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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Heart Of The Hills Overnighter

Through their "Local Overnighters Project," the folks at sent out a call for cyclists to create and share overnight bikepacking routes that showcase their local backcountry, history, culture and people. Even following the constraints of their parameters, I know many routes that I'd love to ride, share, and recommend here in the Black Hills.

Nonetheless, I have to start somewhere and this is my route submitted - "The Heart Of The Hills Overnighter." I've ridden all these backroads many times, in many ways, but not in this combination while bikepacking for an overnight, until preparing this submission. For example, different stretches of this route have earned their way onto parts of the Black Hills BackBone, the Black Hills Bounty, the DED Dirt Ride, and several Black Hills Gravel Series rides. If you only have two days and one overnight for a ride in the Black Hills, I certainly recommend this route.

Know that this is a gravel and dirt road route, with about a mile of mellow single track, covering about 90 miles and 7,400 feet of elevation gain over 2 days, starting and ending in Hill City with an overnight at USFS Black Fox Campground. Several stretches can be rocky, rutted and/or muddy, such as Horse Creek Road, Castle Peak Road, the spur up Flag Mountain, Williams Draw Road, and a few unnamed connectors. A gravel bike may be appropriate for many cyclists, but when loaded for an overnighter, I think most would prefer a bike with 2 inch or wider tires. When riding in late May on soft roads, I comfortably rode my Jones 29+ with 2.35 inch Bontrager XR2 tires.

For an alternative with shorter riding days, one could ride 26 miles to camp at Castle Peak Campground on Day 1, ride 33 miles to camp at White Tail Campground on Day 2, and ride 31 miles to the finish on Day 3. Or just ditch the camping and ride the entire 90 mile loop in a single day.

I submitted the following narrative to Whether they publish it or not, I made this route publicly available at Heart Of The Hills Overnight

From charming Hill City, the Heart of the Hills Overnighter explores about 80 miles of rough, remote USFS roads and almost 10 miles of rails-to-trails Mickelson Trail for a two day tour showcasing the best of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

This forested, hilly loop passes a restored abandoned gold mine, crosses over a trestle, eeks through old railroad tunnels, follows trout filled streams, sidesteps to the iconic Moonshine Gulch Saloon, climbs along a beaver dammed creek to an abandoned stone lookout tower, and meanders up and down rough Forest Service roads through prime elk country back to Hill City.

At about 40 miles into this 90 mile loop awaits the idyllic USFS Black Fox primitive campground, a sweet spot to spend the evening. Of course, one may choose to disperse camp throughout much of the Black Hills. In particular, one may wish to climb another 12 miles past Black Fox to camp atop Flag Mountain by the lookout tower.

Potable water is available at the Mystic Trailhead of the Mickelson Trail (mile 16.5 of Day 1), at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon, the Rochford Mall, and the Mickelson Trailhead in Rochford (mile 32.5 of Day 1), and at the USFS White Tail Campground (mile 19.2 of Day 2). The Moonshine Gulch Saloon also offers bar food and drinks, while the Rochford Mall sells light snacks.

Located an easy 26 miles from Rapid City, Hill City is a thriving timber and tourism town of about 1,000 residents. It offers a variety of shops and art galleries, motels and campgrounds, and restaurants and bars, including the upscale Alpine Inn, popular Miner Brewing Company microbrewery, and relaxing Prairie Berry winery. Hill City also is minutes away from Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, and the granite towers of Cathedral Spires along Needles Highway. The Heart of the Hills is an ideal place to launch a Black Hills adventure.

Mystic Road passing under a Mickelson Trail trestle near the Mystic Trailhead.

1 comment:

  1. This looks very nice, Craig. Did some riding in this area in September 2019 and stayed near Hill City. Would definitely like to get back to the Black Hills again. Hope that nice publishes your route.