George S. Mickelson Trail
Written by Ann Morrow
September 10, 2018

There are dozens of trails in the Black Hills, but perhaps, none as historically significant as the George S. Mickelson Trail.  For nearly 100 years, it served as the Burlington (train) route, transporting people, freight, mail and livestock from town to town along its passage. This narrow-gauge line began in Deadwood in 1888, and within ten months the route to Edgemont was complete. 

Train traffic came to a stop in the mid-1980’s and the railroad was abandoned and removed. In 1991, a group of outdoor enthusiasts recognized the trail’s potential, and with the support of Governor George S. Mickelson, it became South Dakota’s first rails-to-trails project. That same year, the first segment was opened, and in 1998 the trail was finished. Tragically, Governor Mickelson was killed in a plane crash in 1993, and never saw the full realization of the project.   

Today, the route’s surface is a crushed limestone trail, that offers some of the most unique experiences the Black Hills has to offer. Whether you’re biking, horseback riding, running, skiing or walking, the variety of endless views will not disappoint. Naturalist, John Muir said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” You’ll find truth in these words if you spend some time on the MT.

The Mickelson Trail transports you to a quiet world, into the heart of the landscape. In spring and summer months, this world is lush and inviting, the countryside is dotted with wildflowers and the air is alive with birdsongs. In autumn, everything transforms – from the buffalo grass to the aspen tops, colors explode into a mosaic of crimson orange and gold.  In winter, everything falls silent under the season’s blanket of snow.

From Deadwood to Pringle, the trail follows meandering creeks, winds around towering rock formations, past sprawling meadows and through dense forest. South of Pringle and into Edgemont, the terrain opens into prairie and ranchland, providing splendid views of the horizon.

In total, there are 4 tunnels (between Hill City and Rochford) 35 interpretative signs (great lessons in history) and more than 100 bridges.

Remnants of the past can still be seen in a few places along the trail and catching a glimpse of one is always a treat. Be on the lookout for the occasional castaway, peeking from the grass or dirt – perhaps you’ll see a forgotten railroad tie, a chunk of rusty iron or an old sign. But please leave them as they are; departing the trail with souvenirs is not allowed. 

If you’d like to rent a bike, need to have one repaired, or require transportation from one trailhead to another, there are a number of shuttle services and bike shops within communities along the trail.

Individuals 12 and older are required to purchase and carry a trail pass. (except within city limits) Passes are available at self-serve stations at each trailhead, or at any of these locations. Cost: $4 per day or $15 annually.

Motorized vehicles are not allowed. However, in winter months, if snow cover allows, the stretch from Dumont to Deadwood is open to snowmobile traffic.

To learn more about the trail, and the rich history of each community along its route, be sure to pick up a copy or “A Trail Guide for the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills, SD” (written by Aleen Golis) and available at mickelsontrailaffilates.com.


Mickelson Trail Affiliates is a membership organization of outdoor enthusiasts and business members who support the local economy and use of the Mickelson Trail - a one stop resource for Mickelson Trail info and amenities. Their mission is to “ensure a fulfilling trail experience for all.” Mickelson Trail Affiliates is proprietor of The Big Mick™
Please visit their website at: www.mickelsontrailaffiliates.com



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