Needles Highway of South Dakota
My XO Adventures Sightseeing Tour of the Black Hills Includes a Needles Highway Drive!
Needles Highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of the most iconic drives in the United States. This route was dreamed up and engineered by Peter Norbeck, who also popularized the area’s famous Cathedral Spires. He had the vision to make Needles Highway an experience that drivers would never forget — and he succeeded.
The 14-mile journey along Needles Highway starts at Sylvan Lake and continues through pine forests, rocky cliffs, narrow tunnels, and deep canyons. As you drive along this winding road, you’ll be surrounded by stunning rock formations that rise from the ground like gigantic fingers — hence the name “Needles Highway”! The drive's highlight is the Needles Eye Tunnel, a narrow passageway you’ll need to navigate carefully.
For those who want to make a day of it, there are plenty of hiking trails and picnic spots along the way. Whether you take your time to admire the Cathedral Spires or speed through the Needles Eye Tunnel – be sure to check out Needles Highway in South Dakota for an unforgettable road trip experience!
Needles Highway Photos
The best time to visit Needles Highway is in June or October. Early in the season there is less traffic and wildflowers galore. The first week of October marks the peak of fall colors and outstanding beauty. The worst time is during Bike Rally, the first two weekends in August.
Along the route, there are three tunnels. They are Hood Tunnel, Needles Eye Tunnel and Iron Creek Tunnel. Don't take an RV!
It is important to have patience not only with taking turns driving through the tunnels, but with other drivers. Stay calm and keep on going. Needles Highway should take no less than 1 hour to travel its length.
Many people travel this road without realizing you are in a Holy Site. This area is sacred. Do not litter, leave anything behind, and if you see trash, please pick it up. We enter as a privilege, and leave with gratitude.
Needles Highway Guide
- Begin your journey from Legion Lake Lodge on Highway 16A
- Print the Map of Custer State Park here.
- Go slow, and let people pass.
- Restrooms are best to use at Legion Lake and Sylvan Lake
- Get out and look around at each marked location.
- Be cautious around corners. Do not take them wide.
- When entering any tunnel, honk the horn a few times.
- Hire a professional to drive the route!
8 Facts About Needles Highway
1. Needles Highway was built between 1926 and 1930
2. Peter Norbeck was influential in the design and construction
3. Citizens of the area couldn't justify the expense, and nicknamed is the Needless Highway.
4. Needles Highway is 14 miles long.
5. Hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders travel Needles Highway each year.
6. The Cathedral Spires along Needles Highway was the inspiration for Mount Rushmore.
7. The Needles Eye is located in the parking area just west of the Needles Eye Tunnel. So many people miss it.
8. Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bison, deer, marmots, chipmunks and elk can be seen along the route.
Other figures considered were Oglala Chief Red Cloud, Lewis and Clark, and Buffalo Bill Cody. Gutzom Borglum is said to have wanted to appeal to a larger audience, which is why we have the four Presidents today.
The truth of the matter is Mount Rushmore was designed to bring visitors to South Dakota, and for the Federal Government to pay for it. Do you think the feds would pay for Chief Red Cloud to be carved?
The original concept of Mount Rushmore bringing tourism to the Black Hills worked. It still works today, and is likely the reason for your visit. We like to think of Mount Rushmore as a great way to begin with a story of the Black Hills that is so much more than the mountain!