This post was kindly sponsered by Get On! ADV Festival, which ADVrider is participating in. The festival runs July 15-18 2021.
Headed for the Get On! ADV Rally? Held near legendary Sturgis, South Dakota, the Revzilla Get On! ADV Rally promises bike training, demo rides, farkles, and just about everything in between. It’s a brand new event scheduled for mid-July, and the rally will take place on the sacred Sturgis Rally grounds in Buffalo Chip Campground. RawHyde Adventures and ADV Woman will be offering adventure bike skill sessions, and the organizers share there will be plenty of off-road riding, wrenching, new bike tests (including the Harley-Davidson Pan American), campfires, and music.
To top it all off, the Black Hills area in South Dakota is famous for its scenic rides, so if you’re there for some jaw-dropping backcountry roads and off-road trails, you’re in the right place. From hitting the local must-see spots like Mount Rushmore and Hood Tunnel to exploring the dirt trails in the Black Hills, South Dakota has got it all. If you’re looking for some scenic ADV rides before, during, or after the Get On! ADV Rally, here’s what’s not to miss along the way:
South Dakota Highlights
1. Keystone, Mount Rushmore, and Hood Tunnel Loop
If you’re riding South Dakota for the first time, the Keystone – Mount Rushmore loop is the perfect intro into what the Black Hills have to offer. This 200-mile ride packs a serious punch in terms of twists and curves, and there are several points of interest to hit along the way.
Starting in Keystone, top up your gas and have some hearty lunch – the Red Garter Saloon in Keystone is one of the favorite motorcycle stops, or you can grab some food in any of the Western style restaurants along the main street. Chances are, there’ll be dozens of bikes parked in front, so you’re guaranteed to chat to some like-minded souls before heading off.
Jumping on Route 244 (aha the Iron Mountain Road), you’ll begin seeing some curves and twists, and soon enough, you’ll see Mount Rushmore, the iconic giant sculpture of the four American presidents carved into the living rock. If you’re up for stretching your legs a little, there’s a large parking lot at Mount Rushmore where you can leave your bike and explore the Memorial on foot. If you forgot your caffeine in Keystone, there’s a café at Mount Rushmore to get your fill.
Next up is Needles Highway: before turning North on Route 385, take a quick detour on Route 87 to enjoy some narrow mountain twisties and see Hood Tunnel where the road cuts into a massive granite rock. This road is insanely scenic, but beware of other traffic – Needles Highway is very popular among other travelers, so it’s best ridden earlier in the day to avoid crowds.
After Hood Tunnel, you can continue on route 87 and loop towards Custer and back; this section of route 87 offers up rugged mountain scenery and a serious amount of curves. If you don’t have the time to explore, double back North and continue on Route 385 towards Hill City, then Deerfield Road and Mystic Road toward Rochford crossing the Black Hills National Forest. Out here, the road twists and turns through ponderosa pine forests and granite rock formations, and you may even spot wild bison ifd you’re lucky. Past Englewood, head to Cheyenne Crossing and ride route 14 for some more curves, then turn to Deadwood and take route 385 back to Keystone.
Along the way, there’ll be plenty of scenic lookout points, local eateries, and generous Back Hills scenery to enjoy; if you have the time, explore the network of smaller backcountry routes crisscrossing the Black Hills National Forest, just be sure to get gas whenever you can – some of these roads are pretty remote.
2. Bighorn Pass
If you’re up for a longer ride, the Bighorn Pass in nearby Wyoming is a must-see. Located some 250 miles West of Sturgis, Bighorn Mountains offer some spectacular scenery and a road that feels like it’s been built with motorcycle riders in mind.
Starting in Sturgis, ride West to Dayton in Wyoming. Be sure to stop for some gas and food. Then jump on Route 14, aka the Bighorn Scenic Byway. This road cuts across the Bighorn Mountains wilderness in a tumble of switchbacks, sharp corners, and steep climbs. Out here, it may be tempting to really lean into the corners, but go easy on the throttle – wildlife in the Bighorns is abundant, and you’ll probably spot moose, elk, or deer wandering into the road.
If you’re planning to stay in the area, Sibley Lake has a campground on the lakeside. Bear in mind that the Bighorns see cooler temperatures even during the summer months – Granite Pass is at an elevation of over 9,000 feet, so layer up as the weather will be chillier at high altitude.
To make the most of the jaw-dropping Bighorn National Forest scenery and roads, loop back to South Dakota via the Southern Route 16, another stunning mountain road skirting the edge of the Forest. This is a bigger road leading towards Buffalo, but its wide, fast bends might be an excellent choice if you want to ride back to Sturgis and make the distance while enjoying those generous curves.
3. Sturgis – Savoy Loop
Doing long distances during the Get On! ADV Rally may not be an option for everyone, so if you’re just looking for short, scenic rides in the area, the Sturgis – Savoy loop is a great route to check out in half a day. Route 14 between Savoy and Spearfish is among the most scenic stretches of road in the area, and there are plenty of lookout points to stop along the way. Spruce forests, granite walls, waterfalls, and wildlife abound here, and the road twists and knots in some big, sweeping curves along every mile.
Spearfish is also a great place to stay to avoid crowds – there are motorcycle-friendly lodges available, and the quiet mountain scenery is perfect for exploring on two wheels. If you have the time and the energy, there are plenty of hiking trails around; alternatively, you can ride some dirt on Route 222 cutting through the Black Hills into Wyoming and returning on Highway 90 back to Spearfish to save time. Spearfish makes for a great basecamp if you’re staying in the area before of after the ADV rally.
4. Black Hills Off-Road
Speaking of dirt: there is no shortage of off-road trails in the Black Hills, so if you’re looking to leave tarmac, head for Hill City and take your pick: from graded dirt roads to rocky trails, the entire Black Hills National Forest offers plenty of dirt riding. You can follow old logging roads across the woods, find some steep climbs, and enjoy the breathtaking mountain scenery around every mile; it’s perfect if you’re aboard a dirt bike or a smaller dual sport, but might be trickier on large adventure bikes as some trails get muddy. To find the best off-road trails in the Black Hills, it’s best to ask around the Park Ranger stations – the locals will be able to point you in the right direction. Some trails may require a permit, depending on the area.
Black Hills has some of the best off-road riding in entire South Dakota, so even if you can only spare a day, make sure to test your tires on local dirt; if you’re unsure about riding the trails alone, there’ll be plenty of riders to buddy up with at the get On! ADV Rally. To spruce up your skills beforehand, sign up to the off-road training classes at the event – we hear RawHyde is preparing some amazing courses and drills for all skill levels and bikes.
Rapid City – Sturgis via Nemo
Another quick loop for a day’s ride, the Nemo route offers some more rugged South Dakota scenery and plenty of curves. From Rapid City, jump on Nemo Road heading North and enjoy the twisties – there will be plenty of fast bends, and from Nemo onwards, the Vanocker Canyon Road is where you can really open up that throttle enjoying a stunning mountain road with big, generous curves. The Vanocker Canyon Road will deposit you back in Sturgis, and from here, you can add the Spearfish – Savoy loop or head back South through Rochford and into the Black Hills National Forest, adding Mount Rushmore and Hood Tunnel before returning back.
This route is very popular among motorcyclists, so you won’t have the place to yourself, but the area is so scenic it’s more than worth sharing the road.
6. Yellowstone National Park
If you’re coming to Get On! ADV Rally from the West, or if you have several more days to spare, consider adding Yellowstone National Park to your itinerary. One of the oldest and most iconic National parks in the country, Yellowstone offers scenery that’s simply out of this world – from crazy-colored landscapes and geysers to herds of free-roaming bison and stunning mountain landscapes, Yellowstone is a must-see if you’re new in the area. Yellowstone s also easily accessible by motorcycle: the entire figure-of-eight loop across the Park can be ridden in a day. Along the way, you’ll see the Old Faithful geyser, the thermal springs, the otherworldly rock formations, and the lava fields. Yellowstone is so vast you can easily spend several days riding around and there are lodging options if you’re planning to stay.
Alternatively, you can pair the South Dakota – Yellowstone adventure with the nearby Beartooth Pass. Beartooth Pass, located between Wyoming and Montana, is an adrenaline-inducing road climbing to over 10,900 feet of elevation and offering some seriously steep grades and lots of switchbacks along the way. Starting in Cooke City – Silver Gate, follow the Beartooth Highway climbing higher and higher until you reach the Beartooth Pass Vista Point revealing the rugged, sometimes snow-capped (even in the summer) peaks of the mountains. Then, continue East toward Red Lodge enjoying the road knotting itself up in hairpins and twists; Red Lodge, an old bootlegging town, offers several lunch options, a good stop before resuming your journey East towards South Dakota.
On the other hand, Beartooth Highway is probably a lot more fun riding East to West as this way, you will be climbing rather than descending. Then again, depending on where you’re going – to or from South Dakota – Beartooth is worth is either way as the scenery here is so wild and rugged it’s a must-see.
7. Badlands National Park
If Yellowstone is too far, the South Dakota Badlands may be the next best thing. Located just 86 miles East of Sturgis, Badlands is an incredibly stunning area boasting otherworldly rock formations and a landscape that resembles the surface of the Moon. Easily accessible via scenic local roads – Route 240 cuts straight across the heart of the Badlands National Park – and just a day’s ride from Sturgis, the Badlands is the perfect getaway for a day or two exploring the colorful rock formations.
Whether you’re looking for short rides around Sturgis for the Get On! ADV Rally or hoping to explore South Dakota over longer distances, be sure to pack both sunscreen and a warmer layer. In July, the temperatures will be hot and the sun intense, but at higher elevations, an extra layer won’t hurt. As the entire area is extremely popular among motorcycle riders, it’s best to book lodging in advance and research campgrounds if you plan to camp out – it can get busy during the summer months. Finally, beware of animals on the roads, especially following the smaller, narrower mountain routes: Black Hills is brimming with wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled, especially at dusk.
Have you ridden South Dakota before? Share favorite routes and tips in the comments below!