We have completed the first edition of the Data Books for our Pilot Trail! The Pilot Trail is from Scottsbluff National Monument to Bear Butte State Park, or the other way around, depending on where you start.
The Data Books are not complete guide books, but are meant to provide enough of a framework in terms of information about the route that a motivated person could attempt either a hike or a bike of the GPT Pilot Trail.
The Data Books are now posted on our website, but I will publish them here as well, one at a time, starting with Northbound Hike (or NOBO Hike). It doesn’t make for scintillating reading, but would be indispensible out on the trail.
If you decide to tackle the Pilot Trail in either direction by foot or by bike, please join our Facebook Group (Great Plains Trail Alliance Group), and tell us about your plans/experiences.
Data Book (1.0) – 2019 – Northbound HIKE
Great Plains Trail – Pilot Trail – Scottsbluff Nat. Mon. to Bear Butte SP (approx. 350 Miles)
General/Safety Notes: This book is intended to use for route information. It is not a full guide book. This book is also subject to errors and omissions. Please be aware of hazards along the way including, but not limited to: fatigue, weather conditions, water supply, food supply, wildlife, insects, and vehicle traffic. Although the Pilot Trail is possible as a self-supported hike, it is always a good idea to have a support network in place if needed. Be sure to tell people when and where you’re going and check in with them on a regular basis. You may want to consider placing water caches along the route in sections where it is a long way between re-supply points. You may also want to consider assembling and mailing care packages via general delivery to post offices in towns along the route.
Western NE Regional Airport has daily flights from Denver International (DIA). There is also a daily shuttle from DIA as well as bus service via Greyhound to points along I-80. Lyft and Uber operate in Scottsbluff.
Camping near SB – Robidoux RV CG 585 Five Rocks Rd, Gering, NE 308-436-2046 ($12) or Riverside Municipal CG 1514 Beltline Hwy W, Scottsbluff, NE 308-632-6342 ($10). Gering also has a few hotels to choose from.
Section 1 – Scottsbluff National Mon. (SBNM) to Butte View CG-Lake Minatare State Rec. Area (LMSRA) (22.5 Mi)
-Begin at SBNM Visitor Center (VC), and climb to the summit of Scottsbluff via the Saddle Rock Trail and return the same way. From the VC, follow the Prairie View Trail along the perimeter of the park to Country Club Rd and head E until you cross the railroad tracks. Just after the tracks, pick up Monument Valley Pathway (MVP) and follow it N and E around the ball field, Terry Lake, and cross the river at 10th street. After crossing the river, you can return to Riverside CG via the MVP if needed.
-From 10th street/Beltline intersection, head N on Broadway to 27th St. Head E on 27th St to 5th Av. Head N on 5th Av to 42nd St. Head E on 42nd St one mi to Sugar Factory Rd/23. Head N on 23 three mi to Lake Minatare Rd/Co Rd F. Head E on Lake Minatare for 6 mi to LMSRA.
-LMSRA has four campgrounds (Scout’s Rest, West Wind, South Gate, and Butte View). Head N or S around the lake on Stonegate Rd. Heading N will be West Wind, Scout’s Rest, then Butte View. Heading S will be South Gate, then Butte View. Park Fee is $8 and Camp Fee is $8.50. Depending on time of year, reservations may need to be made. Butte View CG gets you a little closer to Alliance.
Section 2 – Butte View CG-LMSRA to Alliance (38 Mi)
–From Butte View CG head E on Stonegate Rd for 200ft, then continue E on Co Rd E two mi to N Highland Rd. Head N on N Highland Rd which turns NE after one mi. After four mi, Head E on Rd A/York Rd for 3.5 mi.
-Head N on Rd 83 for two mi. Head E on Valley Rd for one mi. Head N on Rd. 82 for three mi. Head E on Rock Rd for one mi. Head N on Rd 81 (winds N and E) for one mi. Head E on Perkins Rd for 8.5 mi. Head N on Rd 72 for one mi. Head E on Otoe Rd for 11 mi to Alliance.
-There are two or three hotel options about one mi S on W 3rd St. There is also an RV campground 2 mi S on US 385-J &C Lawn Svcs and RV Park-2491 US 385 Ph. 308-762-3860 ($?)
Section 3 – Alliance to Box Butte Reservoir State Rec. Area (35 Mi) (Shorter ways possible by skipping Carhenge)
-From hotels on 3rd St, head E on 3rd St to downtown Alliance. Head N on Box Butte Av to 25th St. Head E on 25th St for one mi to Hwy 87. Head N on Hwy 87 for 7 mi to Jefferson Rd (Carhenge is about one mi along this rd). Head W on Jefferson Rd for 6 mi-past US 385- to Hwy 2. Head NNW on Hwy 2 for 8 mi to the town of Hemingford.
– There is a small CG in Hemingford if needed-on Wyoming Av near where you come into town. Otherwise, go W on Niobrara Av for two blks then turn N on Box Butte Av which becomes Rd 70. Stay on Rd 70 (which becomes Table Center Rd) for 10 mi. Head W on River Rd one mi to Box Butte SRA. There is a CG at the SRA. Daily permits are $8, and tent campsite is $10. Depending on time of year, reservations may need to be made.
Section 4 – Box Butte SRA to Nebraska National Forest (17-23 Mi depending on where you camp)
-Return to Table Center Rd and head N for 6.5 mi to Highland Rd. Head WNW on Highland Rd for 3.5 mi until Highland Rd turns due N. Head N for 2.5 mi to T junction (at Highland Cemetery).
-Head W at cemetery on unmaintained county rd for about 1.5 mi. At a green steel gate is Forest Service Rd 708. Where 708 bends N and then W, the GPT continues N and then NNW to avoid a parcel of private land. Continue NNW for about 0.4 mi to connect with a two-track rd. Continue NNW on two-track for another 0.4 mi to connect with Pine Ridge Trail near the windmill.
-Head W on Pine Ridge Trail for about 2 mi to junction with East Ash Rd. Pine Ridge Trail continues (look for brown 4’ high posts) between East Ash and West Ash rds for about 5.7 mi. Camping is permitted on NF public land, but not the private easement the trail passes through. Look for signs and gates that denote this section. There is also a picnic area 0.25 mi north of the West Ash trailhead that might provide a good campsite.
Section 5 – Nebraska National Forest to Crawford or Ft. Robinson State Park (12-16 Mi)
-Head N on West Ash Creek Rd for about 4 mi where the road turns W. Continue W on West Ash Rd about 6 mi into the town of Crawford. West Ash becomes Annin St in town. Head W on Annin St about one mi to 1st St. Head S three blks to Reed St. Head W at the community Center and ball field to access the White River Trail. Head W on the WRT about three miles to Ft. Robinson State Park. Options: You can stay in Crawford and camp at the city park on the NW corner of town. There are also hotels in town. You can also head to Ft. Robinson and camp there, but the route for the GPT is not complete through Ft. Robinson, and you will need to double back on the WRT back into Crawford to continue north. Ft. Robinson requires a day use pass for $6-$8 and camping fees are $10-$15. Reservations may be needed.
Section 6 – Crawford to Toadstool Geologic Park (21 Mi)
-From city park at NW corner of town and the E trailhead for the White River Trail, head north on 1st St to the edge of town, then head NNW at the Stockyard to Dodd Rd.
-Head N on Dodd Rd for one mi, then W for one mi at the railroad tracks. Turn N for one mi to Moody Rd. Head W on Moody Rd for two mi. Turn N at Rim Rock Rd for one mi, then turn W and follow Rim Rock Rd as it winds N and W for about 5 mi to Cottonwood Rd. Head W on Cottonwood Rd for only about 0.2 mi then turn N on Milo Rd. Head N on Milo Rd for about 6 mi to Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed research center. The three-mile Bison Trail to Toadstool starts at the visitor center. Head N on Bison Trail following 4’ brown posts to Toadstool Campground. There is a $5 camping fee and a $3 day use fee.
Section 7 – Toadstool Geologic Park to Oglala National Grassland Road 930 (25 Mi)
-From campground head NW along main gravel trail about 0.1 mi to forest service sign marking Great Plains Trail. Follow the 4’ brown posts N and NW 1.5 mi to 918 Rd. When you come to 918 Rd, you will see another Great Plains Trail sign. Follow 918 Rd NNW 1.4 mi to Orella Rd. Head W on Orella Rd about 6 mi to T junction at Hat Creek Rd. Head N on Hat Creek Rd (it jogs briefly W) for 3.5 mi to Montrose church and Warbonnet Memorial. The memorial sits 0.1 mi away on a hilltop and can be accessed through the gate.
-Head W on Montrose Rd for 4 mi (it jogs briefly S) to junction with Pants Butte Rd. Pants Butte Rd continues due S, but stay heading W on Montrose Rd for 4 mi to T junction with Edgemont Rd. Head N on Edgemont Rd for about 3.6 mi and look for the forest service road marker 930 on the west side of the road. Head W on 930 and look for campsite options away from the road. This is a public land section of Oglala National Grassland.
Section 8 – Oglala NG Road 930 to Edgemont, South Dakota (26 Mi)
-Head N on Edgemont Rd (road crosses into South Dakota after about 2.5 mi). About 1.5 mi after you enter SD, road bears east for about 3 mi before turning due N again at a junction with Ardmore Rd. Continue N on Edgemont Rd for 11 mi to T junction with 471 (paved road).
-Head W on 471 into town of Provo, then continue N on 471 eight mi to Edgemont and the Mickelson Trail 0.0 mi marker at city park at S end of 2nd Av. Edgemont Campground is just a block south of the Mickelson 0.0 mile marker-ph. 605-662-7057 ($10). There are also hotels in town.
Section 9 – Edgemont to Cottonwood Springs Campground (23 Mi)
-From Mickelson Trail (MT) 0.0 marker, purchase a daily pass for the MT ($4). Head N on 2nd Av six blks to junction with A St. Head E on A St and follow it across the RR tracks and across the river where it becomes Old Hwy 18. In 0.5 mi veer left and cross another set of tracks. Just after crossing the tracks, pick up the MT which parallels the tracks and the hwy and heads NE. After about 2.5 mi, the MT veers off and hooks E and then SE before heading back N. Stay on the MT until it crosses Hwy 18 at mile marker 16.2.
-Head E on Hwy 18 for 2.5 mi to junction with Valley Rd. Head N on valley Rd for 0.6 mi to junction with Erskine Rd. Head E on Erskine Rd for 3 mi to Cottonwood Rd. Head N on Cottonwood Rd for 0.5 mi to Cottonwood Springs Campground. Ph 605-745-5476 ($10).
Section 10 – Cottonwood Springs Campground to Wind Cave National Park (16 Mi)
-From the campground, return to Erskine Rd and S about one mi to junction with Hwy 18. Head E on Hwy 18 about 4 mi into the town of Hot Springs. Option: Hot Springs has all amenities and could be used as a rest stop before continuing north.
-Follow Hwy 18 which becomes University Av in town take the Freedom Trail N from University Av on the W side of the Fall River. Follow the Freedom Trail N through town for about 0.4 mi to Minnekahta St. Cross back over the river and cross River St and head N 0.5 mi to Battle Mountain Av. Head E on Battle Mountain Av for 3 blks where it turns N and becomes Sherman St as well as Hwy 385.
-Head N out of town on Hwy 385 for about 5 mi to the entrance sign to Wind Cave NP. The pullout at the entrance sign is the trailhead for East Bison Flats Trail. Follow East Bison Flats Trail about 2.5 mi to the junction with Wind Cave Canyon Trail. Head E on Wind Cave Canyon Trail for 0.3 mi to Hwy 385. Cross the hwy and head for the buildings and service road which will lead to the visitor center. Pay park fee at VC. Also obtain a backcountry camping permit if you plan to camp in the backcountry of the park. Follow the park road north for about 0.5 mi and then follow signs for Elk Mountain Campground. ($18 high season) ($9 off season) ph 605-745-4600
Section 11 – The Centennial Trail – Wind Cave National Park to Legion Lake Campground (22 Mi)
-From campground head N on park road to main hwy 385. Head N on 385 for 0.4 mi to junction with 87. Head N on 87 for 0.7 mi to hairpin turn. At this turn is the trailhead for the Centennial Trail (CT). Note: This is the S terminus of the 111 mi CT. The N terminus is at Bear Butte SP. Follow the brown 4’ fiberglass signs with the number 89 on them. They denote the CT when it is not obvious. The CT is primitive in spots and route finding can be difficult. Have a good topo map and a compass for this trail. There are also a network of other trails in many areas. Unless otherwise noted, continue to follow the 89 markers.
-The first section is 6.2 mi to Highland Creek TH where it crosses Highland Creek Rd. From the Norbeck Lake Trailhead, follow the 89 signs for about 1.5 miles and cross the bridge. Follow signs for trail number 6 (Centennial Trailhead/Custer State Park) until it again becomes 89. Continue N to intersection with Highland Ridge Rd and CT trailhead (TH).
-From the Highland Creek TH, cross the road and enter Custer State Park (CSP). Head E and cross Highland Creek. Follow two-track for about 2 mi until it crosses a gate and becomes a single track again. Cross Four Mile Rd at about the four mile mark from the TH. The trail then roughly parallels the Wildlife Loop Rd before crossing it a few miles later. After 1.2 mi, the trail parallels Lame Johnny Rd which leads to the next TH at French Creek Horse Camp. This campground is designed for campers with horse trailers. There is a primitive campsite off West French Creek Trail a bit further up the CT
-From French Creek TH, the trail follows French Creek for a while before continuing N. Follow West French Creek Trail to Primitive camp if needed. After about four mi, there is a trail junction for Mt. Coolidge. The CT continues N to Legion Lake and crosses Hwy 16. Legion Lake Campground is about 0.5 mi E of where the trail crosses the road. Camp fee is $19. Pay Custer State Park use fee here as well. Registration may be needed. Phone number for SD state Park Campgrounds is 1-800-710-2267.
Section 12 – The Centennial Trail = Legion Lake to Horsethief Lake Campground (21 Mi)
-From Legion Lake CG, return to CT TH at Hwy 16. Follow the 89 signs N on a two-track road for about 3 mi, then the trail becomes single track again. The trail merges briefly with American center Rd before crossing Hwy 87. Continue N to Iron Creek Horse Campground.
Note: At this point, the Great Plains Trail leaves the CT briefly in order to connect with the Harney Peak Trail and the South Dakota state high point. At the far end of the Iron Creek Horse Camp, look for the Norbeck TH #3 and follow it mostly W. Note: Please register (free) at the Wilderness sign posts. After about 1.5 mi, the trail briefly parallels Hwy 87 and connects to another TH, the trail then heads more N and NW. After about 2 mi, there is a junction with Trail #4 to Little Devils Tower, stay on the Norbeck Trail #3. In 0.5 mi, there is a junction with Grizzly Trail #7, stay on Norbeck Trail #3.
-In 0.5 mi, there is a junction with Harney peak Trail #9, follow #9 to signage to Harney Peak. The actual summit is a brief Spur Trail W of the main #9 trail. After the summit, return to #9 and head N two mi to Willow Creek Rushmore #5. Head E on Willow Creek Trail for one mi to junction with CT. Head E on CT for 0.5 mi to Hwy 244. Head E on 244 0.1 mi to Horsethief Lake Campground ($26).
-This campground is popular in the summer but might be a good option in the off season. There is primitive camping allowed anywhere in the Black Elk Wilderness (and in the National Forest N of 244) except within 0.25 mi of the Harney Peak Trail (no fires allowed).
Section 13 – The Centennial Trail – Horsethief Lake Campground to North Cove Campground Area (13 Mi)
-From Horsethief Lake CG, return to Hwy 244 and the Big Pine TH of the CT. Follow it N 3.3 mi as it crosses and parallels several small roads before crossing under Hwy 16 to Samelius TH.
-From Samelius TH, follow the trail N and E around Samelius Peak. The trail winds through rugged terrain about 6 mi before dropping to the Sheridan Lake area and the SE corner of the lake at the Calumet TH.
-From the Calumet TH, the CT crosses the dam on the E side of the lake, and then turns N and NE to Dakota Point TH where it crosses Dakota Point Rd (FS 434). Follow the trail another 0.5 mi and just before the trail crosses the paved Sheridan Lake Rd, head S 0.1 mi to the North Cove Campground area. This will be busy in high season, but should be quiet in the off season.
Section 14 – The Centennial Trail – North Cove CG to Merritt, South Dakota (22 Mi)
-From North Cove CG, return to CT where it crosses Sheridan Lake Rd and head NW on two-track rd. This part of the CT goes back and forth between two-track rds and single-track trail. Keep a sharp eye out for trail markers. After 6 mi, trail comes to Brush Creek TH where it crosses Brush Creek Rd.
-From Brush Creek TH, follow the road NE for about 0.5 mi. Head back on the trail and cross several streams over the next 4 mi to Rapid Creek TH near Pactola Reservoir. After a short distance, the CT parallels Hwy 385 for about one mi. Note: There is a visitor center about 0.7 mi S on Hwy 385, which may be needed for rest/information.
-CT crosses 385 at the Pactola Lake boat launch, about 1.0 mi N of the visitor Center. Continue on the W side of the Hwy N and NE about 4 mi to the Deer Creek TH, and junction with Silver City Rd.
-About two mi N of Silver City Rd, the CT crosses Hwy 385 again. At this point, you can continue on CT to Pilot Knob TH, and then back W on Merritt Estes Rd to the hamlet of Merritt, or just head N on 385 about one mi to the town of Merritt. Note: Merritt has two restaurants, a general store, and an RV campground. Primitive camping would also be available in the national forest.
Section 15 – The Centennial Trail – Merritt, South Dakota to Dalton Lake (16 Mi)
-Note: Be aware that this section allows for motorized use. From Merritt, head E on Merritt Estes Rd about one mi to Pilot Knob TH. Head N on CT for about 6 mi as it crosses and occasionally follows FS rds before crossing Boxelder Creek and arriving at Boxelder Creek TH. The small hamlet of Nemo is just to the E. The actual CT skirts the town of Nemo, but the thru hiker will want to re-supply in town. Also, the signage for the CT is trickier here due to the motorized use of the trail.
-From Nemo, head N about 0.5 mi to where the CT crosses Nemo Rd, and then follows it for a short distance before turning E to parallel Vanocker Canyon Rd a short distance, then turns E and then N. The CT follows a dirt road E for about 1.5 mi before dropping to Dalton Lake and Dalton Lake TH. There is a small campground at Dalton Lake ($18).
Section 16 – The Centennial Trail – Dalton Lake to Alkali Creek Campground (25 Mi)
-From Dalton Lake, follow the CT N to where it follows a two track road for 0.3 mi about 1.7 mi from the lake. The trail picks up again and heads N. Follow the CT about 10 mi to Elk Creek TH.
-From Elk Creek TH, continue N on the CT for 10 mi where it crosses the tracks, follows the exit road, and passes under I-90 and on to Alkali Creek TH. There is a small campground just past the trailhead to the E. ($8)
Section 17 – The Centennial Trail – Alkali Creek to Bear Butte State Park (20 Mi – Includes round trip to Bear Butte summit)
-From Alkali Creek TH, follow CT W and the N for over the Dakota Hogback Ridge, and then down to Fort Meade TH – about 6 mi. From Ft. Meade TH, follow gravel road toward Hwy 79 and cross 79. Note: At this point, the town of Sturgis is just to the W if needed. Follow the trail N and NE about 4 mi toward Bear Butte Lake. The CT skirts the S side of the lake before Hwy 79. There is a CG on the north side of the lake. Head E and cross Hwy 79 to the park entrance. Follow the park road briefly E until you see a gate with a trail heading N. Follow this trail N and then E about 1.5 mi to the visitor center. From the VC, there is a 2.7 mi hiking trail to the top of Bear Butte. Return the same way to the campground at the lake, or Sturgis.
Public transportation is limited in Sturgis. Lyft rideshare operates in Rapid City which is a 30 min drive from Sturgis. Rapid City Regional Airport has daily flights to Denver, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis.