South Dakota, as one might imagine, has plenty of wide-open space. Big cities are far apart, and roads seem to go on forever. But don’t think that means there is nothing to see here, especially if you prefer to travel on two wheels. With so many options for road bike riding, you can pretty much just pick a point A and a point B and head out. But, if you’d like a more specific suggestion, check out one of these road biking rides in The Mount Rushmore State.
Coteau des Prairie Tour
The 93.5-mile Coteau des Prairie, or "Hills of the Prairie," loop travels through the sprawling prairie and the rolling hills of northeastern South Dakota. The ride is scenic, and has several stops at state parks and recreation areas along the way. Highlights of this route include Sica Hollow State Park, with its Native American legends and ghost stories, not to mention Fort Sisseton Historic State Park, Roy Lake State Park and Pickerel Lake Recreation Area. The lake recreation areas make great pit stops on a hot day, or places to camp overnight. Because the Coteau des Prairie Tour is a loop, it’s possible to only ride a portion of it, or use the whole thing as training for a century ride. Head west on the loop for a 1,200-foot climb just outside Sisseton, or east for a faster, downhill ride. There are only two towns along the tour, so come prepared.
Sioux Falls Greenway Trail System
While the entire paved trail system extends 40 miles, there are several shorter sections connecting downtown Sioux Falls with the Great Plains Zoo, Falls Park and other smaller parks and residential neighborhoods. It’s a great place for any level of cyclist, including families with children. There are many entry and exit points, making it easy to get on and off, or to use it as easy access to shopping or restaurants. When the trail gets busy it can be crowded, so keep an eye on fellow riders and be prepared for a more leisurely pace.
Burning Bluffs Tour
A long route perfect for training for a century ride, the Burning Bluffs Tour covers 130 miles along the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota. Its named after a rare phenomenon in which the shale at North Point Recreation Area ignites and smokes on a hot day – you’re most likely to catch of glimpse of this in July or August. The ride mostly takes you through prairies, but also passes through Burke Lake, North Point, Randall Creek and Snake Creek Recreation Areas, with the option to take a side trip to the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the way is smooth sailing along paved rural roads, but there is a 5 to 8 percent grade along the Missouri River watershed in the Snake Creek and North Point areas. Like Coteau des Prairie, this route has few services and spotty cell service.
Rapid City to Mount Rushmore National Memorial
When we said you can literally pick any two points, jump on your bike and go, we meant it. This route lets you hop on your bike in Rapid City and then ride Highway 16 West for 23 miles until you get to Mount Rushmore (be sure to take Highway 16A just before the 18 mile mark). Don’t worry – the highway has a wide shoulder for cyclists.
Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial
An alternate route to Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain Road takes Highway 16A east from Custer State Park. It’s about 17 miles to the memorial, climbing up through the forest on “pigtail bridges” that loop over themselves. The road also features wooden bridges and one-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore for a picture-perfect view.
Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway
Spearfish Canyon, with its steep limestone cliffs and breathtaking falls, especially Roughlock Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, was once only accessible by horseback. Lucky for us, the ancient canyon now has a scenic byway providing easy access. The 19-mile road, just outside the town of Spearfish, follows Spearfish Creek through a dense forest that is a sight to behold in the fall when the changing leaves are vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow. Spearfish Canyon is a popular place for wildlife watching and fishing, as well as rock climbing, and is considered one of the most beautiful places in the Black Hills.
Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway
Another popular highway ride is this 39-mile loop through Badlands National Park along the two-lane state Highway 240. Consistently mentioned on top 10 scenic byway lists, it’s also a popular cycling route, traveling through the some of the most unique landscapes in the United States. There are multicolored spires, cliffs, grasslands and a variety of wildlife to look for, not to mention 16 designated scenic overlooks. Some of the twisting curves may look familiar, as they have been featured in video games, and look for buffalo along Sage Creek Rim Road just off the western end of the Badlands Loop Road.
No matter which route you choose, always be sure to wear a helmet and keep extra supplies handy, just in case. The best time to ride in South Dakota is spring, summer and fall. There are several companies that offer cycling tours, especially to Mount Rushmore, and you can rent bikes in the cities and bigger towns.
No matter which route you choose, always be sure to wear a helmet and keep extra supplies handy, just in case. The best time to ride in South Dakota is spring, summer and fall. There are several companies that offer cycling tours (especially to Mount Rushmore) and you can rent bikes in the cities and bigger towns.