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Sunday, March 5, 2023

Five Favorite Black Hills "Gravel" Roads

The Black Hills of South Dakota offer untold miles of back roads of all kinds. Up, down, and winding all around the Hills, these roads often were built to access logging or mining areas, cattle ranches, or the occasional small town. Practically limitless possibilities await the adventurous cyclist.

In the midst of such abundance, some stretches of certain roads stand out. I'll limit this post to Primary and Secondary roads, on which most experienced cyclists could comfortably ride on "gravel" bikes with tires of 40 mm, or so. So, here are five of my favorite "gravel" roads in the Black Hills.

NOTE: These are stretches of roads, not routes. If you find one of these roads on a route, you're off to a good start. The 2017 Rochford Black route featured in last week's post has two! Maybe that's why it's a favorite route from the Black Hills Gravel Series. See Taste of Black Hills Gravel.

1. Antelope Ridge Road (USFS 283)
Mud Spring Road (282) to Antelope Ridge Road (283).

From U.S. Highway 16 just west of Jewel Cave National Monument, Mud Spring Road (USFS 282) climbs along Hell Canyon for a few miles and then intersects with Antelope Ridge Road (USFS 283). Both eventually T-bone with Custer Limestone Road (USFS 284) and both are great fun. However, the views from Antelope Ridge Road are as big and wide as the Great American West, stretching well into Wyoming. Go West, young cyclist!

Antelope Ridge looking North and West into Wyoming.

2. Black Fox Camp Road (USFS 233)
Black Fox Camp Road (USFS 233).

Black Fox Camp Road is a long time favorite that I have featured in many posts. Indeed, in 2014, I plugged it into my first draft of the original Black Hills BackBone route and there it remains. Many other routes take it, including my new BackBone Grande bikepacking route. Only because this list is alphabetical is it second here.

West of Rochford off South Rapid Creek Road (USFS 231), this packed dirt road gently climbs along a meandering stream patrolled by busy beavers working dense stands of willow. As the valley narrows, pine trees give way to towering cliffs. It all ends too soon, but a bonus sits a few miles ahead by taking USFS 189 up to Flag Mountain Lookout. For me, this is five of the best miles anywhere.

Black Fox Camp Road. Simply the best.

3. Castle Peak Road (USFS 181)
Castle Peak Road (USFS 181).

Another lightly developed and barely maintained road, Castle Peak Road (USFS 181) winds along a creek to popular USFS Castle Peak Campground. This dirt road is often pot-holed and rutted, with some standing water, but is great fun on a gravel bike. From Mystic Road, it climbs steadily, but not steeply, at least not until the final two miles.

Creek to the left. Cliffs to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with trees.

4. Red Canyon Road (Fall River County 15)
Red Canyon Road (FRD 15).

A few miles north of Edgemont, Red Canyon Road (FRD 15) veers off U.S. Highway 16 for a relaxing climb through a hardscrabble canyon past a smattering of small ranches. Numerous flash flood drainages cross over the county road as it works up the canyon. Keep an eye on the canyon walls, however, for a variety of eroded formations and crevices. It's a visual feast unlike anything else in the Black Hills.

Fast county gravel crosses several flash flood washes en route to Red Canyon.

5. Red Valley Road/Highland Ridge Road (NPS 5)
Red Valley Road/Highland Ridge Road (NPS 5).

From graveled 7-11 Road west of Buffalo Gap, Red Valley Road rolls north past a couple of ranches into Wind Cave National Park. Then Highland Ridge Road (NPS 5) steadily climbs from the prairie into the forested Black Hills. The money view is from atop the ridge looking back toward Buffalo Gap.

I ride this road several times every year as an out and back from Buffalo Gap to the Centennial Trail intersection. This is a great winter ride, as it's generally uphill into the prevailing wind on the 15 miles out and then a joyous cruise home. Every time I see buffalo. Every single time. Be prepared.

Looking southeast toward Buffalo Gap on NPS 5.

I could easily expand this list by another five, ten, or more favorite Primary and Secondary roads in the Black Hills. For example, Glen Erin Road (USFS 337) with a spur up Cicero Peak southeast of Custer,  Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park, Battle Axe Road (USFS 386) west of Hill City, Williams Draw Road (USFS 691) south of Deerfield Lake, and Warren Peak Road (USFS 838) north of Sundance. 

So much to ride and discover. But if you're just starting out, you may as well start with the best. 

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