Two Families Bicycle the Black Hills, page 2

Page 1: Four Corners to Sylvan Lake
Page 2: Sylvan Lake to Wind Cave
Page 3: Wind Cave to Custer State Park
Page 4: Custer State Park to Rapid City

Tuesday, June 29

Of all the many recreation options around Sylvan Lake, one appealed to me far more than any other - hiking to the top of Harney Peak. Harney is the highest mountain in South Dakota, and its peak provides views over the Black Hills. My only problem was that the round-trip trail distance was 6 miles, too far for our kids to hike, but we tried it anyway. Dave and Allison had already climbed Harney Peak in a previous year, so after eating breakfast together we went different ways.

To reduce the length of the hike for our kids, I walked our whole bicycle up the dirt hiking trail. I wish that I could have converted our trailer into a stroller and just pushed a stroller with our kids, but I left the stroller kit at home to save weight. Instead I pushed the tandem, trailerbike and trailer with kids up the steep and sometimes rocky trail, struggling to keep my balance. I pushed just over a mile before giving up and letting the kids walk. We were only about 1/4 mile from the Black Elk Wilderness boundary, where regulations would have forced us to park the bike anyway. The rest of the hike was hard for our kids, but they did it. Daniel was wearing an old pair of sneakers that hurt his feet so I carried him a bit, but he hiked as best he could. Maggie hiked nearly as well as Daniel, which seems amazing for a 2-year-old.

Maggie rock climbs before breakfast.

Sylvan Lake

Pushing the bike up a relatively smooth part of the Harney Peak trail.

Granite formations along the Harney Peak trail.

At the top of Harney Peak is an old fire lookout tower that was built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It's built of stone and looks more like a medieval fortress than an observation tower, so Daniel was excited to explore it. With today's very clear weather we could probably see 100 miles away.

After hiking back down to the bicycle I had the tricky job of wheeling down a steep dirt trail with our kids in the trailer. I struggled to keep the bike under control and Kathy was almost afraid to watch me, but Daniel and Maggie laughed and squealed as though they were on a bouncy roller coaster ride. By the time we reached camp it was dinnertime, and after dinner Dave started a fire for us to roast marshmallows over.

The kids loved the idea of roasting marshmallows, but they mostly either burned them or ate them uncooked. Whenever they did roast a marshmallow well they ran to a neighboring campsite to feed it to some little friends over there. Tonight Daniel and Maggie both fell asleep quickly, so they must be exhausted.

The Harney Peak lookout tower is visible well before the end of the trail.

The Harney Peak lookout tower.

Daniel proudly stands in the top of the tower.

Panoramic view of the Black Hills from Harney Peak.

It was very windy on the peak.

Resting in a spot sheltered from the wind.

The dam behind and below us trapped water for the lookout tower residents.

Roasting marshmallows at camp.

Wednesday, June 30

Distance: 35.9 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 21 minutes
Average speed: 10.6 mph
Maximum speed: 39.4 mph

Our ride was wonderfully scenic and low traffic today because it was almost completely within Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. We assumed it would be an easy, largely downhill ride but it turned out to have major hills all along the route. It was hard, but the scenery kept our moods up.

Early in our ride was the mountainous Needles Highway, where tall granite rock formations stick out of the forest. We stopped for lunch at Legion Lake, where I took our children for a paddleboat ride. Daniel was very sad that we never rode a paddleboat at Sylvan Lake yesterday (we were too busy climbing Harney Peak,) so I jumped at the new opportunity.

A narrow tunnel along Needles Highway.

Looking at rock formations from the highway.

Michael and the kids try a little rock climbing, which is not easy in bike shoes.

Granite needles along Needles Highway.

Maggie and Daniel wait for a paddleboat ride at Legion Lake.

Paddleboating Legion Lake.

As we rode out of the mountains and further into Custer State Park, the forested hills began to mix with grasslands where lots of prairie animals lived. The antelope and prairie dogs were fun to see, but the most prominent animals were the bison. We saw a bunch of bison, and some were uncomfortably close to the road. For one bison at the right hand edge of the road we asked a passing pickup truck to "escort" us past it, so we rode past with the pickup truck between us and the bison. When we saw it from 10 feet away it looked huge.

Wind Cave National Park has bison herds too, and a mix of grasslands and forested hills. The campground is fenced to keep bison out. Within 10 minutes of arriving at our campsite Daniel made friends with a little boy from Switzerland, and they played together with Lego's while Kathy cooked dinner. Maggie mostly played with Damian, but all four kids played together after dinner. I think that playing at campsites will be their favorite memories of this trip.

Panoramic view from a high point in Custer State Park.

A bison watches us pass at a safe distance.

Antelope in Custer State Park.

Looking across a meadow to the Rankin Ridge lookout in Wind Cave National Park.

Forest and grasslands in Wind Cave National Park.


Page 1: Four Corners to Sylvan Lake
Page 2: Sylvan Lake to Wind Cave
Page 3: Wind Cave to Custer State Park
Page 4: Custer State Park to Rapid City