South Dakota, as one might imagine, has a ton of wide open space. Big cities are far apart, and roads seem to go on forever. But don’t think that means there is nothing to see in South Dakota, especially if you prefer to travel on two wheels. There are so many options for road bike riding that you can pretty much just pick a point A and a point B and head out. But if you’d like a more specific suggestion, check out one of these road biking rides in The Mount Rushmore State.
1. Coteau des Prairie Tour
The 93.5-mile Coteau des Prairie, or "Hills of the Prairie," loop travels through the prairie (of course) and the rolling hills of northeastern South Dakota. The ride is scenic, and has several stops at state parks and recreation areas along the way, too. Highlights of this route include Sica Hollow State Park, with its Sioux legends and ghost stories, Fort Sisseton, Roy Lake, and Pickerel Lake. The lake recreation areas are great places to take a break on a hot day or to stop and camp overnight. Because the Coteau des Prairie Tour is a loop, it’s possible to only ride a portion of it, or use the whole thing as training for a century ride. Head west on the loop for a 1,200-foot climb just outside Sisseton, or east for a faster, downhill ride. There are only two towns along the tour, so be prepared.
2. Sioux Falls Greenway Trail System
While the entire paved trail system is 40 miles, there are several shorter sections connecting downtown Sioux Falls with the Great Plains Zoo, Falls Park, and other smaller parks and residential neighborhoods. It’s a great place for any level of cyclist, including families with children. There are many entry and exit points, making it easy to get on and off, or to use it as easy access to shopping or restaurants. When the trail gets busy it can be crowded, so expect a more leisurely ride with this one.
3. Burning Bluffs Tour
This is another long route that would be great training for a century ride. The Burning Bluffs Tour covers 130 miles along the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota, and was named after the rare phenomenon in which the shale at North Point Recreation Area ignites and smokes on a hot day (your best chance of seeing this is in July or August). The ride is mostly through prairie, but also goes through Burke Lake, North Point, Randall Creek, and Snake Creek Recreation Areas, with the option to take a side trip to the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the way is smooth sailing along paved rural roads, but there is a 5 to 8 percent grade along the Missouri River watershed in the Snake Creek and North Point areas. Like Coteau des Prairie, this route has few services and spotty cell service, so be prepared.
4. Rapid City to Mount Rushmore National Memorial
When we said you can literally pick any two points, jump on your bike, and go, we meant it. This ride is a perfect example—hop on your bike in Rapid City and then ride down Highway 16 West for 23 miles until you get to Mount Rushmore (make sure to take Highway 16A just before hitting 18 miles). And don’t worry—the highway has a wide shoulder for cyclists.
5. Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Iron Mountain Road is another way to get to Mount Rushmore, this time taking Highway 16A East from Custer State Park. It’s about 17 miles to Mount Rushmore, climbing up through the forest on “pigtail bridges” that loop over themselves. The road also features wooden bridges and one-lane tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore for a picture-perfect view.
6. Spearfish Canyon National Scenic Byway
Spearfish Canyon, with its steep limestone cliffs and breathtaking falls (look for Roughlock Falls and Bridal Veil Falls), was once only accessible by horseback. Lucky for us, the ancient canyon it now has a scenic byway running through it. The 19-mile road, just outside the town of Spearfish, follows Spearfish Creek through a dense forest that is a sight to behold in the fall when the changing leaves are vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Spearfish Canyon is a popular place for wildlife watching and fishing, as well as rock climbing, and is considered one of the most beautiful places in the Black Hills.
7. Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway
Another popular highway ride is this 58-mile loop through the Badlands National Park along the two-lane state road, Highway 240. Consistently mentioned on top 10 scenic byway lists, it’s also a popular cycling route, traveling through the some of the most unique landscapes in the United States. There are multicolored spires, cliffs, grasslands, and a variety of wildlife to look for, not to mention almost 30 scenic overlooks. Some of the twisting curves may look familiar, as they have been featured in video games, and look for buffalo along Sage Creek Rim Road (just off the western end of the Badlands Loop Road).
No matter which route you choose, always be sure to have your helmet and extra supplies (tubes, etc.) just in case. The best time to ride in South Dakota is spring, summer, and fall. There are several companies that offer cycling tours, especially to Mount Rushmore, and you can rent bikes in the cities and bigger towns.
Originally written for South Dakota Tourism.