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A New 1,374-Mile Bike Route Between Yellowstone and Minneapolis Is All About Natural Wonders and National Landmarks

By Maggie Fuller

Jul 8, 2020

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The Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Route passes through Badlands National Park.

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The Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Route passes through Badlands National Park.

Cyclists on the Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Trail will visit the plains of Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands of South Dakota, and more.

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For those dreaming of an epic cycling trip, the new Parks, Peaks, and Prairies Bicycle Route (PPP) should be at the top of their list. The 1,374-mile itinerary connects the Midwestern United States’ bike-friendly towns and winds through some spectacular wide-open spaces, including Yellowstone National Park, the plains of Wyoming, Devils Tower National Monument, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands of South Dakota. 

The route, which was researched, planned, and created by the Adventure Cycling Association, is divided into three sections, and it does a good job balancing scenic cruise-y stretches with challenging climbs.

Starting in West Yellowstone, Montana, the first section cuts through the national park, skirting geothermal hot spots, waterfalls, and green valleys, before heading up into the Absaroka Range. The route then follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River down into the Bighorn Basin, where it meanders through the area’s many-layered plateaus before gaining altitude again in the Bighorn Mountains. Here, cyclists will crest the Powder River Pass, which has an elevation of 9,675 feet—the highest point on the entire route, before plunging down into the windswept Great Plains.

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The second and most action-packed section starts in the city of Gillette, Wyoming, heading east along I-90 until it veers off to follow the Belle Fourche River for a while, passing near Devils Tower National Monument, which, the Adventure Cycling Association points out, is a worthwhile detour. After stopping to talk shop with the local biking community in Spearfish, South Dakota, cyclists will tackle the steep grades and sharply curving roads of the arduous Black Hills. Around here, the route merges with the gentle and scenic George S. Mickelson Trail, the first rail trail in South Dakota. An optional alternative route follows Needles Highway, which carves through towering spires and other geologic formations, before meeting the main trail near Mount Rushmore National Monument. From the famous mountain, the route continues with a few different options through Badlands National Park, following the popular Loop Road and pausing at Pinnacles Overlook, before finishing up on the wide, flat highways in the middle of South Dakota. The terrain here might be easy, but the high winds can be a challenge. 

The third section picks up on those same flat highways, eventually transitioning onto quiet highways that run through countryside and farmlands increasingly dotted with lakes en route to Minneapoils, Minnesota. It’s a wonderfully serene cap to the route, traversing major rivers, including the Minnesota, Crow, and Mississippi, and passing through bike-friendly towns like Hutchinson, which features a huge park system full of bike trails worth spending a day or two exploring. 

Cyclists along the PPP can also connect to other well-known routes, including the TransAmerica Trail, the Northern Tier route, and the Lewis and Clark Trail.  

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The Adventure Cycling Association launched its first route, the TransAmerica Trail, in 1976. Now, with the completion of the PPP, it boasts a network of 50,000 miles of mapped cycling trails across the country, including the bikepacking Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, as well as a number of east-west and north-south corridors, such as the Bicycle Route 66/Chicago to New York City and Atlantic and Pacific Coast routes, and one that follows that of the Underground Railroad. 

“While 2020 might not be the ideal time to ride the full Parks, Peaks, and Prairies route,” said Carla Majernik, the Adventure Cycling Association’s director of routes and mapping, in a statement, “it’s a great time to tackle smaller sections if you live nearby or to plan for riding in 2021 and beyond.” 

>>Next: Ride On—5 New Bike Routes Through America’s Offbeat Locales

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