Liza had Mount Rushmore on her bucket list for a long time, so when friends Mark and Joanne Guralnick asked if we wanted to join them on a Bicycle Adventures tour in South Dakota, we said sure! And the main thing to tell everyone…if you haven’t been there, what are you waiting for?
The cycling, to be sure, was challenging. We rode over 250 miles in six days of riding, with over 18,000 ft of climbing (Robert had one more climb than Liza for a few more miles and another 2,000 ft of up). From the rolling hills of the Badlands, thru the Black Hills, and out to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the hills never stopped. 7-8% grades with the occasional 10-12-14% to keep you on your toes.
The trip was a loop from Rapid City, a pleasant, walkable city. The first day we shuttled out to Wall (home of Wall Drug!) and rode thru the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and into starkly beautiful Badlands National Park. We then shuttled to Hot Springs SD in the Black Hills, with the subsequent days spent in Custer State Park at the State Game Lodge (visiting Mount Rushmore en route) and the Sylvan Lake Lodge. The day of riding to Sylvan Lake was particularly tough – Robert had 6089 ft of climbing that day! – while I got a boost in the van for several miles to 1+ miles below the summit at Needles Gap, then riding over the top and down to the lake.
A much needed rest day at Sylvan Lake gave us a chance to hang around the lake and Robert did some birding; the more intrepid did a 7 mile hike up and back to Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies at 7200 ft. Rest day also allowed an afternoon visit to the Crazy Horse monument, a long-term work in progress.
From there it was on to Deadwood, home of all things Kevin Costner…in a good way. A day in neighboring Wyoming out to Devil’s Tower followed, with Robert making good on his wish to sculpt the tower out of mashed potatoes (see Close Encounters of the Third Kind, please). Cycling concluded with a beautiful ride into Spearfish Canyon; the ride out of Deadwood through Lead was kind of brutal with two pretty steep climbs, but the reward was the long sweeping downhill to the turn into the canyon, followed by 17 miles of gentle downhill thru a gorgeous canyon with fall colors in lovely display. We were back in Rapid City that night, after a van ride back complete with enthusiastic singalongs of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and other classics. We rocked. 🙂
So, lots of riding, lots of climbs. Probably the most challenging bike tour we have done. Gorgeous scenery – seriously if you dropped us into the Black Hills by helicopter and said “where are you?”, we might have said Colorado. Good food (gotta have bison burgers!), yummy local beer, really good lunches prepared by our guides James and Ginny. The accommodations were comfortable and in nice settings; the cabins at our two locales in Custer State Park were rustic and peaceful. It seems to Liza that South Dakota is better visited by folks from the midwest and eastern US; westerners may think they have enough to see and don’t go that far…but in our opinion it is so worth the trip.
The SD license plate says “Great Faces, Great Places” …so true!
Garmin Data (Liza):
- Hot Springs/Wind Cave to Custer State Park
- Custer SP Game Lodge to Sylvan Lake
- Sylvan Lake to Deadwood / Mickelson Trail
- WY State Line to Devil’s Tower
- Deadwood to Spearfish Canyon
Bicycle Adventures Itinerary (pdf)
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