Visitors and nearby residents have a wonderful opportunity to
enjoy not one but TWO long trails that run basically north-south
through the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota: the
Centennial Trail, a hiking and riding trail which runs for 111
miles from Bear Butte State Park to Wind Cave National Park on
the eastern side of Black Hills area, and the Mickelson Trail, a
rails-to-trails project extending 109 miles from Deadwood to
Edgemont through the central Black Hills.
Both sound like a good place for an ultra-distance foot
race, don't they?
That's not so far-fetched. There used to be a 50-mile trail race
through the Black Hills back in the 1990s but I don't remember
its name or exactly where it went. I printed out some
information because I considered running it, but that file is
back in Virginia. I hiked part of the race course that was
on single-track trail, so it wouldn't have been the wider
Mickelson Trail. By the time I moved to Billings, MT in 1999 I
believe the race had been discontinued.
Mickelson Trail north of Hill City
We first became aware of the Mickelson Trail, which was
completed in 1998, when the
Lean Horse Hundred, Half
Hundred, and 50K foot races were established a couple years ago.
All three races begin in the town of Hot Springs and head west
toward the town of Pringle, where the 50- and 100-milers run a
total of 18 or 68 miles, respectively, on the Mickelson Trail.
The hundred turns around at Dead Broke Street (!) and returns to
Hot Springs. Lean Horse is considered to be one of the easier
100-mile trail races because it is on a fairly smooth, wide
trail without any big hills.
Of course, there are no easy 100-milers. This is just one
of the easier ones compared to those in the mountains or
at higher altitudes or with gnarlier footing. Still, its late
August date (think heat) and gentle hills are a challenge to
some runners who prefer cooler weather, lower altitudes than
approximately 4,000-5,000 feet in elevation, and more hills to
use different leg muscles.
If you're not up to an ultra, the Deadwood-Mickelson
Marathon and Half Marathon are also run on this trail.
I mentioned in
yesterday's entry that we could
see part of the Mickelson Trail as it paralleled the highway
various places between Pringle and Hill City as we were driving
to Rapid City earlier in the week. I included two photos of the
trail that I shot
from the truck as Jim was driving. I don't know if the Lean
Horse 100 goes that far north but I wanted to run part of the
trail -- preferably not in sight of a highway, however.
When I got online to see just where the trail runs, I found a
section going north from Hill City that appeared to be in the
middle of nowhere
and easily accessed after we left Custer State Park this
afternoon. That fairly short run is the topic for this entry. I
saw only a small part of the Mickelson Trail but it has me
curious to see more of it. There are some very scenic pictures
of rock formations and tunnels in the trail brochure, for example.
The section I ran was through a pleasant valley past several
houses and through some woods. I'll show some of the photos I
took in this entry.
THE MANGY MOOSE
When we left through the NW entrance/ext to Custer State Park
earlier this afternoon, we headed north on Routes 87and 16 for
several miles to the small town of Hill City. The first settlers
in this area came looking for gold, copper, and tin in the
1860s. Ranchers and lumbermen soon followed. Population is
currently fewer than a thousand people.
Old mining towns in the Black Hills are similar to old mining
towns anywhere out West: in their heyday they usually had more saloons
and brothels than stores or churches! Times have changed, but if
you visit Lead or Deadwood or Keystone or Hill City you will
still find plenty of watering holes amongst the gift shops and
jeep touring companies.
We aren't fond of bars or saloons, but we always enjoy clever
names of businesses. This was my favorite in Hill City:
No, we didn't see any moose in the vicinity.
But we did find a couple of the Mickelson's trailheads in town.
There are lots of
trailheads from one end of this
trail to the other. From the website and trail brochure I picked
up, I learned quite a bit about the history of the trail, its
character, and why it's so popular.
CHARACTER OF THE TRAIL
I'm sure there were some "characters" who lived along the trail
before, during, and after the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington
Northern rail line ran through here, but what I'm talking about is the
personality of the Mickelson Trail, named after Governor George
S. Mickelson, one of the trail's earliest and most ardent supporters.
The Mickelson Trail passes through many different types of
terrain, including prairies, wetlands, heavily forested areas,
and picturesque valleys with pastures and creeks. It affords views of nearby granite mountains
and rock formations. Most of it is on private property, although
some goes through national forest land.
I had no idea where the part of the trail I was using would take
me. I could see only that it didn't follow a highway. I assume
it was through private property, as I passed by several houses.
The most interesting place was the sprawling homestead below.
I decided it had definite "character" and took some photos. A little sign
on the trail indicated that visitors could cross the creek on a
bridge and come on over to pan for gold in their back yard!
Below the ramshackle buildings, note the old car nose down in
All of the Mickelson Trail is gently
sloped, just like the railroad
bed it was prior to being converted to a multi-use trail.
Most of the trail has a 3% grade or less, making it accessible
to most mobility-impaired users. Elevations range from about
3,500 feet to abut 6,300 feet.
Most of the trail is smooth crushed limestone and gravel;
skinny-tired bikes aren't recommended. The trail is wide enough
for two-way bicycle, equestrian, and foot traffic. It is open
for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. The only
motorized vehicle use allowed is snowmobiling from Deadwood to
Dumont at the far northern end of the trail.
The Mickelson Trail
has concrete mile markers, which I really appreciate since I
don't wear a GPS when I run or walk.
It crosses more than
a hundred converted railroad bridges and passes through four hardrock tunnels. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go far
enough today to see any of the tunnels but I crossed several
nice wooden bridges, ran along a creek, and enjoyed a wetland
Amenities along the 109-mile trail include benches with scenic
views, interpretive signs and displays, and some water cisterns,
vault toilets, and shelters with picnic tables at sporadic
intervals. Check the trail
website for information about
staff-guided events and special events like running and bike
All trail users age 12 and older are required to have a trail
pass on their person, except for the parts of the trail that are
within city limits of the several towns through which it passes.
Fees support trail upkeep. The daily fee is $3 per person;
annual passes are $15 per person.
Since I was going north past the Hill
City limits, I filled out a form, put my $3 fee in the
self-registration box, and headed off with Cody. Jim is still
resting from the Jemez race so he stayed near the trailhead and
read a book while I ran and walked several miles out and back. All the trail
photos shown in this entry are from today's hour-long excursion.
The website and guide warn trail users about the possibility of
encountering rattlesnakes and mountain lions along the trail, as
well as cattle grazing in open areas. I'm glad I've never run
into a mountain lion on any trail, anywhere. I've seen plenty of
rattlesnakes but fortunately have never been bitten (Jim has).
Cattle sauntering down a trail or grazing next to it simply
aren't a problem if you let them know you're coming and
walk past them, not run.
I didn't see any mountain lions, rattlesnakes, or free-range
cattle today. All I noticed were horses in a fenced pasture,
ducks in a creek, some songbirds, and a few small mammals like
rabbits and squirrels.
Dogs are supposed to be on a leash no longer than ten feet long.
I complied (well, for most of our little jaunt) although I
didn't see anyone else on the trail in the hour I was out there.
As you can see in several of the photos above, some trees haven't
leafed out even in late May at this altitude and latitude.
There were a few shrubs and flowers in bloom along the trail. I
imagine there will be more later in the spring.
Be sure to check out the trail map
online or get a brochure at one
of the trailheads if you ever use the Mickelson Trail. Besides
showing the trailheads, distances, elevation profile, and routes
through towns, it also notes historic facts and points out
scenic views, spur trails, old mines, and other interesting
things along the way.
We've enjoyed our brief stay in the Black Hills and Rapid City
but we have a schedule to keep. Next stop: a month in the
Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming. Let's go!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil