Spearfish, South Dakota: Outlaw Mountain Biking

Two mountain bikers on a rocky ledge in Spearfish, South Dakota

Photo by Laura Heisinger

If you’re looking for outlaw singletrack, come explore Spearfish, SD.

There are 80 miles of singletrack within biking distance from this up-and-coming mountain town. Just five miles from the city center is a hidden network of narrow, hand-tooled trail that’s a MTB dreamscape.

From the rocky, exposed lines of Dakota Ridge to the fast curves that shoot down Twin Bridges, there is enough variety in Spearfish to keep you coming back year after year.

What’s more, riders usually have the trail to themselves, giving visitors plenty of time and space to appreciate the purple clover and lupine that pop up along pristine mountain streams while cruising by at 20 mph.

You’re already smiling, aren’t you?

A female mountain biker enjoying some singletrack in Spearfish, South Dakota

Photo by Laura Heisinger

DIY Trailblazing: A brief history of trail building in Spearfish

Spearfish’s singletrack trail system began when a few motivated locals kicked sticks off cow trails and linked them together with overgrown and largely unused forest service roads.

Decades later, most of the trail has been moved off the old roads, yet the trails remain primarily hand-tooled. The effect is narrow, unmanicured, straight up outlaw trail that tips its hat to the origins of mountain biking.

Like sipping fine wine, with a little time on trail, you might be able to pick out the different styles of the various trail builders in the area.

Local mountain bikers hike-a-bike to the top of Lookout Mountain to complete the “Trifecta,” or to summit the three tallest peaks surrounding Spearfish, in only a day.

Local riders hike-a-bike to the top of Lookout Mountain to complete the “Trifecta,” or to summit the three tallest peaks surrounding Spearfish, in only a day.

Why is Spearfish MTB’s best-kept secret?

You may still be thinking, But…South Dakota? Why would I ever ride there? Actually, it’s that kind of mindset that has made this town one of the best-kept secrets in the mountain biking community.

Despite the notoriously flat prairie landscape that South Dakota is known for, the Black Hills are a contradiction in this respect.

Black Elk Peak (the highpoint of the Black Hills) rests at an impressive 7,240 feet, standing about 4,000 feet over the surrounding grassland.

It’s steep-yet-rolling formations, paired with its pleasant summer climate, provide the exact right conditions for MTB heaven.

No wonder 700+ riders register and fill up the Dakota Five-0 rider’s roster in just under two hours!

Mountain bikers line up at the start of the Dakota Five-0 with Smokey the Bear

Riders line up at the start of the Dakota Five-0 with Smokey the Bear

Endless Singletrack Solitude

Perhaps because the Black Hills are a mountainous island in a sea of flat grass, one of the biggest draws of Spearfish singletrack is solitude. The trails are mostly empty Monday through Friday, which means most riders are happy to see another face pass by on the weekend.

They’re happy again when they join them for beers at one of Spearfish’s three breweries.

The Spearfish trail system is surrounded by equally rad singletrack. Following I-90 to the east is the town of Sturgis, which was made internationally infamous by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and old school biker gangs like the Jackpine Gypsies.

Among local riders, it’s best known for its 30 miles of five-star singletrack and its new bike park. If you drive past Sturgis on i90, you’ll end up in Rapid City. Rapid City boasts 200+ miles of singletrack, with plenty of beginner through advanced trail options.

If you head west on I90 from Spearfish, you’ll run into a 40-mile trail system in Sundance, WY called the Bearlodge.

Spearfish, South Dakota locals sample the mountain biking in Sturgis. Photo by Laura Heisinger

Spearfish locals sample the riding in Sturgis. Photo by Laura Heisinger

Here’s One for Drop Bar Lovers

If you’re looking to grind some gravel while you’re in town, you can pretty much take off on any road in any direction and experience some of the most remote and scenic gravel in the region.

Vehicles are few and far in between on these old country roads, but if you prefer not to share the road, check out the George S. Mickelson Trail. This converted railroad bed boasts rock tunnels and bridges left over from the Black Hills Gold Rush.

If you want to stretch your legs on your road bike, Spearfish Canyon is an excellent option.

Even More for the Outdoor Enthusiast

There is a lot to do in Spearfish when you aren’t riding. If you’re up for it, Spearfish Canyon and the Southern Hills are spattered with world-class rock climbing routes, as well as Devil’s Tower next door.

Fishing and hiking are also abundant, as well as plenty of secluded vistas to catch a classic South Dakota sunset. If you’re visiting to relax, you can tour the breweries, enjoy many historical sites from the Gold Rush era, or check out some of the local grub.

Spearfish singletrack is, in a word, surprising. It’s surprising that excellent singletrack exists in cowboy country. It’s unexpected how fast and intuitive the trail is.

It’s exciting that ascents and descents rival one another in fun factor. While plummeting through towering Aspens and pumping your bike through rolling dirt and river rock, you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised, too.

Check out Michelle's work at Shredworthy.bike