Black Hills Pay Dirt

  • Distance

    127 Mi.

    (204 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    97%

  • % Singletrack

    50%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • % Rideable (time)

    98%

  • Total Ascent

    11,800'

    (3,597 M)
  • High Point

    6,213'

    (1,894 M)

Contributed By

justin Hollister

Justin Hollister

Guest Contributor

Justin’s affinity for the outdoors started with hiking and climbing trips in South Dakota and Montana during childhood summer breaks.  Since then  he tries to use every free moment exploring somewhere new. He started biking in 2016 as a new way to find adventure. When not wandering he builds custom furniture and welds near the Twin Cities.

The Black Hills Pay Dirt bikepacking route is a 3-4 day self-serve roller coaster that flows through old pine forests and clear trout streams. It passes abandoned gold mines, dives into deep canyons, and climbs along cliff top vistas. There are plenty of uphill battles along the way, but they all lead to grin inducing descents to make you feel like your inner child again.
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The route starts in the north end of the Black Hills National Forest, where gold towns once boomed and then panned out within a few decades. Unlike its tourist driven east side, there is only a dusting of civilization, and luckily, the art of serving beer and burgers was not lost.

Black Hills Pay Dirt starts along the Centennial Trail, which was built for South Dakota’s 100th year to showcase the beauty and diversity of the Black Hills. It offers a disconnect from the modern world; throughout the route roads and people are seldom seen, flowing double track becomes single, and the forest beckons to be explored. Backcountry camping is allowed nearly everywhere along this trail. Ride through a forest flecked with tough hills, tight switchbacks, and brake burning descents to your first nugget of civilization.

  • Black Hills Pay Dirt, Bikepacking South Dakota
  • Black Hills Pay Dirt, Bikepacking South Dakota

From Sturgis you’ll grind through hours of gravel on old forestry roads with miles of views. The road connects up with the George S. Michelson Trail, a retired railroad bed turned gravel bike path that uses the old train bridges to pass over canyons and tunnels to cut through cliffs. You will have plenty of opportunity to wash off all that gravel on your way back to the trailhead with the many stream crossings on Deerfield trail.

Route difficulty: Black Hills Pay Dirt is rated 7 out of 10. Reason being the physical demand (8 on it’s own). The route has a few tough hills, some of which had to be walked. And, the route is rarely flat, with portions of rocky and rutted trail, long hills and tight turns. Free range cattle are in this area, so if encountered, give them space. Filterable water can be found between campgrounds and at every Michelson trailhead. Although we give this an overall 7, It wasn’t overly technical (5), but had a few tricky spots. Logistics (4) is generally easy but you will need to bring a water filter.

Route development: Over the past three years we have ran trail races on the Centennial, and biked the Michelson, and looked to join them with as little pavement possible. Black Hills Pay Dirt was awarded in our ROUT3 contest.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Resources

    link

  • Beautiful views along the Centennial as it follows the high ridge lines above the plains.
  • Crystal clear trout streams dot the entire National Forest.
  • Jambonz grill in Sturgis has anything you could want 7am-8pm
  • Sunday’s at 3:00-6:00 musicians get together at Moonshine Gulch in Rochford for a folk/bluegrass music jam.  Rochford Mall had ice cream bars.
  • Exploring the abundant gold mining/ historical sites.
  • Louis grill in Lead makes a great burger.
  • Castle Peak campground is beautiful beyond words.
  • Dispersed camping is plentiful in the national forest, and highly recommended.
  • Reaching Mach 1 on Big Lead Hill Road.
  • Solitude
  • Dumont trailhead shelter along the Michelson has a wood stove if you’re cold or wet.
  • May-September is the best time to tackle the route. Normally this means warm days and cool nights
  • Daily trail permit needed for Michelson trail. Purchased at any trailhead for $4
  • Some cattle may be found along north and west portions, Close any cattle gates behind you.
  • There are a few shallow water crossings along Deerfield Trail without bridges, so prepare to get your feet wet.
  • Open fires are prohibited outside of campgrounds.
  • The Centennial Trail is marked with “89”. Deerfield Trail is marked with “40”.
  • It’s worth noting that miles 4-14 are shared trails with atv, and on weekdays these trail see little to no use.
  • Hosted campgrounds at Dalton Lake and Alkali Creek. (noted on GPS map). $18 night
  • Free, dispersed camping in the national forest.
  • Backcountry camping is allowed nearly everywhere along this trail (read the rules here).
  • Castle Peak campground $16
  • There are plenty of streams throughout the route, but bring a water filter.
  • Filterable water is more scarce between Dalton and Alkali creek camps
  • Sturgis and Lead have grocery and restaurant
  • Rochford mall has fruit, beer, and junk food
  • Dalton and Alkali camps have potable water

We recommend four days for riding Black Hills Pay Dirt.

Wonderland Cave via Alpine road is optional; if you choose to go visit it, ask owners for shortcut back to trail. This is rideable up, with a gnarly shortcut back down. There is filterable water at the well.

The route is 98% rideable. There is some singletrack hills that are too steep to pedal; Deer Creek Trail #40 was too rutted to ride in a few spots. There are also over a dozen stream crossings to walk.

Bring a map or download base maps. Cell phone service is unreliable.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • rob weum

    Justin,

    Thanks for this awesome route. I’ve been looking at the Mick trail/Centennial trail for a while but now you’ve connected them up! Really looking forward to checking this out.

    Rob

  • GaryH

    Hi Justin;
    Can you tell me which, if any, of the photos you included in your write-up were taken along the Deerfield (trail 40) segment of your ride?
    Gary

  • Justin Hollister

    Gary, there are a dozen photos along Deerfield mixed in there. 1,5,6,15,16,21,25, Poet the puppy is #24 just to get numbers right (but along the centennial), 25,34,36,37,46, and 47. The trail is used and maintained far less than other trails, so it is usually 8-12″ wide, but very lush along the creek.

  • Justin Hollister

    Have fun with it Rob, memories to be made.

    Justin

  • Darian Davis

    Justin,
    I plan on doing this route with my son this summer driving over from WA. Do you have any beta for safe vehicle parking for the duration of the ride? I’ve been in the Ranger business my entire career and know first-hand what happens at trailheads. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Justin Hollister

    Hey Darian, I parked at the Deer Creek trailhead. It is off the tourist roads, and has room for 5-7 cars. Pactola campground is about 5 miles south, and has regular patrols through the campground and marina, but has hundreds of visitors daily.

  • Mike Page

    How is the cell reception throughout the trail?

  • Jason

    Thanks for the great article and photos, Justin! What kind of downtube packs are those?

  • Cam Upchurch

    Does anyone know what this would be like to do in Mid-April? Too much snow/mud?

  • Justin Hollister

    Some high elevations, and near Pactola, Sturgis, and Lead. Mostly spotty.

  • Justin Hollister

    Talk to Heath at dirtbags in Wyoming. Very happy with them. Four deep down tube bag. Holds 4 cans, or in my case: tent poles, rain fly, tool kit, and inner tube.

  • Justin Hollister

    Extremely hit and miss, mostly miss. These trails are barely maintained, or used for snowmobile during winter. Wait it out.

  • Jason

    Thank you very much!

  • Jason

    I think I know the answer to this, but given a choice between taking a Soma Wolverine with 700x45c tires or a Trek Stache with 29×3″ tires (both rigid), which would you take on this route?

  • Justin Hollister

    I do think you already know the answer. I’ll tell you why you’re right. Traction and cushion. With all the elevation change on loose trail, it’s nice to feel planted. Stache all the way.

  • Jason

    Thanks very much!

  • Scott

    Just rode this route over the weekend. Thanks Justin it was awesome!

  • Peter Larsen

    Where along the trail is Deer Creek trailhead? Google isn’t helping me much. I just want to make sure my uncle and I meet up at the correct start location.

    Thank you :)

  • Justin Hollister

    https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/blackhills/recarea/?recid=82031

    Search : Deer creek trailhead black hills

  • Robbie

    How might a rigid 29er with 2.35″ tires work out in these hinterlands? Thanks for putting this route together – super stoked.

  • Justin Hollister

    If that’s your jam, I think it could do it. The centennial trail gets pretty rough and lumpy. The rest would be perfectly suited for a rigid. My biggest concern is keeping wheels planted on rough descents. I am glad I had 100mm on both ends.