3 Ways to See: The Dakotas

Think the Dakotas are just endless prairie? Get ready for climbing, backpacking, and biking of the highest order.

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Tackle the Centennial Trail


There may not be gold in them thar hills–despite what prospectors once thought–but there are tough hikes. There are also meadows of wildflowers, towering ponderosa pines, and speckled trout scattered through wild Black Hills National Forest.


The Centennial Trail, completed in 1989 for South Dakota’s 100th year of statehood, stretches for 111 miles though tall-grass meadows and alongside granite walls and bison herds. The most scenic stretch starts at the Alkali Creek trailhead. Head south for 23.3 miles, passing towering evergreens and Little Elk Creek Canyon, with frequent uphill grinds. You’ll reach Dalton Lake trailhead in 2 days; camp anywhere on the trail.




North Dakota’s 6-year-old Maah Daah Hey Trail slices through gray- and rust-colored canyons forged by the Little Missouri River. The nation’s longest continuous run of singletrack (96 miles) offers fairly short climbs–but they’re frequent, rolling through grasslands and atop bentonite buttes.


Tackle the trail in 3 days starting from the Bennett Campground at the north end. Start with a quick 2-mile loop to the dramatic sandstone wave known as China Wall, then pedal 26 miles. Day 2 is a taxing 40-mile spin through deep ravines and the striated buttes at Devil’s Pass. The easy final day traverses rolling prairie back to Medora.

Shuttle info: www.dakotacyclery.com




Climb in the Black Hills and you’ll never think of the Mt. Rushmore State as a flatland again. The twirling spires and sheer faces rise up to 7,200 feet above the prairie and offer countless granite and limestone routes that accommodate any discipline.


Traditional climbers should hit the Needles in Custer State Park for the multipitch runouts on pointed granite pinnacles. Boulderers can check out classic routes at nearby Sylvan Lake and a developing area loaded with new problems at Mt. Baldy. From Sylvan Lake, head up the Cathedral Spires Trail for the night (dispersed camping is allowed throughout), or try climber-friendly Wrinkled Rock campground.