|Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
|Cathedral Spires near the end of the hike.
Named for the needle-like granite formations that reach for the sky, this 14-mile road winds through pine and spruce forests and meadows surrounded by birch and aspen. Plan to spend at least an hour driving the road because you’ll want to stop often and take photos. It’s also very curvy; a safe driving speed is no more than 25 mph with signs often posting limits of 10 or 5 mph.One spot to look for is the Needle’s Eye, a tall rock with an oblong opening created by the forces of wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. Tunnels have been cut through the mountains in many places, and you’ll find two of these on the Needle’s Highway. Our first stop was Sylvan Lake, a beautiful lake surrounded by many large rock formations. A mile-long hike, which we walked the first evening, takes visitors around the lake.
|Rock formations surround Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.
|You might miss the Needle's Eye
if you don't look up!
|Needle's Tunnel was blasted through solid
rock walls. It's one of six such tunnels in
Custer State Park in South Dakota.
We purposely drove to Mount Rushmore from the south on US 16A because exiting a tunnel on Iron Mountain Road provides the first glimpse of the carved presidents’ faces. The day was hazy when we drove this way, but it truly was exciting to see the carved mountain framed by the rock tunnel.
Only a portion of this 18-mile road lies within Custer State Park, but it’s definitely worth driving (again allow plenty of time) for incredible Black Hills scenery and several tunnels blasted through the mountains. Don’t miss this magnificent highway, which was constructed in 1933.
|We're still far away, but seeing the famous faces as we exited
the tunnel on Iron Mountain Road was a thrill.
Custer State Park is one of the few places in the world where you can see bison, white-tailed and mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and prairie dogs and other species in their natural habitat. The main road winds for 18 miles through grasslands and pine-speckled hills with numerous gravel side-paths taking adventurous visitors to more remote parts of the park. Curvy roads serve to keep speeds under 35 mph.
|Hundreds of prairie dogs were scattered in the grasslands.
|Here's looking at you! A bison stares me down
on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park.
|Herds of bison/buffalo roamed the Wildlife Preserve.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier