The Best Rails to Trails in the West – The Mickelson Trail

Mickelson Trail

If you are in Deadwood, South Dakota to enjoy some gaming, do not forget to check out what nature has to offer in this ponderosa pine covered area. The trail offers a chance to get outdoors – from a leisurely walk to an intense workout, the Mickelson Trail allows you to soak in the sights and smells of the Black Hills.

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a packed gravel path that stretches almost the entire length of the Black Hills, about 109 miles, from Deadwood to Edgemont on an abandoned railway line, along with an additional nine miles of branch trails. This scenic path includes four tunnels, more than 100 converted railroad bridges, and unparalleled views of the landscape. In 1998 efforts were completed to convert this once functional Burlington Northern operated railway line into trails maintained by the South Dakota Fame, Fish and Parks Commission. The trail is named after George S. Mickelson, the South Dakota governor who assisted in spearheading the project.

There are a variety of activities to take advantage of on the trail, other than walking and hiking. The Mickelson Trail passes through the small towns of Hill City, Custer, and Deadwood where bicycle rentals and horseback trail riding outfitters are offered.

The trail has 15 different trail heads that offer parking, water and restroom facilities. Some of the trail heads have small picnic shelters. The entire length of the trail still meets railroad standards for grade, so most of it does not exceed 4%, however, there are parts that are considered strenuous especially in the northern section, so a bit of pre-planning depending on your individual needs should be considered.

While adventuring along the Mickelson Trail, there is a good chance that you will come across some South Dakota wildlife. Care should be taken if an encounter happens, as some can be dangerous. Mountain lions, rattlesnakes and big horn sheep can become aggressive if startled. There are also free range cattle that can be found on or crossing the trail that could also become aggressive or spooked to a stampede if they are frightened. You may also catch a glimpse of deer, elk, turkeys and beavers which are generally more elusive of humans and more apt to hide upon your passing. Gardner snakes and grass snakes enjoy sunning themselves on the warm trail bed, so it’s a good idea to keep a peripheral eye on the ground.

The trail holds several racing events annually, including the Deadwood-Mickelson Trail Marathon and the Run Crazy Horse Marathon. For bicyclists, the annual Mickelson Trail Trek is a three day ride that covers almost the entire expanse of the trail.

There is a small fee for a trail pass that you may purchase for one day, or you may purchase an annual pass. These can be found at self service stations along the trail, from authorized vendors, or online.

Next time you are enjoying some gaming in Deadwood, don’t forget to check out the surrounding beauty and splendor that is the Black Hills. A great place to do this is on the nearby Mickelson Trail.