We assemble for our Mt. Rushmore Multi-Sport Tour in Rapid City, the second largest city in South Dakota, and immediately make our way east to Badlands National Park. The park highlights sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. The rugged spires and deep canyons stand sentinel and it looks desolate and uninhabitable, but look closer to find plants and animals that are well adapted to this environment of prairie and geological formations. In the meeting of prairie and spires we will take our first hike on Day 1 on the Castle Trail, traversing the transition zone. We’ll have time for some stops at the fossil exhibits and Visitor Center before heading back west to our home for three nights at State Game Lodge in the middle of Custer State Park. This historic stone and wood lodge built in 1920 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For Day 2 we will mount our road bikes for an unforgettable ride on the road that engineers once said couldn’t be built. The Iron Mountain Road is a 17 mile work of art in itself, passing through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Black Hills , including “Pigtail Bridges” and three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. We are rewarded with a visit to the famous National Monument, where a picnic under the watchful eyes of four great presidents is in order. Our return route is no less forgettable as we circle around past Sylvan Lake and ride the Needles Highway. The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway, and especially a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.
Day 3 begins with a drive along the Wildlife Loop Road, where you are likely to see the wild bison, if they haven’t already been hanging out under your hotel window. Other potential sightings include elk, big horn sheep, prairie dogs and a band of the parks free-loading burros. Our destination is Wind Cave National Park, where we will tour a cave rich in honeycomb-shaped calcite formations known as boxwork. Then it is off to the dude ranch for an afternoon ride through the Black Hills on horse, and a visit to the historic town of Custer, the first established town of the Black Hills. To complete our western day, we will enjoy a local cowboy song and dance show.
We move west on Day 4 and tackle Trail Number 9 with a hike to the summit of Black Elk Peak. This popular hiking trail climbs 1,100 ft to an open summit with spectacular views of the surrounding hills. On our return we are led directly to the beautiful sight of Sylvan Lake where it will be nearly impossible not to dive into the refreshing waters. (Pack a towel if you enjoy lake swimming.) Tonight we stay at Sylvan Lake Lodge, the historic, yet upscale stone-and-wood lodge.
Day 5 is back in the bicycle saddle for a completely different ride on the states’ first rails to trails project. The Mickelson Trail is a crushed limestone and gravel route, with grades not exceeding 4 percent, which transverses the beautiful Black Hills and the gold mines of the Deadwood area. We have chosen the most scenic cycling sections of the trail which includes several tunnels and bridges. Dinner tonight will be in Custer or back at Sylvan Lake Lodge.
For our last day we have yet another historic hiking trail to explore. South Dakota’s Centennial trail was built in 1989 to mark the 100th anniversary of South Dakota’s statehood. It is an 111-mile trail traveling through prairies and mountainous areas. We will choose a short section in the heart of the National Forest that ends at Sheridan Lake with plenty of time for another swim before returning to Rapid City and the conclusion of the tour.