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Sunday, January 7, 2024

BackBone Grande Page - 2024 Bump

The Black Hills BackBone Grande. A bikepacking route across the State of South Dakota along the spine of the Black Hills. Designed specifically for bikepacking to showcase the best of our Black Hills. 

Here's a link to the BackBone Grande Page, which describes the route in detail and links a series of posts sharing maps, images, logistics, and ride reports. 

Streaming into the Black Hills from Custer State Park.
(image by Kevin Fox)
In 2014, I created a bicycle route that I called the Black Hills BackBone, which is a North-South cross-state ride of the State of the South Dakota on primarily gravel and dirt roads along the spine of the Black Hills. The Black Hills BackBone blog first published in 2015 to document the route and attempts to ride it. In 2017, I created the DoubleBackBone route as an opportunity to ride the BackBone route south and then turn north to return to the North Dakota border on mostly different roads. I designed these routes as solo, self-supported, continuous rides across the state, in the spirit of the original TransIowa, the Gut Check 212, and similar continuous cross-state races. See, Black Hills BackBone & DoubleBackBone Page.

Over the years since, I have ridden all those miles, and many more, in the Black Hills and surrounding prairie. I love exploring back roads unknown to me, creating interesting routes, and seeing routes created by others. If not riding, scouting, researching, or routing, I'm probably talking with someone about back country roads around here.

Traffic jam on Lame Johnny Road in Custer State Park.
(image by Paul Brasby)
I started bikepacking in earnest in 2019, rode the Cloud Peak 500 in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming in 2020, and then rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route across the country in 2021. Those longer bikepacking rides are extensively covered on my blog throughout 2020-2022. See, Cloud Peak 500 Reports & Logistics Page; Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Page. Inspired by those rides, I created many multi-day bikepacking routes in the Black Hills, including four different one week trips for out-of-state friends, several 2-3 day trips, and more overnighters.

After completing the Great Divide in 2021 and learning of the current development of the Western Wildlands Route and the Great Plains Gravel Route, I took another look at my BackBone and DoubleBackBone. I still love those routes for their intended purpose, but they were not created for bikepacking. The Black Hills deserve such a route.

Here's my take on it. The Black Hills BackBone Grande.

Mickelson Trail tunnel in the Central Black Hills.
(image by Paul Brasby)
As a starting point, I consider bikepacking to be much more than simply blasting across the countryside to see how fast one can possibly cover a distance. Rather, for me, it's backpacking on a bike, taking the time and effort to absorb the local scenery, history, culture, and wildlife. See, e.g., How I Would Bikepack The GDMBR (2019). As such, to create the BackBone Grande, I first identified what I consider the very best of our Black Hills and surrounding prairie and then connected things with a mix of unique, remote back roads. Here are some highlights:
  • Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, prairie with dispersed camping (miles 3-11; miles 33-44);
  • Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park with buffalo and wild burros (miles 80-102);
  • Cathedral Spires views (miles 106-108);
  • Mickelson Trail rails-to-trails path out of Custer, with views of Crazy Horse Memorial (miles 114-124);
  • historic Gold Mountain Mine (mile 146);
  • back on the Mickelson Trail for two hard rock tunnels (miles 153-157); 
  • creek side Castle Peak Road (miles 159-170), passing USFS Castle Peak Campground (mile 167);
  • Black Fox Road (miles 181-186), passing USFS Black Fox Campground (mile 181);
  • Roughlock Falls (mile 213);
  • Belle Fouche National Wildlife Refuge (miles 272-275);
  • the Geographic Center of the United States (mile 302);
  • the historic stage coach stop of Harding (mile 334);
  • Custer Gallatin National Forest near the North Dakota border (miles 381-396), especially Fuller Pass Road passing USFS Picnic Springs Campground (mile 387).
Sale Barn Road outside of St. Onge.
(image by Craig Groseth)
In general, the BackBone Grande is about 400 miles long, with 23,500 feet of gain and 90% on county gravel or Forest Service gravel/dirt roads. It's a fun mix of remote roads, similar to those on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, all suitable for experienced bikepackers on loaded bicycles having tires 2" wide or more. A bike designed for the Great Divide, such as the Salsa CutThroat or Fargo, would work well for many. Of course, I rode the route in 2023 on my Jones 29+ rigid mountain bike with 2.35 tires.

Full service towns with bike shops are Custer (mile 114) and Spearfish (mile 241). C-store/restaurant type re-supply opportunities are at Oelrichs (mile 48), Buffalo Gap (mile 74), Blue Bell (mile 102), Hill City (mile 141), Rochford (mile 174), Cheyenne Crossing (mile 206), Savoy (mile 212), St. Onge (mile 260), and Buffalo (mile 361).

For a Great Divide type Zero Day, I recommend Custer and/or Hill City for an off-day, off-route ride of a mostly paved loop featuring Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, Needles Highway, and Iron Mountain Road (aka Pig Tail Highway). For a relaxing Zero Day in a college/mountain bike town, enjoy a day in Spearfish.

Fuller Pass Road through Custer Gallatin National Forest, just a few miles from North Dakota.
To create this route, I received valuable input from Lucas Haan of Black Hills Gravel and Paul Brasby of the Pony Express Bike-packing Adventure. To make this the very best it can be, Paul and I then rode the entire route in June of 2023, capturing images, taking notes, and making a few minor changes. It's ready.

Here's the link to the BackBone Grande route on RideWithGPS. BackBone Grande. Here's the link to the Mount Rushmore loop from Custer. BackBone Grande - Mt. Rushmore (Custer). Here's the link to the Mount Rushmore loop from Hill City. BackBone Grande - Mt. Rushmore (Hill City).

Note that the "Paved" surfaces data provided by RideWithGPS is wildly inaccurate, as it always is out here. The main route is about 90% county gravel or U.S. Forest Service gravel/dirt roads.

The Black Hills BackBone Grande.

Optional off-route Mount Rushmore loop from Custer.
(46 miles/5,350 feet of gain)
Optional off-route Mount Rushmore loop from Hill City.
(44 miles/4,900 feet of gain)
The Black Hills BackBone Grande. 

A great ride on its own, and a great shake out ride for something bigger, like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.


  1. I am planning a multi day ride starting with the Mickelson Trail north to south, the hook up with the Centennial trail and go back north. I am from Washington so can’t scout this out ahead of time. Is this doable in mid September? Are there areas we are not permitted to ride, and is water scarce at that time of year?

  2. Yes, mid-September is a great time of year to ride throughout the Black Hills. A group of out-of-state friends rode a 6 day bikepacking trip during the last week of September 2023 and enjoyed great weather.

    Your proposed ride sounds like a reverse route of my DED Dirt Ride, which is a 330 mile route from Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood on the Centennial Trail (south bound), the Mickelson Trail (northbound), with primarily gravel connectors. The 111 mile Centennial Trail is a single track hiking trail that presents a variety of challenges, including a stretch south of Dalton Lake ripped up by allowed ATV traffic, many stretches overgrown and not maintained, spotty or non-existent marking throughout, a stretch north of French Creek Horse Camp torn up by allowed horse traffic, and limited cell coverage. Cyclists must bypass the Black Elk Wilderness Area near Mount Rushmore and later exit the trail at the northern border of Wind Cave National Park. The 109 mile Mickelson Trail is a straight forward rails-to-trails crushed limestone trail with re-supply towns of Pringle, Custer, Hill City, and Rochford and many more trailheads with water.

    I rode that route in 2014 with two friends and wrote about it back then. (

    This summer I plan to ride it solo, self-supported. Here's a link to my planned route on RideWithGPS.

    In a few weeks, I plan to publish a blog post about this ride. Let me know if you have any questions. Also, let me know if you find your way out here. I'm happy to help.