The Centennial Trail was created in 1989 to celebrate South Dakota's 100th anniversary of statehood. This epic trail crosses through prairie grasslands and high into the Black Hills, ending near Wind Cave National Park. The 111-mile Centennial Trail has smaller segments for those who aren't ready to take on the entire distance, including the Elk Creek Trail. The Elk Creek Trail is an 11.2-mile section that twists through the Black Hills National Forest in southwest South Dakota.
What Makes It Great
The Elk Creek Trail is rated as an intermediate ride. According to MTBProject.com is very "doable...with high meadows, stream crossings, and screaming descents". The whole trail is scenic and there is a surprising amount of variety in the terrain considering the whole segment is just over 11 miles.
Starting at the Elk Creek Trailhead on Runkle Road, begin by climbing up through a few rock garden sections. At the top, the trail follows a ridge and there are wonderful views of the plains. The trail then heads downhill through Three Sisters, a long set of switchbacks, to Bulldog Gulch. There are a few creek crossings here as you ride through tall pine and aspen trees. During periods of rain, the creeks can get pretty high, but you can get around them by scrambling up and around on the hillside if you need to.
What goes down must go back up, so climb Bulldog Gulch and cruise along exciting single track through meadows and prairie. When you see Interstate 90, you are almost at the Alkali Trailhead (the stopping point).
The Elk Creek Trail is point-to-point, and best done with a shuttle at either end, though you could always go out-and-back for a longer ride.
Who is Going to Love It
An intermediate to expert mountain biker is going to love this trail, but a beginner could definitely complete it, too— just give yourself extra time or turn around if it gets too difficult. It's also a great training ride for the longer Centennial Trail—use it to connect with one of the other shorter trails on the Centennial.
If you like to spot wildlife while you ride, there are plenty of elk, deer, turkey, mountains goats, raptors, and rattlesnakes in the area.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The easiest way to ride this trail is to leave a car at the Alkali Trailhead in the Fort Meade Recreation Area, then head over to the Elk Creek Trailhead. The parking area at the Elk Creek Trailhead only has room for 4-5 cars, but it is rarely full.
Check out this map of the entire Centennial Trail if you want to add more mileage on to your ride.