Last summer I, like everyone else, had all of my big travel plans put on hold. I wanted to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, but since traveling across the country was out of the question, I started looking for cool riding destinations close to where I live, Fort Collins, Colorado. Normally, I’d just plan an epic trip within the borders of Colorado, but I needed to make sure I wasn’t missing any cool zones nearby.
Years ago (a different lifetime) I traveled to Sturgis, South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. While it was an interesting experience, it wasn’t really my thing, my vibe, or my scene. But I did remember that the Black Hills were filled with an array of routes and roads, both paved and gravel. With that in mind, I started Googling cities and routes in the vicinity.
After a lot of research, I concluded that Rapid City was going to be my summer riding destination. It’s just around a five-hour drive from Fort Collins, boasts a cute little downtown area, and tons of roads that will satisfy any cyclist.
Here are my four favorite rides from my 2020 trip to the Rapid City region.
1. Iron Mountain Road
I rode this route when I was feeling less than peppy, but somehow managed to have the best time. Aside from the main road that leaves Hill City, this route was mostly very quiet. Once you turn onto Needles Highway, the ride gets exponentially better. There are many tunnels that you ride through on your way to the entrance of Custer State Park. As you ride along, you’ll have great views of The Needles, huge granite spires and towers.
But the sights don’t stop there. One of the most fascinating roads, Iron Mountain Road, is an engineering marvel. After the high point of that climb, you’ll begin to descend a narrow road that boasts three tunnels and three pigtails, a road that loops over itself. It is wild to descend!
Sturgis isn’t just for motorcyclists. There are some pretty fantastic roads in this area. I suggest cyclists avoid visiting in the last week of July and the first two weeks in August to avoid the motorcycle rally (unless you're into that sort of thing).
Deadwood, an old gold rush town, is worth a pit stop. It has been modernized, but still has some funky little store fronts. If you’re a gravel or mountain bike rider, check out Spearfish, just west of Sturgis. You’ll be greatly rewarded with dirt trails and roads aplenty.
3. Badlands National Park
Once you’re done exploring the Black Hills, head east to Badlands National Park. I parked in the town of Scenic and rode the road to the entrance, as I wanted to get the boring part out of the way first. When I was there at the end of July, the road was very quiet. When you get to the town of Interior, stop at the mini-mart in the town to buy snacks and refill your bottles, as there aren’t any stops the rest of the way.
The Badlands can be very, very, hot (hence the name). And there is no shade to speak of. I found this out the hard way and became severely dehydrated on my ride. The park charges an entrance fee, so make sure you have cash or a credit card on you. The road through the park — or rather the amazing sights — are sure to please any rider. You’ll feel like you’re on the moon. You leave the park on a fast gravel road that will take you back to Scenic.
4. Mystic Road
Want a mixed-surface adventure? This is the route for you. The paved and gravel roads are superior. And the drivers? So nice. I wasn’t expecting that in a town where I didn’t see many other cyclists on the road. Almost every single driver was either happy to wait behind you until it was safe to pass or they would pass in the other lane and wave as they went by. Unbelievable. That alone would convince me to do this route or any route around the Black Hills again.
On this adventure, expect to see people and cars along the side of the road near Mt. Rushmore. The wind in this area can be pretty strong, so make sure you check the forecast before you head out.
Have you ridden in the Rapid City region? Let us know what your favorite rides are in the comments!