrack – we’d barely been on our bikes since January (8 months ago!) and we’re both over 50 now, so I wondered if this would be ‘too much’ for us. I called Mickelson Trail Adventures to inquire on shuttle prices and ask if they thought it would be doable under those circumstances. He assured me we “would be fine.” He even talked me into starting another 10 miles up the trail at the Dumont trailhead. He said “it’s mostly downhill and there’s only about 6 miles of incline and that’s only at 2-4%.” (As a side note, I would never recommend them for shuttle service. I’m not going to go into a review here but basically they weren’t at their office at the scheduled time of our pick up. I had to call them. The son tried to charge me double the price the old man quoted me and then he actually charged my credit card twice.In my opinion they offer a shoddy service.)
So how was the ride? Well, the seven mile incline was pretty darn awful, but the other 25 miles were pretty spectacular. My knees were killing me by then end but I’m totally glad we did it. In fact, it’s one of the top things we did here in the Black Hills during our four month stay.
I have a few tips if you’re thinking about doing this ride (or any other long ride for that matter).
If you haven’t ridden a bike regularly, I would stick to a 15-20 mile ride for starters. I think Dumont to Mystic would’ve been good for a first longer ride. There’s not much uphill in that section. The incline starts about two miles before Mystic and goes on for at least another five miles after that. It looks so gradual that you wouldn’t think it would be difficult. But it’s very deceiving!
Bring at least one water bottle per person for every 10 miles you plan to ride. This trail has water available at every trailhead, although not the best tasting.
Bring an air pump and patch kit, just in case. This lovely trail has places where they offered tools and air free to use, but that isn’t always the case on other trails, and we were told that the air pump at Mystic didn’t work. And there’s no cell service along most of the trail!
Bring a picnic lunch! There are covered picnic areas at the trailheads.
And there are other picnic tables here and there along the trail like the one below just south (uphill) of Mystic.
Bring a rain jacket and a hat. The Black Hills weather can change in an instant and pop up showers and thunderstorms are common, especially in the afternoon. We caught a few rain drops and had some thunder but nothing that stopped us from riding.
Bring a portable battery pack for your phone if you have one. I wanted to record my ride on the Runkeeper app to see how far we went, our speed, the incline, and the calorie burn. By 6 miles into the ride I noticed the battery was draining way too fast on my phone (Google pixel) so I shut the app off so I could still take pictures. I wished I had my portable battery charger with me. I left it in the truck.
Bring Kleenex or TP just in case the bathrooms aren’t stocked. There is a pit toilet at every trailhead and for the most part they were pretty clean.
Tylenol or Advil would’ve been nice. I started off with a bit of a headache and ended with aching knees.
If it’s available bring a trail map. Remember, there’s no cell service so you won’t be able to check your phone unless you took a picture of the trail map. The Mickelson trail does have mile markers which is nice. We were never quite sure how far we had left to go though.
For glasses wearers like myself, bring some lens wipes. Raindrops, dust, etc. – it would’ve been handy to be able to properly clean the specs.
And don’t forget your camera or phone to take pictures! There are so many beautiful places along the trail from waterfalls
to trestle bridges
Fact: There are no bears in the Black Hills. The last one was shot in 1968 and there’s hasn’t been one sighted since!
There are lots of cows though and some we even encountered right on the trail!
Most of all, give yourself enough time to enjoy it. Our shuttle ride from Hill City was about an hour up to our starting point in Dumont. We then took about five hours to ride the 32 miles back to our truck in Hill City. That included a lunch stop and lots of stops for pictures and chatting with other riders at the rest stops. If we had our bathing suits and it was hotter we might have even jumped in the creek as we saw a few good swimming holes. Just make sure to enjoy the journey.
One observation that made me chuckle was that I was worried about being able to do this ride because I’m not so young anymore, when it seemed that almost everyone we encountered on the trail was over 50! Although we were out for a casual ride (and there were a few others as well), there were many that were in full bike gear and looked like professional riders. I’m pretty sure I got passed up by a 70+ year old man on the uphill section and I never caught up with him again! Sheesh!
As for traffic on the trail – we rode on August 30 and I’d say we encountered maybe 20 people along our 32 mile ride. Most of the time it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. Although the trail parallels roads at points, the traffic on them was nil or you were separated by rock outcroppings or trees from the roads. It’s a beautiful trail, well maintained with crushed limestone and bearing a few amenities along the way.
If you’re in the Black Hills – do this! You won’t regret it! There are even companies that will rent you bikes if you don’t have your own. I know there are a few in Deadwood and Hill City.
And at the end of the day you can reward all that hard work and pain with some refreshing drinks at one of the local breweries/wineries while you discuss how memorable and enjoyable the ride was!