Parks, Peaks, and Prairies

Parks Peaks and Prairies West Yellowstone, MT to Minneapolis, MN 3 Map Set GPX Data | Overview | Buy | Mobile App
1. West Yellowstone, MT to Gillette, WY Detail
2. Gillette, WY to Midland, SD Detail
3. Midland, SD to Minneapolis, MN Detail

Wild places and wide open spaces

The Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Bicycle Route fulfills the request of so many cyclists visiting the ACA headquarters in Missoula for a northern connector between the TransAmerica Trail and the Northern Tier Bicycle Route — one that strings together the iconic American parks of Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, and the famous Black Hills of South Dakota.

But don’t expect the connection to come easily! Located nearly smack dab in the middle are the compact, yet formidable Black Hills. This small mountain range exhibits a network of rollercoasting, winding roads that can frequently rise to 10% grades for short durations. Many of these same roads are very popular for motorcyclists, especially in August for the world’s largest motorcycle rally centered in the nearby town of Sturgis. Roads and crowds notwithstanding, the Black Hills offers scenery and grandeur on a scale that may be surprising to the conventional out-of-state visitor.

The route begins in the gateway community of West Yellowstone, Montana and ends in the “City of Lakes” — Minneapolis, Minnesota. After riding 2.3 miles in Montana, the route enters Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, which is renowned as America’s first national park. The route meanders past numerous geothermal hotspots, plunging waterfalls, and idyllic valleys teaming with wildlife.

After Yellowstone, the route climbs east to Sylvan Pass where it crests the Absaroka Range. From there, it’s nearly 60 miles of downhill along the wild North Fork Shoshone River to the old west town of Cody, Wyoming. Here the route makes a departure from the mountains to enter the vast, windswept country of the Bighorn Basin. Towns are few and far between, and sagebrush and pronghorn abound. The small town of Basin anchors the route in this region, providing valuable services through this stretch of remote country.

Beyond the quaint outpost of Ten Sleep, the route climbs the beautiful Ten Sleep Canyon on its way over the Bighorn Mountains. The route tops out at Powder River Pass, elevation 9,675’, the highest point on the entire route. On the eastern flank of the Bighorns lies the city of Buffalo, the route’s gateway to the Great Plains. The wind in this region can be brutal, so be sure to be mentally prepared for some tough pedaling.

The city of Gillette, known as the “Energy Capital of the Nation”, marks the end of Section 1 of the route. About 30% of the nation’s coal is produced in nearby surface mines, which you’ll see as you enter and exit town.

At Moorcroft, the route departs the I-90 corridor and meanders upstream roughly following the Belle Fourche River for over 40 miles. On clear days, the sharp pinnacle of Devils Tower National Monument comes into view long before you reach it, but when you do, a short side trip to the geologic curiosity is highly recommended. East of Hulett, the route leaves the Belle Fourche River, then tops a watershed divide in montane forest that serves as an appetizer to the strenuous climbs of the Black Hills that lie ahead.

The bike-friendly town of Spearfish greets the cyclist with a network of municipal bike routes, separated paths, and a sprawling city campground that is directly on route. The southern gateway to town is Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway of pine-lined cliffs, waterfalls, and winding roads. This is where the Black Hills begin in earnest for the eastbound traveler. At the height of summer, recreational traffic levels increase on the twisting and rolling Black Hills highways, so stay sharp! Soon, due southwest of the deep-pit gold-mining town of Lead, relief comes as the route hops onto 34 miles of the George S. Mickelson Trail. South Dakota’s first rail-to-trail project, the Mickelson Trail is a separated, crushed limestone and gravel multi-use trail that generally maintains a 4% grade as it quietly passes through small towns, spruce/ponderosa forests, grassy meadows, and narrow valleys. The main route departs the trail in the lively town of Hill City, though an alternate route (not for the faint of heart) continues south before vaulting the cyclist over the jaw-dropping Needles Highway. Note that the alternate roads, besides being steep and excessively curvy, are affected by seasonal closures and often cannot be ridden prior to April. Whatever route is chosen, both lead to the historical — one might say kitschy — town of Keystone, at the doorstep of Mt. Rushmore National Monument.

Escaping the thrum of the Black Hills tourist mecca, the route remains steep and winding northeast to Rapid City, the largest city the route passes through until Minneapolis. Lazily pedal among the cottonwoods along Rapid Creek on the Rapid City Bike Path, which takes you on a tour of many of the city’s green spaces. Eastward, the route continues on relatively low-trafficked SR 44 and while the terrain mellows entering the grassland prairie, the wind can blow something fierce.

To the east, the Badlands “wall” rears up on the horizon as you approach the miniscule settlement of Scenic. Here the cyclist has more choices: continue on main route pavement to the Badlands National Park boundary and begin an assault of several passes along the popular Badlands Loop Rd., or veer north on the remote, unpaved Sage Creek Rd. to avoid the throng of visitors on main park roads. There are rewards, views, and challenges to be had either way, so choose wisely. At a high point next to the Pinnacles Overlook, the route finally, even gracefully, stops all its infernal winding and relaxes into a long straight descent into the world renowned town of Wall, home of the drug-store-turned-tourist-attraction non pareil — Wall Drug.

Turning east at Wall, the route continues a steady, almost meditative, navigation of long, linear highways with unencumbered views to the horizon on either side. The wind will, unfortunately, also continue to hound a cyclist through the expansive prairie grasslands. Along dipping and diving frontage roads, the route passes through a smattering of low-population towns offering a mixed-assortment of services to the wind-weary traveler.

After crossing the wide gape of the Missouri River on the Big Bend Dam Bridge, the route remains straight, but maneuvers the flatter county highways in a more zigzag fashion. Here the eastbound cyclist begins to see a slow change undergoing the surrounding countryside, as lakes dot the pastures and upland game birds splash from roadside bushes. The prairie pothole region affords many opportunities for an evening swim at lakeside campsites, and signals that distance is closing to the Minnesota state line, and ultimately, the City of Lakes. Agriculture and the renewable energy industry have a key foothold in this region, so expect to see evidence of both on your journey.

The terrain remains flat through southwestern Minnesota, with most elevation changes noticeable only when crossing or tracing major watercourses, such as the Minnesota, Crow, and Mississippi Rivers. Hutchinson, whose park system is the second oldest in the U.S. behind only Central Park in New York City, is an eastbound cyclist’s introduction to Minnesota’s world class network of separated bike trails. Starting with the Luce Line State Trail — the first in a long list of well-signed, often paved trails — the route delivers the sojourning rider easily and effortlessly into the heart of Minneapolis.

Photo by Dennis Coello

The route climbs over two major mountain passes, both in Wyoming. Sylvan Pass, at 8,524 feet, marks the beginning of the descent into the Bighorn Basin from the high elevation Yellowstone Plateau. Powder River Pass, 9,675 feet, is the route’s highest point at the crest of the Bighorn Mountains. The climb to Powder River Pass from either direction is one of the most significant climbs in the entire Adventure Cycling Route Network. The terrain becomes more rolling in the vast prairie between Buffalo and Moorcroft as it dips in and out of river and creek drainages. In the island mountain range of the Black Hills, expect similar elevation change but more tortuous roads than in the main Rockies. Short, frequent grades of 10% or greater can occur on these roads. For 34 miles, the climbing is smoothed by the steady railroad grade of the Mickelson Trail, though there are a few short, steep hills. The surface of the trail is crushed limestone and gravel, but ponding can occur in early season rain. The Needles Alternate between Hill City and Keystone offers some of the most strenuous climbing on the entire route. This optional route follows the outrageously scenic Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, two steep, narrow, and winding roads that are dotted with several tunnels and loops. Traffic can be heavy, but speeds are low and the pavement is in good shape. East of Rapid City, the Badlands of South Dakota offer more climbing in the form of an ascent of the “wall” along the paved main route or a backdoor, off-pavement grassland option along the Sage Creek Alternate. In heavy rain, the high clay-content alternate roads can turn into a thin gumbo capable of coating even the most well-lubed drivetrain. East of Wall, the route flattens out entering the main expanse of the Great Plains. The greatest form of elevation change here occurs where the route crosses or traverses major watercourses like the Missouri, Minnesota, and Mississippi Rivers. Expect localized climbs of hundreds of feet in these areas. Otherwise, the route follows county and state highways that undulate to the sweep of the prairie. The final 74 miles of the route assumes a level rail-trail grade on mostly paved surfaces, lasting through to the eastern terminus of the route in Fort Snelling State Park near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

Parks Peaks and Prairies - Main Route
Section Distance Elevation Total Climb Avg. Climb/mile
Total 1287.7 miles Minimum: 700 ft.
Maximum:9,665 ft.
53,465 ft. east bound
59155 ft. west bound
42 ft. per mi. east bound
46 ft. per mi. west bound
1 398.1 miles Minimum: 3,600 ft.
Maximum:9,665 ft.
21,600 ft. east bound
23650 ft. west bound
54 ft. per mi. east bound
59 ft. per mi. west bound
2 379.7 miles Minimum: 1,870 ft.
Maximum:6230 ft.
18,915 ft. east bound
21550 ft. west bound
50 ft. per mi. east bound
57 ft. per mi. west bound
3 509.9 miles Minimum: 700 ft.
Maximum:2,480 ft.
12,950 ft. east bound
13,955 ft. west bound
25 ft. per mi. east bound
27 ft. per mi. west bound
Parks Peaks and Prairies Alternates
Section Name Distance Total Climb Avg. Climb/mile
Needles Alternate 2 34.7 miles 3,510 ft. east bound
4,125 ft. west bound
101 ft. per mi. east bound
119 ft. per mi. west bound
Sage Creek Alternate 2 25.1 miles 1,305 ft. east bound
990 ft. west bound
52 ft. per mi. east bound
39 ft. per mi. west bound

The western half of this route can be ridden from May through October, but the route east of the Black Hills has a wider window of March through November. The high elevation areas of Yellowstone National Park, the Bighorn Mountains, and the Black Hills get heavy winter snow that can begin as early as September and linger into summer. The route in Yellowstone is closed in the winter. US 16 over Powder River Pass in the Bighorn Mountains is open year-round, only closing for major winter snowstorms. The route in the Black Hills is also open in the winter, except for the Needles Alternate which is generally open April to October.

Wind is an ever-present force across the entire route, and summer can bring high temperatures. There are often few trees available for shade and protection from the wind and sun. Do not expect to ride westerly tailwinds all the way east to the Twin Cities, since local conditions from rivers, mountain ranges, and other terrain features have a bigger effect on surface winds. Tornadoes occur in eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota. In the event of a fast-developing storm blackening the sky, seek shelter immediately.

Services options in Yellowstone and the Black Hills are plentiful due to the high volume of tourists, but along some stretches in Wyoming and South Dakota services become sparse and water sources are infrequent. The 95 miles between Buffalo and Gillette and the 70 miles between Rapid City and Interior have very limited services, so make sure to stock up.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota for ten days in early August. Any late summer bicycle tourist planning to ride in this area should carefully consider sharing the roads and services with droves of motorcyclists before setting out.

You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.

Route Highlights

Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Highlights

  • Yellowstone National Park, Section 1
  • North Fork Shoshone River and Canyon, Section 1
  • Buffalo Bill State Park, Section 1
  • Cody, Wyoming, Section 1
  • Ten Sleep Canyon, Section 1
  • Powder River Pass and Bighorn Mountains, Section 1
  • Keyhole State Park, Section 2
  • Devils Tower National Monument, Section 2
  • Vore Buffalo Jump, Section 2
  • Black Hills National Forest, Section 2
  • Spearfish Canyon, Section 2
  • Mickelson Trail, Section 2
  • Custer State Park, Section 2
  • Mount Rushmore National Monument, Section 2
  • Needles Alternate, Section 2
  • Sylvan Lake, Section 2
  • Black Hills Playhouse, Section 2
  • Badlands National Park, Section 2
  • Sage Creek Alternate, Section 2
  • Buffalo Gap National Grassland, Section 2
  • Wall Drug, Section 2
  • Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Section 2
  • Big Bend Dam Bridge over the Missouri River, Section 3
  • Shakespeare Garden and Anne Hathaway Cottage, Section 3
  • Birch Coulee Battlefield, Section 3
  • Oakwood Lakes State Park, Section 3
  • Alexander Ramsey Park, Section 3
  • Dakota Rail Trail, Section 3
  • Carver Park Reserve, Section 3
  • Minneapolis Regional Bike Trails, Section 3
  • Minnehaha Falls, Section 3
  • Historic Fort Snelling, Section 3
  • Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Section 3

More Route Resources


In Yellowstone National Park, bicyclists will encounter paved roads that are narrow and winding.Vehicle traffic can be heavy and there are numerous motorhomes and rigs with trailers. The National Park Service (NPS) suggests cyclists wear high visibility clothing. Front and rear lights will enhance a cyclist’s visibility.

Be aware of “bear jams,” where numerous vehicles will stop on or along the road for wildlife sightings. Drivers may be distracted and not mindful of cyclists.

The NPS requires people to remain at least 100 yards from bears and wolves, and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Bison will commonly be on the road; please wait to pass until they are off the road for the animals’ and your own safety.

Bicyclists must camp in established campgrounds. Visit for more information.

Between Yellowstone and Cody, the route passes through the Wapiti Valley. It parallels the North Fork Shoshone River and is towered over by the stunning Absaroka Range. The route through this section is primarily on U.S. 14/16/20, with good pavement, wide shoulders, and rumble strips on the white line. A short portion of the route travels off the main highway on Stagecoach Trail, a paved road with very light traffic and no shoulders.

This is prime grizzly bear habitat and cyclists should take proper precautions for food storage at night. Some of the National Forest campgrounds may be restricted to hard-sided units only (no tents) during certain times due to grizzly bear activity. Check the Forest Service website ( for closure information at individual campgrounds in the Shoshone National Forest.

About six miles west of Cody, near Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Dam, is the Cody Mountain Tunnel. Cyclists are advised to use extreme caution in the series of three tunnels. There are no shoulders in the tunnels. Two tunnels are very short; however, the third is about 3,500 feet long with overhead lights. Front and rear lights are strongly advised. For westbound cyclists, the tunnels are uphill.

Between Cody and Buffalo, cyclists will encounter the full range of Wyoming landscapes — from pine forested mountain roads to wind-swept grasslands. Services are significant distances apart and cyclists should plan appropriately. The roads range from U.S. highways with shoulders to lightly traversed secondary roads without shoulders.

Powder River Pass, at 9,675 feet in elevation, lies about 35 miles west of Buffalo (with an ascent of 6,000 feet from Buffalo), or about 30 miles east of Ten Sleep, with an ascent of 5,300 feet. Either way, it is a good climb and the highest point on the route.

Between Buffalo and Gillette the route follows U.S. highways 14 and 16, with good pavement. Some sections have shoulders but others have no shoulders — don’t worry, the traffic is light and you will probably see more pronghorns than vehicles. This section is nearly one-hundred miles long and services are few. Plan accordingly.


Most of the Yellowstone area and the high basin country in Wyoming sits on a series of high plateaus surrounded by mountain ranges. This produces a generally cool, semi-arid climate. Mountain ranges such as the Absarokas and Bighorns force westerly winds far aloft, where moisture is condensed and discharged, producing a rainshadow in the basins. Thunderstorms, cloudbursts, and heavy hailstorms are common in the summer.

Although the prevailing winds in this section of Wyoming are from the northwest, they can blow from any direction and at times can be (well, frankly) brutal. Cyclists should be prepare to adjust distances depending on the wind.

Updated: May 21, 2020


This map section travels through the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota following tortuous and scenic roads that are also popular with motorcyclists. Each year in early August, the largest motorcycle rally in the world occurs in and around the otherwise sleepy town of Sturgis and attracts thousands of revelers. Services listed in the directory may be very hard to come by during this week-long fest, and the roads used by the route may be flooded with motorcycle traffic. It is advised to plan a summer bicycle tour accordingly and perhaps avoid the Black Hills during this event. The annual schedule can be found here:

On this map section, you’ll be riding primarily two-lane state and federal highways with overall decent pavement and varying shoulder widths. Traffic is low in the empty high prairie of eastern Wyoming/western South Dakota, though services are sufficiently spaced. There is a ~50 mile stretch between the all service towns of Hulett and Spearfish.

Leaving Spearfish to the south, the route follows US 14A in the beautiful Spearfish Canyon corridor. Eastbound cyclists will be introduced here to the winding, twisty roads of the Black Hills that will become the norm for the next 100 miles. Be extra vigilant for blind curves and an increase in recreational traffic – and of course some big climbs – along the trunk highways of the Black Hills. North of Hill City, the unpaved Mickelson Trail offers a ~34 mile respite from traffic along an old railroad corridor. Early summer thunderstorms can make for a muddy ride on the crushed limestone/gravel surface, but dry season conditions are much better. A 35C or wider tire is recommended. The trail averages a 4% grade but there are a few short steep hills mixed in. Cyclists are required to purchase a trail pass starting at $4/day, available at multiple trailside kiosks. For more information, see

The 34.7 mile Needles Alternate offers hardy cyclists a chance to ride one of the most spectacular mountain highways in South Dakota, perhaps even in all the western U.S. Smooth pavement characterizes Needles Hwy./SR 87 and US16A – together, part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway – but so do stiff climbs, tortuous roads, narrow tunnels, highway loops and a potential conga-line of cars (restrictions are in place for RVs and trailers) creeping along to take in the amazing views. Proper caution need be exercised here especially for heavily-laden cyclists or if storms are brewing. The byway is generally open April – Oct. For more information, see

Many cyclists arriving in Keystone will be interested in the 2.7 mile side trip to visit Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. Note that US 16A and SR 244 to the park is up a very steep hill with over 800 ft. of elevation gain. Traffic can be heavy along this stretch but pavement is smooth and shoulders are very wide.

SR 44 east of Rapid City represents a low traffic “backroad” to Badlands National Park that quickly escapes the city. Services become more sparse, and grasslands and verdant prairie dominate the scenery leading up to the Badlands “wall” near the tiny settlement of Scenic. The 25.1 mi. Sage Creek Alternate offers a remote backdoor to Badlands National Park along unpaved Sage Creek Rd. The gravel road surface can be washboarded in dry season or muddy after rain. There is a significant elevation drop to the creek, and subsequent climb back up in either direction. At Interior, the main route follows Badlands Loop Rd./SR 240 as it climbs up and over the wall along a narrow, shoulderless road that can be busy with tourist traffic. Take time to stop at one of numerous pullouts leading up the passes or the various info sites along the way. Wall is a famous tourist town with every amenity, but reservations are recommended if overnighting. East of Wall, the route follows lonely US 14 along windy prairie all the way to Midland at the section’s end.


South Dakota has a temperate continental type of climate with warm and moderately humid summers and dry and cold winters. The Black Hills in the west mountains receive a high level of precipitation. Summers range from warm to hot with the average high temperature of 80°F to 90°F.

South Dakota is prone to thunderstorms and tornadoes, mainly in the southeastern part of the state that lies in the Tornado Alley of the country, during late spring and early summer. Winds blow at breakneck speeds across the great plains that are devoid of the high mountain ranges that lie westwards.

Updated: May 21, 2020


This map section follows mainly a combination of two-lane secondary state highways and county roads with very low traffic. Shoulders and rumblestrips appear and disappear intermittently, though most cyclists may find themselves taking the lane with the lack of traffic. The pavement is generally good to very good with only a few exceptions. Strong surface winds are persistent across this entire section.

South of Midland, the route heads east along I-90 frontage roads that tend to dip and dive in and out of creekbeds and coulees. Small towns with ample services are met on average every 10 miles until the Missouri River crossing near Fort Thompson. SR 47 between Reliance and Fort Thompson has segments of deteriorating pavement and rubble-strewn shoulders.

East of Wessington Springs, the land flattens toward the Minnesota state line. With the exception of the amenities available in Huron, Cottonwood and Redwood Falls, on-route all service towns are sparse east to Hutchinson. Be prepared to venture off route up to 8 miles if running short on supplies or if in need of bike repair.

Southeast of Badger, the route uses 4 miles of unpaved 203 St. At the time of research, the surface was consolidated and generally smooth. To avoid, from Badger, cyclists can ride east on E. Main St., then south on US 81.

CR 17 east of Hendricks is in close proximity to a large-scale wind farm project being developed through 2023. There may be an increase in truck traffic during that time.

From Buffalo Lake to Minneapolis, roads range from quiet farm land dotted with lakes to the hustle and bustle of the City of Lakes, Minneapolis. Tree-lined bike trails take you through the heart of the city. The roads are gently rolling and the trail sections have no noticeable grade. A short section on SR 7 near St. Bonifacius has a six-foot shoulder and heavier traffic. The road surfaces are good to excellent and are all paved.

The route makes use of the region’s many interconnected bike trails that themselves are a rich history of abandoned rail lines, from the famed Great Northern Railroad, to the Minneapolis and St. Louis, to the Chicago and North Western, to the Electric Short Line Railway. The bike trails followed include the Luce Line State, Dakota Rail, Lake Minnetonka Regional, Cedar Lake Regional, Hiawatha Regional, Midtown Greenway and Minnehaha Trail, and are never far from a magnificent view of a lake surrounded by farmland or a city lake busy with sailboats, kayaks, and paddleboards. The bike trails are paved, except for the Lake Minnetonka Regional trail that is crushed limestone with a good riding surface. The trails are well-marked and maintained, with good signage and many information kiosks.

USBR 45 and USBR 45A have been designated in Minnesota, often on trails. Portions of our route run concurrent with it. For more information and maps see


Summers range from warm to hot with the average high temperature of 80°F to 90°F. Generally, 80 percent or more of thunderstorms occur from May through September in Minnesota. Damaging local windstorms, tornadoes, hail and heavy rains happen with the stronger and more well-developed storms. Watch the horizon and if you see a storm coming, seek shelter.

Updated: May 21, 2020

Updates to Recently Released Maps

If you are planning a bike tour, be sure to get the most recent map updates and corrections for your route by selecting the route, and the appropriate section(s), from the drop-down menu below.

Over time maps become less useful because things change. Every year Adventure Cycling’s Routes and Mapping Department create map updates and corrections for every map in the Adventure Cycling Route Network, which now totals 52,047 miles. With the help of touring cyclists like you, we receive updates on routing, services, camping, and contact information. Until we can reprint the map with the new information, we verify the suggested changes and publish corrections and updates here on our website.

PLEASE NOTE: Covid has been particularly hard on the small businesses along our routes. While we do our best to keep the maps and these online updates current, you may encounter more closed businesses and longer stretches with limited or no services.

Refer to these updates for the most current information we have and submit reports of changes to the Route Feedback Form for the cyclists coming after you.

NOTE: Map updates and corrections only pertain to long term changes and updates. For short term road closures, please see the Adventure Cycling’s Routes Temporary Road Closures discussion in our Forums.