Iconic Biking Trails in Wisconsin and South Dakota
Updated: Mar 7
Indiana, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa loop with five stops and bike rides at every stop, including two pretty famous bike trails - the Sparta-Elroy and the Mickelson.
Tunnel Trail Campground in Wilton, Wisconsin
Tunnel Trail Campground is about midway between Sparta and Elroy directly on the rail trail itself. The campground, set in the Wisconsin countryside, was shady and grassy. The owners were great and very accommodating to bicyclists They even had bicycles available for rent at the campground if you didn't bring your own. The pool looked amazing, but it was too cool to swim when we were there. We would definitely return to this campground.
Sparta/Elroy Rail Trail
The Sparta/Elroy is the oldest rail-trail in the country. The big attractions on the trail are three hand-dug railroad tunnels. The tunnels are long, dark, and drippy. Remember to take a flashlight and walk your bikes through the tunnels. You may even want a jacket as the temperature drops significantly and it can get pretty damp.
We found that the trail was accommodating to all levels of bicyclists, although the trail is crushed limestone and better suited to mountain, gravel, or hybrid bikes. The first time we rode the trail we had a toddler in a bike seat and a pre-teen on his bike and didn't have any problems. When you aren't going through tunnels, you are riding through forests and farmland. There are lots of cows and wildflowers to look at.
When we were camping part of the trail was washed out near the campground so we drove to Norcross and rode to Rockland and back - about 39 miles round trip. We also rode from the campground to Elroy to ride a county trail called the Omaha. At the time it was in pretty rough shape and closed partway due to crumbling asphalt and mud. Circling back we then rode from Elroy to Wonewoc on the 400. We enjoyed our ride, but I would like to go back when it wasn't quite so muddy. The 400 is 22 miles in length and goes from Elroy to Reedsburg.
Hillsboro Brewing Company
You only get this kind of experience by chance. Pat picked the Hillsboro Brewing Company as a place to have dinner one night. This was one of the coolest bars we've been to in a very cool little town. Hillsboro happens to be the Czech capital of Wisconsin, population of 1,472.
On Tuesdays nights, a makeshift group comes together to play in the back room of the Brewery. They had the most eclectic playlist I've ever heard - Tracy Chapman, Jimmy Buffet, Elvis, Hootie and the Blowfish, Frank Sinatra and the Blues Brothers.
Oh, and the beer and food were excellent!
Yogi Bear Campground in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The campground was okay for what we needed which was a place to stay for a couple of nights on our way further west and a laundry. It was nice to be able to hang out at the pool while we did laundry. It was also nice to be in a campground with full hook-ups.
Sioux Falls River Greenway
This trail was an unexpected find. The River Greenway forms a loop of nearly 30 miles of paved, multi-use pathways that links many of the city's parks, green spaces, and downtown. The Greenway was very scenic and traversed through downtown, parks, woods, and prairie. We were able to ride about 36 miles by doing some spurs off the main Greenway. I really liked Sioux Falls, particularly the downtown area and Falls Park.
Fernson Brewing Company
This was a find! We were on our way back to the campground from biking the Sioux Falls River Greenway and found the Fernson Brewing Company. The beer was excellent and just what we needed after a long and hot ride. We discovered that there was a KOA campground right across the road from the Brewery and because of its proximity to the Brewery, would probably stay there should we return to Sioux Falls.
Trailside Campground in Hill City, South Dakota
The Trailside Campground is right on the Mickelson Trail and pretty much right in Hill City. The campground had full hook-ups and a very nice shower/restroom facility. I took advantage of the full-size shower and hairdryer(!!!) that was provided by the campground. It was amazing to be able to hop on the trail whenever we wanted.
It's easy to see why this trail makes all the Top Ten Best Bike Trail lists. The 109-mile trail runs through the heart of the Black Hills between Deadwood and Edgemont. There are about 100 converted railroad bridges and 4 tunnels. Much of the trail goes through national forest, over streams and rivers, through meadows, and passes near several attractions. We only did two rides on the trail as the weather was cold and rainy when we were there. Our first ride, about 26 miles round trip, was from Hill City north to Mystic and a 40-foot long tunnel. The second ride was perhaps my favorite bike ride ever. We rode from Hill City to Custer State Park. On the day we rode the sky was blue and the scenery was spectacular! The route is pretty much either uphill or downhill, but the hills are not steep. The spur to Custer State Park is, however, fairly hilly and steep. This ride was 37 miles round trip.
Custer State Park, Wind Cave and Mt Rushmore
We have a little crush on the Black Hills area of South Dakota. We came out to ride the Mickelson Trail but enjoyed every minute of our time in this area. Custer State Park rivals any national park I've ever been to and Wind Cave has a fascinating history. In Custer State Park, we hiked the Sunday Gulch Trail (great views with a degree of difficulty as pretty hard) and did the Needles drive through the park.
We also took the tour at Wind Cave and then hiked out onto the prairie. Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It's named for barometric winds at its entrance has is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found anywhere else. A microbiology researcher named Hazel Barton spends time in the deepest regions of Wind Cave collecting microbes in the Cave's ponds. The microbes have not been contaminated and the hope is that they will lead to a solution to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.
We also enjoyed our tour of Mt Rushmore. The Black Hills are such a beautiful area.
Badlands/White River KOA
Convenience, convenience, convenience. This campground was very near the Badlands National Park entrance allowing us to come and go multiple times a day. The campground also had trees providing some much-needed shade in an otherwise pretty open landscape.
Badlands National Park
I love the Badlands! My family visited the Park when I was young and I remember being stunned by the beauty of the place. It did not disappoint. Because we were so close to the entrance we spent time in the park during the day and also one evening at sunset. The colors and landscape are spectacular no matter the time of day.
We hadn't planned on biking in the Park, but by doing some research we found a popular route on Sage Creek Rim Road. The 23-mile rolling route had plenty of wildlife sightings, including mountain goats with babies, bison, and lots of prairie dogs.
KOA in West Des Moines, Iowa
Nice KOA for a quick stopover on the way home.
Raccoon River Valley Trail
This closest trailhead was about seven miles from the campground. We were looking for some exercise before we got in the car to drive the rest of the way home to Indiana. Having no idea what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised. We ended up riding nearly 30 miles from Adel to Dallas Center through small towns and cornfields. When we were there the annual Bacoon (Bacon) Ride was going on. It was a very fun event especially for those who like to include eating bacon with their bike riding!
The trail is 89 miles long and runs from Waukee to Jefferson, although not in a direct line. From Waukee, you can get to Jefferson by going two different ways that connect in Jamaica. The trail is paved and there are plenty of amenities in the small towns along the way.