Embark on an extraordinary adventure through the Black Hills, immersing yourself in the captivating landscapes of the two longest and most iconic trails found in South Dakota. The George S. Mickelson Trail and the Centennial Trail weave through incredible scenic wonders linking together some of the area’s top scenic locations. Read on to unveil the splendor and history of both trails.
The Mickelson Trail
Traveling for 109 miles, the George S. Mickelson Trail weaves through the heart of the Black Hills National Forest. Crossing creeks, hugging granite walls, and cutting through mountains – guiding trail users through a variety of breathtaking terrains and showing off some of the best of the views in the area.
Originally, this route was created for the Burlington Northern line railroad which serviced the mines in the Black Hills during the Black Hills Gold Rush. It was abandoned in 1983, and stayed that way until a group of outdoor enthusiasts saw the route’s potential to be converted into a public trail for hiking and biking. With the support of Governor George Mickelson, the trails namesake, it became the state’s first rails to trails project and was completed in September of 1998.
The Mickelson Trail is great for all experience levels since the majority of the trail doesn’t exceed a four percent grade and it offers easy access points with 15 trailheads. Along with stunning scenery, the trail includes more than 100 converted railroad bridges and four incredibly cool rock tunnels. While the trail is generally moderate, there are portions that are more strenuous than others, like Dumont, which is the highest point of the trail. The 19 miles from Deadwood to Dumont is the longest portion of incline. You can take advantage of the incline by traveling the opposite direction on the trail or choose a different section of the trail that better suits your preferences.
If you or someone in your group has physical limitations, the Trolley on the Trail event offers a fantastic opportunity to experience the Mickelson Trail. On select dates throughout the summer, individuals with a handicap parking permit can reserve a spot on the trolley, along with a companion. For more information about this event, reach out to the Mickelson Trail office at 605.584.3896.
The Centennial Trail
Established in 1989, the Centennial Trail was created to celebrate South Dakota’s 100th anniversary of statehood (1889) and represents the diverse terrain found here. From the grasslands near Bear Butte to the high country of the Black Hills, the trail touches it all by skirting stunning lakes and crossing babbling creeks. The Centennial Trail even passes within one mile of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. A little fun fact: when you see the trail marker, it’s marked with the number “89” from the date of South Dakota’s statehood.
All sections of the Centennial Trail are open to hiking. Mountain biking and horseback riding are allowed in all parts except within Wind Cave National Park and the eastern portion of Bear Butte State Park. Small portions of the trail between Pilot Knob Trailhead and Dalton Trailhead can be used for motorized vehicles. Make sure to follow all allowed trail use signs and research the portions of the trail you plan to explore.
*When exploring either trail, be sure to dress appropriately for the weather and to bring plenty of water and snacks.
Tours, Rentals and Shuttle Services
Let a local tour company be your guide! Black Hills Adventure Tours, Black Hills Tour Company and Dave's World Tours all offer various tour options for the Mickelson Trail. Find one that best suits you, so you experience the beauty of this trail with ease.
Just need a bike rental without a tour? Contact our friends at Acme Bicycles. They’ve partnered with Black Hills Paddlesports, located near the Mickelson Trail, offering electric bike rentals.
Looking for a ride to the trail? Roam’n Around, Rapid City’s locally owned outdoor gear store, offers shuttle services to both the Mickelson Trail and Centennial Trail.
The wild west is on full display when you journey along these two iconic trails. Exciting views wait around every corner including a wide range of wildlife, making it an unforgettable experience. When you do encounter wildlife, please keep a safe distance of at least 25 yards. Help us maintain the beauty of the Black Hills by leaving no trace as you explore by packing out any trash or food residue you bring along.
Find more activities and spots to explore during your Rapid City vacation in the related content below. Or get your hands on the best planning resource out there by requesting or downloading our free Visitors Guide.