Your mission: Find scenic motorcycle rides in the Black Hills.
That's easy. Just hit the starter switch on a motorcycle and look up: Just about any place in the Black Hills is within view of pine-studded hills.
That said, there are plenty of roads in the Black Hills area that are especially good motorcycle routes, both because of the scenery and the curves running through them.
Obvious ones, which practically all bikers who come to the Sturgis rally know about or soon find, include:
- U.S. Highway 14A through Spearfish Canyon.
- U.S. Highway 14A through Boulder Canyon between Sturgis and Deadwood.
- U.S. Highway 385, which bisects the Black Hills north to south.
- S.D. Highway 44 from Rapid City west to 385 (Rimrock Highway).
- U.S. Highway 16 from Rapid to U.S. 385 at Three Forks.
- U.S. Highway 16A through Custer State Park.
- The Needles Highway (S.D. Highway 87), is a gorgeous stretch of curvy road through spectacular rock formations. But, during the rally, it's jammed with bikes crawling along in first gear.
But there are plenty of other routes that offer twisty roads and beautiful scenery.
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Here are some of my favorites, split roughly into northern and southern routes:
Vanocker Canyon Road, from Sturgis to Nemo. Pick it up off Interstate 90 Exit 32, or if you're in Sturgis, just follow Junction Avenue south. The smooth pavement winds its way up through the pines and past stands of aspen. The road offers plenty of turnouts to stop and gawk and take photos. Vanocker Canyon Road runs about 17 miles to Nemo Road just above the charming village of Nemo.
All of Nemo Road is pretty, but it is especially picturesque from Nemo northwest to U.S. Highway 385, twisting past rustic cabins and barns, lush meadows and a view of Custer Peak, reddened now by mountain pine beetles. You come out on 385 at Boondocks.
U.S. Highway 85 west from Cheyenne Crossing over 6,785-foot O'Neil Pass to Four Corners, Wyo. Newly paved, the smooth blue road climbs through tall ponderosa pines, fields of daisies, placid ponds, big meadows and, on the day I rode through, squadrons of Monarch butterflies. It's cooler up here, too, probably 10 degrees cooler than down in Sturgis or Rapid City. On the Wyoming side, you can take a break at the Buckhorn Bar and Grill and then head down to Four Corners.
Wyoming Highway 585 from Four Corners to Sundance. Riding this road on the west side of the Black Hills, you cruise past well-kept ranch houses with old barns that look like they were built in the ‘40s or earlier. Inyan Kara Mountain stands guard to the west.
Crook City Road to Whitewood. From Interstate 90 Exit 17, go south on U.S. Highway 85 about 2.5 miles and turn left on Crook City Road. (Centennial Quarry is on the corner.) Crook City Road, with long straights and some sharp curves, takes you through more meadows and forest to Whitewood. From there, you can take the service road back to Sturgis.
South Rockerville Road to S.D. Highway 40. Take U.S. Highway 16 south from Rapid City, take the left exit into Rockerville and then left again at the intersection just before the Gaslight. Ride south on South Rockerville Road past the stark landscape left by the 2002 Battle Creek Fire. You also go past the pretty campus of the Black Hills Children's Home before coming out on S.D. Highway 40 just east of Keystone.
Iron Mountain Road (pick it up just west of Keystone) or start on the south end, near the east edge of Custer State Park. This will be a busy road, too, during the rally. I'd suggest riding it south to north so you can see Mount Rushmore through the series of one-lane tunnels. There are plenty of hairpin turns and awe-inspiring views of the Rushmore-Harney range. On the south end, you are apt to see a good chunk of the Custer State Park buffalo herd. Be careful.
Highway 87 south. Take Highway 16A's smooth, mellow curves into Custer State Park. West of the Needles Highway intersection, turn south on S.D. Highway 87. The smooth road climbs up alongside Mount Coolidge and then drops down through meadows and more pigtail bridges on the way to Wind Cave National Park. Inside the park, the landscape starts opening up and the highway runs to the west of Rankin Ridge. It connects with U.S. Highway 385, which goes south to Hot Springs. This is beautiful, rolling, open country and sometimes you'll see buffalo here, too. There is usually less rally traffic here.
This is just a sampling of the motorcycle paradise called the Black Hills.
Whenever I'm out riding in this landscape, I feel refreshed and at peace. My worries have somehow disappeared.
Steve Miller is a freelance writer based in Rapid City. Contact him at email@example.com