As a brief aside, writing the descriptions for heading in the opposite direction was far more challenging than just swapping the words “north” for “south,” “east for “west” and so on. It was really a totally different mindset, and it became a very different and unique route.
Anyway, here it is:
Data Book (1.0) – 2019 – Southbound HIKE
Great Plains Trail – Pilot Trail – Bear Butte SP to Scottsbluff Nat. Mon. (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.
Public transportation is limited in Sturgis, SD. 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.
There are a number of hotel options and campgrounds in Sturgis. For the purposes of this data book, we are starting from the campground at Bear Butte Lake next to Bear Butte State Park.
Section 1 – Bear Butte State Park to Alkali Creek (20 Mi – Includes round trip to Bear Butte summit)
–From the CG at Bear Butte Lake, head E to Hwy 79, and then briefly S on Hwy 79 to the park entrance. Follow the 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. Follow the road around to the S side of the lake where the you can pick up the Centennial Trail. Note: This is the N terminus of the 111 mi CT. The S terminus is at Wind Cave NP. 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.
– Follow the CT mostly S and SW about 4 mi through open grassland to where it again crosses Hwy 79. Note: At this point, the town of Sturgis is just to the W if needed. Follow the gravel road S to the Fort Meade TH, and then follow the CT mostly S over the Dakota Hogback ridge about 6 mi to the Alkali Creek TH where there is a CG just to the E.
Section 2 – The Centennial Trail Alkali Creek to Dalton Lake (25 Mi)
-From the CG, head W on the CT and cross under I-90, then follow the exit ramp N to a to the trail which cuts W around the N side of the cemetary. Follow the CT mostly S about 10 mi through forest to the Elk Creek TH.
-From the Elk Creek TH, follow the CT S about 12 mi through forest and varied terrain to Dalton Lake where there is a NF campground ($18).
Section 3 – The Centennial Trail Dalton Lake to Merritt, South Dakota (16 Mi)
-Note: Be aware that this section allows for motorized use. From Dalton Lake, the CT heads S up several switchbacks and then follows a FS road W about 2 mi before turning mostly S about 6 mi to the small hamlet of Nemo. To get to Nemo, head S where the CT crosses Nemo Rd, and follow the road about 0.5 mi into town. The actual CT skirts around Nemo, but a thru hiker will want to re-supply in Nemo. Also, the signage for the CT is trickier here due to the motorized use of the trail.
-From Nemo, head W on Boxelder Forks Rd along Boxelder Creek about one mi to the South Boxelder TH for the CT. Head S on the CT across the creek and then W and S about 6 mi occasionally following FS rds tot eh Pilot Knob TH. From the Pilot Knob TH, follow Merritt Estes Rd about one mi into the small hamlet 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 4 – The Centennial Trail – Merritt to North Cove CG (22 Mi)
-From Merritt, you can head back to the Pilot Knob TH, and then S on the CT, or head S on Hwy 385 for about one mi to where the CT crosses the road. Either way, follow the CT S about two mi to the Deer Creek TH at the junction with Silver City Rd. Continue S on the CT as it mostly parallel Hwy 385 to the Pactola Reservoir. The CT crosses Hwy 385 near the boat launch and then S but stays on the E side of the Hwy. There is a forest service information center about 1.7 mi s on the Hwy. This could be used for information/rest stop. Otherwise, follow the CT to the Rapid Creek TH E of the reservoir.
-The CT crosses several streams in this section as it winds mostly S to the Brush Creek TH. The CT follows a FS rd for the last 0.5 mi before the TH.
-From the Brush Creek TH, the CT heads mostly S for about 6 mi and switches back and forth between two track and single track trails. Be alert for trail signage in the area. After crossing Sheridan Lake Rd, leave the trail and head S for about 0.1 mi to the North Cove CG area. This will be busy in high season, but should be quiet in the off season.
Section 5 – The Centennial Trail – North Cove CG to Horsethief Lake CG (13 Mi)
-From the CG, return to the CT where it crosses Sheridan Lake Rd, and continue S about 0.5 mi to Dakota Point TH. Continue S and follow the CT about 2 mi as it crosses the dam at the SE side of the lake to the Calumet TH. From the Calumet TH, the CT winds S and slightly W about 7 mi to the Samelius TH at Hwy 16. The CT goes under Hwy 16 and heads S for about 3 mi to the Big Pine TH.
-From the Big Pine TH, the Horsethief Lake CG is just 0.1 mi E on Hwy 244. Note: This campground is popular in the summer but might be a good option in the off season. There is also primitive camping allowed anywhere in the Black Elk Wilderness S of Hwy 244 (and in the National Forest N of 244) except within 0.25 mi of the Harney Peak Trail (no fires allowed).
Section 6 – The Centennial Trail – Horsethief Lake to Legion Lake (21Mi)
-From Horsethief Lake, return to the CT on the S side of Hwy 244. Follow the CT about 0.5 mi to the junction with Willow Creek Trail #5. 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. Follow Willow Creek Trail #5 W about 1.5 mi to the junction with Harney Peak Trail #9. Follow Harney Peak Trail #9 S about 2.2 mi to the spur trail to Harney Peak. Note: Please register (free) at wilderness entry signs. Return to #9 the same way after summiting the peak.
-Head S on #9. After about 0.5 mi, there is a junction with the Norbeck Trail #3. Stay S on the Norbeck Trail #3 as it crosses the Grizzly Trail #7 and the Little Devils Tower Trail #4. The Norbeck Trail #3 heads S and the E and briefly parallels Hwy 87 about 4 mi to where it rejoins the CT near Iron Creek Horse Camp.
-From the Iron Creek Horse Camp, head S on the CT and cross Hwy 87, then continue S for about 5 mi (about 3 mi on a two track rd) to 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 7 – The Centennial Trail – Legion Lake to Wind Cave National Park (22 Mi)
-From Legion Lake, return to where the CT crosses Hwy 16 and continue S. In about 2 mi, there is a junction with the Mt Coolidge Trail. Stay on the CT for another 4 mi to French Creek Horse Camp. There is a primitive camp here if needed.
-The CT heads S through Custer State park for about 10 mi to the Highland Creek TH where it crosses Highland Creek and enters Wind Cave NP.
-From the Highland Creek TH, follow the CT through the park to the S terminus of the CT at Norbeck Lake TH where the CT crosses Hwy 87 at a hairpin turn. Head S on Hwy 87 for 0.7 mi to Hwy 385, then head S on 385 for about 0.4 mi and follow signs for the Elk Mountain Campground. ($18 high season) ($9 off season) ph 605-745-4600
Section 8 – Wind Cave National Park to Cottonwood Springs Campground (16 Mi)
-From Elk Mountain Campground, follow the park road and signage to the visitor center. Pay the park fee at the visitor center. From the VC, head S briefly and follow the park maintenance rd E and then cross Hwy 385 to where there is a TH directly across from the maintenance buildings. This is the Wind Cave Canyon Trail. Follow the Wind Cave Canyon Trail about 0.3 mi to Est Bison Flats Trail. Follow East Bison Flats Trail S about 2.5 mi to the TH at Hwy 385 and the park entrance sign.
-Follow Hwy 385 S about 5 mi into the town of Hot Springs. Option: Hot Springs has all amenities and could be used as a rest stop or even a full day stop before continuing south. You could even do a longer day to Edgemont and skip Cottonwood Springs CG altogether.
-Head W on Battle Mountain Av for 3 blks, then S on River St for 0.5 mi to Minnekahta Av. Here you can pick up the Freedom Trail and head S for about 0.4 mi through town to University Av. Head W out of town on University Av which become Hwy 18. Head W on Hwy 18 about 4 mi to Memorial Rd. Head N on Memorial Rd about one mi, take a left at the fork, and then a right on Cottonwood Rd to Cottonwood Springs Campground. . Ph 605-745-5476 ($10).
Section 9 – Cottonwood Springs CG to Edgemont (23 Mi)
-From the CG, head S to Erskine Rd, then W on Erskine Rd for 3 mi to Valley Rd. Head S on Valley Rd for 0.6 mi to Hwy 18. Head W on Hwy 18 for 2.5 mi to junction with Mickelson Trail (MT) at the Minnekahta TH. The MT requires a daily pass ($4) or a yearly pass ($15). Passes can be purchased at the trailheads or in most of the trail towns. Head S on the MT about 14 mi into the town of Edgemont.
– To get to the actual southern terminus (0.0 mile marker), turn left at the Mickelson Trail sign, and cross the tracks, then turn immediately S on Old Hwy 18 and follow it for about 0.5 mi as it crosses the river and another set of tracks. Just after crossing the tracks, this road becomes A St. Follow A St one block to 2nd Ave, and head S on 2nd Ave six blocks to a city park and the 0.0 mile marker.
-Edgemont Campground is just a block south of the Mickelson 0.0 mile marker-ph. 605-662-7057 ($10). There are also a few hotels in town.
Section 10 – Edgemont to Oglala National Grassland Road 930 (26 Mi)
-From the 0.0 mile marker, head S on Hwy 471 for 8 mi to the town of Provo. Continue through Provo on 471 and head briefly E for about 0.5 mi. Head S on Edgemont Rd (dirt) for 11 mi to T junction with Ardmore Rd. Head W at T junction and stay on Edgemont Rd for 3 mi to a Y junction with Wyoming Rd. Head S at this junction and stay on Edgemont Rd. In about 1.5 mi, you will cross into Nebraska. Continue S on Edgemont Rd. About 2.5 mi S of the SD/NE border, look for FS rd 930 on the W 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 11 – Oglala NG Road 930 to Toadstool Geologic Park (25 Mi)
-From FS rd 930, head S on Edgemont Rd 3.6 mi to junction with Montrose Rd. Head E on Montrose Rd four mi to junction with Pants Butte Rd. At this junction, head N and stay on Montrose Rd. Montrose Rd then turns E for about 4 mi to Montrose church and Warbonnet Memorial. The memorial sits 0.1 mi away on a hilltop and can be accessed through the gate.
-From Montrose church, head S on Hat Creek Rd (it jogs briefly E) for 3.5 mi to junction with Orella Rd. Head E for 6 mi on Orella Rd and turn ESE on Road 918. Head SE on Road 918 for 1.4 mi to Great Plains Trail sign. Follow the 4’ brown posts 1.7 mi to Toadstool CG. There is a $5 camping fee and a $3 day use fee.
Section 12 – Toadstool to Crawford or Ft. Robinson SP (21-24 Mi)
-From the Toadstool CG, follow the 4’ brown posts along the 3 mile Bison Trail to Hudson Meng Bonebed visitor center. Follow the main road S about 0.7 mi to a junction with Sand Creek Rd. Head very briefly E, then turn S on Milo Rd for about 5.5 mi to Cottonwood Rd. Head briefly E on Cottonwood Rd and then head S on Rim Rock Rd. Follow Rim Rock Rd as it turns S and E for about 6 mi to junction with Moody Rd. Head E on Moody Rd for 2 mi. Head S on Dodd Rd for one mi. Dodd Rd turns E for one mi to near the RR tracks. Head S on Dodd Rd one mile at the tracks and into the town of Crawford. Crawford has basic amenities if needed. Pick up the White River Trail stays on NW side of town where it begins at the Crawford City 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 you will need to double back on the WRT back into Crawford to continue south.
-To get to Ft Robinson, follow the White River Trail as it hugs the W edge of town 3 mi to Fort Robinson State park. The campgrounds are located near the end of the WRT on the S side of Hwy 20. Ft. Robinson requires a day use pass for $6-$8 and camping fees are $10-$15. Reservations may be needed.
Section 13 – Crawford to Nebraska National Forest (12-16 Mi)
-From Crawford, head E on Annin St through town. Annin St becomes W Ash Rd at the E end of town. Follow W Ash Rd E for about 6 mi to where it turns S. Head S on W Ash Rd for about 4 mi to the West Ash TH of the Pine Ridge Trail. Options: There is a picnic site about 0.25 mi N of the West Ash TH and could be used as a campsite, or you can head E on the Pine Ridge Trail and look for camping options on forest service land. Most of the area between West Ash and East Ash is public except for a parcel of private land which is well marked.
Section 14 – Nebraska National Forest to Box Butte St. Rec. Area (17-23 Mi depending on where you camped)
-Follow the 4’ brown posts mostly E about 5.7 mi to the East Ash TH at East Ash Rd. Continue on the Pine Ridge Trail E on the E side of East Ash Rd about 2 mi and look for a windmill. At the windmill, head SSE on the two track road for about 0.4 mi, then leave the two track to avoid a parcel of private land and briefly head more SE for about0.2 mi and then S for about 0.2 mi to the junction with FS Rd 708. Head E on FS Rd 708 through the green gate and continue on the county road about 1.5 mi to Highland Cemetery.
-Head S at the cemetery on Highland Rd about 2.5 mi and continue on Highland Rd as it heads ESE for about 3.5 mi to the junction with Table Center Road. Head S on Table Center Rd about 6.5 mi to Box Butte SRA. 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 $10. Depending on time of year, reservations may need to be made.
Section 15 – Box Butte SRA to Alliance (35 Mi) (Shorter ways possible by skipping Carhenge)
-Return to Table Center Rd which becomes Rd 70 and head S for 10 mi to town of Hemingford. Hemingford has some amenities, and here is a small CG in Hemingford if needed-on Wyoming Av near where you come into town. Otherwise, skirt Hemingford on the E side and head SE on Hwy 2 for 8 mi to junction with Jefferson Rd. Head E on Jefferson Rd for 6 mi to junction with Hwy 87. Head S on Hwy 87 for about 6 mi to Carhenge.
-Continue S on Hwy 87 to E 25th St. Head W on E 25th St one mi to Box Butte Av. Head S on Box Butte Av. Head S on Box Butte Av to 3rd St. Head W on W 3rd St about one mi to one of a two or three hotels in the area. There is also an RV campground 2 mi S on US 385-J &C Lawn Svcs and RV Park-2491 US 385 308-762-3860 ($?)
Section 16 – Alliance to Butte View CG at Lake Minatare SRA (38 Mi)
-Head N on Ramblin Rd to W 10th St. Head W on W 10th St which become Otoe Rd after you cross Hwy 385. Head W on Otoe Rd for 11 mi. Head S on Rd 72 for one mi. Head W on Perkins Rd for 8.5 mi. Head S on Rd 81 for one mi. Head W on Rock Rd for one mi. Head S on Rd 82 for 3 mi. Head W on Valley Rd for one mi. Head S on Rd 83 for two mi.
-Head W on Rd A/York Rd for 3.5 mi. Head SW and sometime S on Highland Rd for five mi to junction with County Rd E. Head W on Rd E for two mi to Stonegate Rd which is right at Butte View Campground.
-LMSRA has four campgrounds (Scout’s Rest, West Wind, South Gate, and Butte View). Head around the lake on Stonegate Rd to the other campgrounds. Park Fee is $8 and Camp Fee is $8.50. Depending on time of year, reservations may need to be made. After a very long day, Butte View CG is closest to Alliance.
Section 17 – Lake Minatare SRA to Scottsbluff (23 Mi)
-Head around Lake Minatare on Stonegate Rd to Lake Minatare Rd which is on the W side of the lake. Head W on Lake Minatare Rd for six mi to Sugar Factory Rd/23. Head S on 23 three mi to 42nd St. Head W on 42nd St one mi to 5th Ave. Head S on 5th Av to 27th St. Head W on 27th to Broadway. Head S on Broadway to Beltline Hwy.
-Broadway becomes 10th St on the S side of the Hwy. Cross the river at 10th St and pick up the Monument Valley Pathway on the other side. Follow the MVP past Terry Lake and the ballfield to Country Club Rd. Head W on Country Club Rd about 1 mi to dead end. Head S along the perimeter of Scottsbluff National Monument to the Prairie View Trail and take the Prairie View Trail to the visitor center. From the VC, climb to the summit of Scottsbluff via the Saddle Rock Trail and return the same way.
Camping near Scottsbluff – Robidoux RV CG 585 Five Rocks Rd, Gering, NE 308-436-2046 ($12). Riverside Municipal CG 1514 Beltline Hwy W, Scottsbluff, NE 308-632-6342 ($10) This CG can be reached by way of the MVP. Just head W on the N side of the river after crossing the river at 10th St. There are also hotels in Gering and SB.
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.