To experience a wide cross-section of the history, scenery and serenity of the Black Hills you need go no further than the 109-mile Mickelson Trail.
A haven for folks who want to take a break to enjoy the seclusion and beauty of the Black Hills away from the crowds that flock to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and other attractions in the region, this remarkable trail was named by the readers of Midwest Living Magazine runner-up for the Best Bike-Riding Trail, in the magazine’s “Best of the Midwest” issue.
Crews of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad (B&MR) built the majority of the trail’s grade in 1890 and 1891. (Click here for a timeline on Black Hills Railroading.) Early on, the branch line through the center of the Black Hills was given the nickname “The High Line.”
The High Line featured a number of 3 percent grades, four hard rock tunnels, and more than 100 timber trestles crossing the streams and creeks of the Black Hills between Edgemont and Deadwood. The B&MR became a part of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) in 1904. A variety of steam locomotive types powered freight and passenger trains over the line until diesel locomotives replaced them in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The last regularly scheduled passenger train operated on the High Line in September of 1949.
The CB&Q was merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) in March of 1970. Declining freight traffic allowed the BN to abandon the Custer to Deadwood/Lead portion of the line in November of 1983, and the remaining track from Custer to Edgemont in October of 1986.
As the rails and ties were removed, a new use for the line evolved. Several groups of outdoor enthusiasts banded together to save the right-of-way for use as a recreational trail. The trail project was supported by then-Governor George S. Mickelson, eventually becoming the state’s first Rails-to Trails conversion with the first six miles dedicated in 1991, and the trail was renamed for the late Governor after his death in a plane crash in April of 1993. A rare combination of local, state, and national groups, businesses, governmental agencies, and individuals joined forces to complete the entire trail in 1998. The main trail from Edgemont to Deadwood is 109 miles; with another 5 miles of auxiliary trail in the Lead area forming today’s Mickelson Trail.
The trail is generally 10 feet wide with a crushed limestone and gravel surface. Fourteen trailheads along the route (located at Edgemont, Minnekahta, Pringle, White Elephant/Sanator, Custer, Crazy Horse Mountain, Hill City, Mystic, Rochford, Dumont, Englewood, Kirk, Sugarloaf/Lead, and Deadwood) provide parking, shelter, and self-serve trail passes. Other services and conveniences are available at certain stops and communities along the route. Interpretative signage is located at numerous points. For much of its length the trail winds through the pines, native grasses, limestone formations, and wildlife habitats of the Black Hills National Forest.