In writing the Data Books, biking presented several challenges. First, there are a few spots along the GPT Pilot Trail where bikes are not allowed – namely the trails at Scottsbluff National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, and anywhere in the Black Elk Wilderness. There are also a few spots where biking, while perfectly legit, might not be the best way to travel in rugged terrain such as in parts of Nebraska National Forest, and a whole bunch of the Centennial Trail. Lastly, because bikes can cover so much more ground, the route is much less rigid than a hike would be. Options abound, but for the purposes of the Data Book, the bike route will go to Fort Robinson State Park via Agate Fossil Beds National Monument instead of the town of Alliance. The other major departure is that the bike route will follow the Mickelson Trail instead of the Centennial Trail through the Black Hills.
Here is the Northbound version of the bike route:
Data Book (1.0) – 2019 – Northbound BIKE
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 bike, 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). Riverside Municipal CG 1514 Beltline Hwy W, Scottsbluff, NE 308-632-6342 ($10)
Section One – Scottsbluff National Monument to Fort Robinson State Park (80 Mi)
-Begin at Scottsbluff Visitor Center. The top of the bluff is typically closed to bicycles, so to access it, you would need to hike to the top 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, head W 0.7 mi to Riverside CG. Follow the MVP past the campground for another 0.2 mi where it turns N for 0.1 mi to connect with Beltline Hwy. Option: The GPT Bike Route goes to Fort Robinson State Park via Mitchell and Agate Fossil Beds NM, the GPT Hike Route goes to Fort Robinson via Alliance and the Pine Ridge Trail. A biker could use potentially use either route. Refer to the data book for hiking for information on the Alliance route.
-Head N on Beltline Hwy for one mi to junction with 20th St/Hwy 92. Head W on Hwy 92 for 3 mi to junction with CR 17. Head N 1.5 mi on CR 17. Head W one mi on CR J. Head N 0.5 mi on CR 16. Head W 0.5 mi on Thrush Rd, then rd parallels RR tracks. Follow tracks then turn N to CR H. Head W on CR H for one mi to Mitchell S Hwy. Head N on Mitchell S Hwy for 3 mi into town of Mitchell. Option: The Scottsbluff County Fairgrounds on the W side of town and has a campground. This could be a short first day which would cut about 15 mi from the trip to Fort Robinson.
-From Mitchell, head N on Hwy 29 for 34 mi to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Head E on main road through the monument, the visitors center is about 3 mi from the turn off at Hwy 29. About one mi E of the VC, the road turns to gravel.
-Follow gravel road E for 7.5 mi. Head N at Pink School House Rd. for 12.5 mi to T junction at White River Rd. Head E on White River Rd for 3 mi. White River Rd turns N, keep heading E on Four Mile Rd for one mi. Head N on Glendy Rd for 2 mi to T junction. Head E on Vogl Loop for one mi to junction with Hwy 20. Head E on Hwy 20 for 2.5 mi to Fort Robinson State Park. The campgrounds are located 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 2 – Fort Robinson State Park to Toadstool Geologic Park (25 Mi)
-From Park HQ, head 0.1 mi E on Hwy 20 and turn S just before Comanche Hall. Head S for 0.25 mi to White River Rail Trail. Head E on White River Trail about 3 mi to town of Crawford. Crawford has basic amenities if needed. White River Trail stays on W side of town at ends at the Crawford City Park.
-From city park at NW corner of town, 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 3 – Toadstool Geologic Park to Edgemont, South Dakota (53 Mi)
-From Toadstool CG, head E one mi to Toadstool Rd. Head N on Toadstool Rd for one mi to Orella Rd. Head W on Orella Rd about 8 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. Option: This is a possible campsite which would roughly cut this section in half. If camping, head W on 930 and look for campsite options away from the road. This is a public land section of Oglala National Grassland.
-From FS Rd 930, 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 a few hotels in town.
Section 4 – The Mickelson Trail – Edgemont to Custer (45 Mi)
Note: The bike route for the GPT uses the Mickelson Trail. A biker could use the Centennial Trail, which roughly parallels the Mickelson Trail through the Black Hills, but is far more rugged and has two sections of trail where bikes are not allowed – Wind Cave National Park and Black Elk Wilderness. Bikers wishing to use this trail would have to bypass these areas on roads. 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.
A bicyclist has many options for itineraries. The following itinerary is one possible option.
-From Mickelson Trail (MT) 0.0 marker, 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. The MT crosses Hwy 18 at mile marker 16.2. Note: Head E on Hwy 18 to Hot Springs if planning on going to Wind Cave NP and the Centennial Trail.
-Continue NNE 16 mi to the town of Pringle. The MT parallels Hwy 89 in some sections. Pringle has food, water, and lodging available.
-From Pringle, the MT parallels Hwy 385 on the W side. Continue N 3.5 mi to White Elephant TH. From there, the trail continues N for 6 mi and crosses under Hwy 385 about 3 mi S of Custer. The Harbach TH is located S of Washington St. across from the Custer Chamber of Commerce. The town of Custer has all available amenities.
Section 5 – The Mickelson Trail – Custer to Hill City (16 Mi)
-From the Harbach TH, the MT heads E briefly before turning N. Option: You could leave the MT here and take ALT 16 E for 0.4 mi and then N on Hwy 89 for 7 mi to the Sylvan Lake area. The Harney Peak TH is at Sylvan Lake and could be hiked as a worthwhile side trip. You can return to the MT via Hwy 87, which switchbacks down for 5 mi to Hwy 385 and the MT Follow the MT N to Hill City.
-Otherwise, continue N on the MT for 5 mi to the Mountain TH. The MT mostly parallels Hwy 385 in this area. Continue N past the Crazy Horse sculpture for another 10 mi to the town of Hill City. The Burlington Northern Hill City TH is in the center of town on Railroad Ave. The town of Hill City has all available amenities.
Section 5 – The Mickelson Trail – Hill City to Deadwood (50 Mi)
-From the Hill City TH, continue N on the MT. From here, the MT leaves the highways and starts to traverse more remote areas. The MT also passes through a series of four tunnels in this section. Tunnel A and B are about 12 mi N of Hill City, Mystic TH is about 1.7 mi N of Tunnel B, and Tunnel C is about 2.2 mi beyond Mystic TH. Option: About one mi beyond Tunnel C, the MT passes FS Rd 237 which heads NE from the trail. You could choose to leave the MT here and take FS Rd 237 N and E about 7 mi to the town of Merritt. From there, the Pilot Knob TH of the Centennial Trail (CT) is another mi E on Merritt Estes Rd. A biker can follow the CT N all the way to Bear Butte from there. The CT is much more rugged and challenging than the MT. Refer to the GPT data book for hikers for information on the CT in this area. There are restaurants, and an RV campground in Merritt and primitive camping in the National Forest nearby.
-Otherwise from the junction with FS Rd 237, continue on the MT about 4.5 mi to the town of Rochford and the Rochford TH. Rochford has some basic amenities. Continue N for 2.7 mi to Tunnel D. The Dumont TH is another 7.3 mi N. The Englewood TH is about 6 mi N of Dumont.
-At mile 100.5, there is the start of a loop trail. The main trail heads to Sugarloaf TH just SW of the town of Lead, and then through Lead to the Kirk Trailhead. A secondary route bypasses the town of Lead and heads to the Kirk TH via a more difficult and more hilly route. The town of Lead has all available amenities.
-From the Kirk TH, follow the MT N 3.3 mi to the town of Deadwood and the northern terminus of the Mickelson Trail. The town of Deadwood has all available amenities.
Section 6 – Deadwood to Sturgis (14 Mi via Hwy 14)
-From Deadwood, the Great Plains Trail heads to Bear Butte State Park near Sturgis. The fastest option for this is Hwy 14, which is a very busy road. Another, more adventurous option is to return S about 5 mi on Hwy 385 to FS Rd 170 (Gilt Edge Rd), but this heads past a superfund mining site, and may not be open to public travel. Time will tell what the best route is, but for now, use your best judgement.
Section 7 – Sturgis to Bear Butte State Park (14 Mi – includes hike to Bear Butte summit)
-From Sturgis, head E on Hwy 79/34 about 2 mi to the Fort Meade TH of the Centennial Trail (CT). Follow the 4’ fiberglass signs with the number 89 on them N through Ft. Meade Recreation area for about 4 mi to the S side of Bear Butte Lake. Bikes are now allowed on Bear Butte State Park trails, so after crossing Hwy 79, follow the main park road 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 VC. Camping is available at the N side of Bear Butte Lake, or you can bike back to Sturgis which has all available amenities.
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.