Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Mickelson and Paul Bunyan Trails (South Dakota and Minnesota)

Garmin Links to Riding Stats and Maps:

Belle Fourche reservoir

Passing storm

From my beautiful and tranquil camp spot at Belle Fourche reservoir, I moved to a RV Park that I thought was going to be close to Deadwood, South Dakota and one end of the Mickelson bike trail. I found the Custer Crossing RV Park on the Harvest Host website. I appreciated that they open the park to HH RVers and decided to pay for 3 nights and not use my HH membership. (My HH membership would have saved me one night’s rate but I would have had to move to a paying site for the 2nd and 3rd nights.) I quickly learned that one big issue in the Black Hills of South Dakota is finding phone service, anywhere. Even though this campground isn't within riding distance of the trail, it had just enough Verizon service that I could make calls. I didn't have any phone service anywhere riding the Mickelson Trail or in the town of Deadwood. Traveling solo, I consider phone service a safety issue. The camp hosts at Custer Crossing put me right next to their rig which also gave me strong wifi. This RV park is located adjacent to busy Hwy 395. There is also a restaurant, bar and gas station. Custer Crossing gets a lot of atv and motorcycle traffic. Being so close to Sturgis there is heavy Harley traffic with big packs of motorcycles rumbling in and out all day and night. I think, mostly, they stop to smoke and use the bathroom. 

Mickelson Trail water crossing

Trail marker near Deadwood

The real reason I was camped here was to ride the famous Mickelson Trail. This trail is smooth gravel and mostly a rail trail grade. The trail is 109 miles long and since I was going to do out and back rides from trailheads, my mileage would be double. 

My 1st rides started at the Englewood trailhead going in a different direction each day. There is a fee to ride this trail. The daily fee is $4 or you can buy an annual pass for $16. I bought the annual pass. There is a slip of paper to fill out and rip off from the back of the envelop  you put your money in. It isn't clear if this slip of paper is a parking pass that should be kept in your vehicle windshield or something I might need to show while riding. I decided to keep it in the map case of my side seat mount bag with me on the trike.  Of all the trails I've done anywhere in the US, I've never seen monitors and wondered if I would see any on this trail. I never did. 

Trail map

Englewood Trailhead

Going through one of many narrow gates

The 1st ride was absolutely gorgeous. The weather forecast called for a powerful thunderstorm in the early afternoon. I didn't want to get myself in trouble riding on a trail with no phone service in severe weather and rode a reserved 22 miles with over 1,000 ft of climbing going to one end of the trail, mile marker 0.0, in Deadwood and back to the trailhead where I parked my truck. There are quite a few gate crossings with limited space to get through. My trike is narrow enough, even with my side seat bag, but I think wider trikes might not be able to get through. Some crossings had gates that had to be opened and then closed. I was able to maneuver through them all without getting off the trike. 

1st day's ride on the Mickelson Trail

I had one crazy experience where there is a short, steep switchback from a trailhead. An older man and his wife were coming up and I could see the man was struggling with his balance on the e-bike. I pulled over to give them room because it seemed like they couldn't get enough momentum, even with the e-assist, to ride safely up the incline. My guess is this was one of the 1st times they had ridden these bikes. Sure enough, just as the man came next to me, he fell right on me sitting in the trike. I couldn't believe it.  I wasn't hurt and the trike wasn't damaged and the man offered no apology. I yelled at him that if a situation isn't safe to get off and walk. He responded saying it wasn't a big deal he just lost his balance. Oh really? I hadn't noticed. There was no point in conversing further so I rode on. 

Lovely green landscape

The 3rd night at Custer Crossing there was a huge thunderstorm with crazy amounts of hail that lasted 30 minutes. I had returned from a long ride on the trail just before the storm started. There was no bad weather warning or even rain in the forecast. This storm seemed to come out of no where. I couldn't believe how long this hailstorm lasted. A large hailstone broke through a plastic vent cover on my RV roof.  I used my drone to asses any more damage on my RV roof as well as the camp host’s roof letting the owners view close-up on the screen. Very intense. My truck now has small pock dents in the hood but I was surprised the windshield isn't pitted or cracked as well.

You can see the white spot where I put duct tape on the inside of the vent cover

Hole in the vent cover at the front of the trailer.

Hail in the grass

The next day I got hitched and moved to Custer State Park staying at Blue Belle campground. Wow, was this campground beautiful and, surprisingly, I had phone service. It was like the phone service gods were smiling on me because I had no service anywhere else in the town of Custer or anywhere on the Mickelson trail. I ended up riding the trail 3 more days completing the sections from Deadwood south to Pringle. What a great trail. It is well-maintained, smooth with great scenery and varied terrain. Everything was so green and lush. There are also bathrooms at all the trailheads. The section from Custer south to Pringle isn’t nearly as scenic as anything to the north. This section is much more open through ranch land and right next to Hwy 395. I decided to forego the last short section to the end of the trail at Edgemont. 

Trailhead marker

Field of bison

While I was camped, I made afternoon excursion trips to Mt Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument. These sites are within an hour’s drive from the town of Custer. I also drove the Needles Hwy which is fantastic. Mt Rushmore was super cool to see but Crazy Horse seemed more like a tourist trap. The view of the Crazy Horse monument from the Mickelson Trail is just as good as going in and paying the hefty parking fee. For an additional $32 I could have taken a bus to get closer. With Covid running rampant at the time, this didn't seem like a good idea.

Trail followed a river most days

There were many tunnels

Mt Rushmore

Panorama from Needles Hwy

Crazy Horse finished design at visitor's center

Crazy Horse monument from the Mickelson Trail

At the campground, I found a very nice young man in the neighboring site to go on my trailer roof to tape over the broken vent cover. I don't have the courage to get up on my roof and this young man scampered up there in no time. Duct tape to the rescue. Somewhere I'll have to find a place to get the cover replaced but I think this repair will hold for quite awhile.

Ryan up on the roof of my trailer

Wildlife at Custer State park

Prairie dogs

 Barn from the trail

My next stop wasn't far to an RV park in the town of Elder that caters to people switching their state residency to South Dakota. This RV park is part of America's Mailbox which is popular with full-time RVers that don't have a home address. They offer a convenient mail service and will assist with auto and voter registration, health insurance, auto insurance and actual residency change. South Dakota has no state income tax and only requires that you spend one night every 5 years in the state to be a resident. The receipt from an overnight RV park stay is sufficient. My auto insurance policy rate had recently increased significantly and I figured I might make this change if I could save money. The RV park office has a packet ready to hand out with all the forms you need. I completed the auto insurance part and asked that an agent give me a quote. Unfortunately, I never heard back from anyone and don't know if I can save money doing this. Maybe I need to make some follow up calls.

Next, I spent a couple of nights at different Harvest Host wineries. Who knew South Dakota has vineyards? I stayed at one winery near Sioux Falls and got in touch with some trikers I know from Facebook. Joe and Liz drove over with 2 friends. The winery was beautiful and they also had live music. It was really fun meeting people I've only known online. We all had a very nice time together.

Grapes growing

Parked next to the vineyard

New friends joined me at the winery

The following night, I stayed at another winery high up on a hill just over the Minnesota state line. The view was fantastic. The owner spent a lot of time with me talking about the history and different events the winery hosts. One thing I love about Harvest Hosts is every stay is different and I get to see things I wouldn't otherwise. 

Rolling Hills tasting

Rolling Hills entrance

Parked in a sunset

My real motivation for traveling to Minnesota was to explore the Paul Bunyan trail. This is a paved trail covering 123 miles with Brainerd/Baxter on one end and Bemidji at the other. I stayed 3 nights near Nisswa at Fritz RV Park that had access to the trail just across Hwy 371. After driving into Baxter for supplies, I could see that part of the trail was along the busy hwy with lots of big blvd crossings and unattractive views of the back of businesses. I decided to ride out of the RV park and go in the other direction. The views were much better but the trail went right along Hwy 371. Even though I didn't have to contend with car traffic I could hear cars and trucks the whole ride. The next day I drove to the Backus trailhead and rode to Walker and back. This ride was fantastic. The trail was far enough from Hwy 371 that I couldn't see or hear it. There was lots of up and downs that made the ride interesting. One day’s ride I saw there is an alpaca farm close by. I stopped to see what that was like. No one was around and I enjoyed the alpacas for a while. I tried to get a close up video of one alpaca and it spit at me. Wait ‘til you see the video - too funny!

Alpaca farm not far off the trail

Spitter on the left!

Lots of beautiful lakes on the trail

Kids riding fun floating trikes

Riding the Paul Bunyan trail

Connector trail sign into Walker

From Fritz RV park, I moved to a KOA in Bemidji. This was during a terrible heatwave just a 100 miles to the south and all the campgrounds in the area were full of people escaping the heat. KOAs are not my favorite but this one worked out well. I was able to meet some  recumbent friends. Bonnie, John, Ann and Fred with Rebecca and Greg. We all met up near Akeley to ride a good section of the Heartland trail which comes off the Paul Bunyan. It was a gorgeous day and we all had a wonderful ride together.

Akeley Paul Bunyan is the biggest

In front of the Red Bridge

The huge Muskie in Nevis

Ann and Fred in front of Akeley Bunyan

Bonnie watching the trikes

I spent a few more days doing out and back ride covering different sections of the Paul Bunyan trail. This is a terrific trail and one of the 1st paved bike trails in the country. There are a ton of bike trails all over Minnesota and I hope to return to ride some of them.

View from above

View with a lake in the distance

With local celebrities, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, in Bemidji

From here, I'm going to start heading west. I want to take my time exploring North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and then back to Washington. I've made an appointment with the RV place where I bought my trailer for September 1st to do a big maintenance assessment and get the broken vent cover fixed. I have lots of trike adventures already on the schedule including the Recumbent Retreat on the Oregon coast and a trike exclusive trip with 30 people to the San Juan Islands. Lots to look forward to.