Burning Bluffs - Cycling

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Summary

This 130-mile cycling route takes riders through several state parks, with views of the rolling prairie, and the mighty Missouri River. If you're lucky, you'll see the uncommon phenomenon called "burning bluffs" at North Point Recreation Area.

Written by

Abbie Mood

Distance

130.0 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

244.1 miles

Difficulty

3 of 5 diamonds

Most of the route is fairly easy, but there are some difficult sections near the Missouri River watershed. There are also parts of the route with crosswinds and traffic.

Time To Complete

3 days

If you start at North Point Recreation Area, you can just bike to the bluffs for a short ride. The full Burning Bluffs Tour loop, though, can take up to three days.

Seasonality

Summer

The summer is your best chance to see the burning bluffs, but technically you could do this ride in the spring, summer, or fall.

Dog Friendly

No

Fees Permits

Yes

There are fees to enter any of the state parks along the route. North Point Recreation Area is $4 per person/per day.

Review

Intro

The Burning Bluff Tour is a 130-mile route with vast prairie views and travels along parts of the Missouri River. The tour is mostly rural on paved roads, with some highway riding. The entire route travels through four recreation areas, with the potential to stop at five others off-route. There is also the option to add 17 miles to the tour and loop around the Lake Andes Wildlife Refuge, which includes a 4,700 acre lake created during the last Ice Age. 

What Makes It Great

The Burning Bluffs Tour is a wonderful way to see some of the recreation areas along the Missouri River in southeast South Dakota. The North Point Recreation Area, just above the Fort Randall dam, has an amazing view of the Missouri River. This is also where the "burning bluffs" were first recorded by Lewis and Clark, during their expedition in 1804. While it's not clear whether or not Lewis and Clark saw the bluffs themselves, they were told to watch out for the phenomenon, when the shale ignites and smokes. The best time to look for this is in the heat of the summer — July or August.

The whole tour, though, is 130 miles. It's mostly prairie, but also goes through several water recreation areas -Burke Lake, North Point, Randall Creek, and Snake Creek — with the opportunity to see a few other spots if you go off-route, including the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge features wetlands, grasslands, and riverside forests, and visits can see birds seasonally migrating throughout the year.

The tour travels along paved rural roads with little traffic (and no shoulder), busier highways with some traffic and possible crosswinds (with a 6-foot shoulder). The most difficult part is the Missouri River watershed, where the grade ranges from 5-8 percent, especially in the Snake Creek and North Point areas.

There is camping available at any of the recreation sites, and there are cabins available at some.

Who is Going to Love It

The route is great for beginners looking for that first big challenge. The road is paved, and it's mostly flat (except the Missouri River watershed section). Even though it's a loop, you could always do an out-and-back from North Point Recreation area is if 130 miles is too much.

If the main attraction you are interested in is the Burning Bluffs, you can head straight to North Point Recreation Area. This option is great for families or anyone who might not be ready for the full 130-mile tour.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The entire route is a loop, so you can start at any recreation area along the way. Check this map for specifics.

Services are few and far between, and there may not be cell service in all areas, so be prepared.

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Location

North Point Recreation Area

43.083064, -98.550327

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