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Scenic Drives

Pigtail Bridge

Needles Highway

Distance: 14 miles
Expected travel time: 45-60 minutes
Tunnels: Tunnel 5 (Near Needle's Eye), 8' 4" wide by 12' 0" high;
Tunnel 6, 9' 0" wide by 12' 3" high. View map

The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen and rugged granite mountains.

The road's name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle's Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.

Iron Mountain Road

Distance: 17 miles
Expected travel time:
45-60 minutes
Tunnels: Tunnel 1, 14' 0" wide by 12' 9" high (has bypass);
Tunnel 2, 13' 2" wide by 12' 2" high (has bypass); Tunnel 3, 13' 4" wide by 12' 4" high. View map

The Iron Mountain Road is a work of art in itself. The highway connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The highway passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Black Hills and including three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. The road is famous for the "Pigtail Bridges" that allows travelers to drop or gain altitude quickly.

The highway was constructed in the 1930s under the direction of Governor Peter Norbeck, who is also known as the "Father of Custer State Park." Norbeck said of the Iron Mountain Road, "this is not meant to be a super highway, to do the scenery justice you should drive no more than 20 mph and to do it full justice you should simply get out and walk." Experience the road that engineers once said couldn't be built; you'll be happy you did.

Wildlife Loop Road

Distance: 18 miles
Expected travel time: 45 minutes

Wildlife Loop Road twists and turns its way through the prairie and ponderosa pine-studded hills that harbor many of the park's wildlife species. On most days guests will come face to face with the number one inhabitant of the park, our 1,300 free roaming buffalo.

What you'll see

White-tailed and Mule deer are often seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and if you're lucky, you may see elk, big horn sheep, or even a mountain lion.

Two of the most colorful characters along the way are the prairie dogs and a band of the parks free-loading burros.

When to travel

The best time to view animals along the Wildlife Loop Road is early morning or late in the evening, just before sunset.