Life is short, take the curves: Needles Highway, SD

Needles Hwy, Custer State Park SD

South Dakota’s Custer State Park may be on your list of best places to visit for a chance sighting of buffalo in the Wildlife Scenic Loop.

But for sheer scenery you don’t want to miss Needles Highway.

Granite formations on Needles Highway

Needles is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway named for former SD Governor Peter Norbeck who mapped out the entire length of Needles Highway on foot or on horseback. The highway was completed in 1922.

Doane Robinson, credited with the idea of carving likenesses of famous people in stone in the Black Hills, originally thought that the Needles area would be a good spot for the four presidents of Mount Rushmore. But the idea was rejected for several reasons, one being the poor quality of granite for such a project.

Needles Highway is named for the spiked, needle-like formations of granite rocks flanked by aspen, spruce, birch, and ponderosa pines. And the combination takes your breath away — that, and the twists and turns!

With only a 14-mile stretch along SD-87, looking at Needles Highway on a map might lead you to allot half an hour or so for touring. But with hairpin turns, narrow stretches of road (sometimes blocked with construction and repair vehicles), and breathtaking scenery, you’ll want to drive at a snail’s pace just to take it all in. (Maybe an hour will do you well.)

Motorcyclists taking a break after negotiating the twisty turns of Needles Highway

There is a caution, however: quick turns and unparalleled scenery make it a joy for the adventurous but a possible headache for anyone in a large RV or motor home. The Needle’s Eye Tunnel (you want to see this one!) measures 8′ 9″ wide by 9’8″ high, so it’s a fat-man’s squeeze for vans and the like.

Needles Eye Tunnel: It’s a squeeze!

Parking is at a premium on crowded days in the area around the Needles Eye Tunnel (near the formation known as Needle’s Eye pictured in the top photo above). But travelers want time to explore, take pictures, and breathe in the beauty. Look for bump-outs and pull-over spots in various places along the highway, all worthy of photos.

There’s usually a wait to drive through the tunnel — or just to take pictures. But worth it!

If you’re visiting South Dakota’s Custer State Park (one of the largest state parks in the U. S.), take time to take the curves.

Needles Highway does not disappoint!

Stay safe out there,

Rusha & Bert

Travel Notes

  • To make sure that Needles Highway is open when you’re traveling, visit South Dakota DOT for the latest travel information.
  • Needles Highway generally closes after the first snow in mid-October but re-opens in April.
  • There is an entrance fee for Custer State Park: $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle or an annual park entrance fee of $30. See Badlands and Black Hills SD for more info on fees and directions.
  • Get the latest on closures and construction on Custer State Park’s Facebook page.

11 thoughts on “Life is short, take the curves: Needles Highway, SD

  1. Amy

    What an adventure, Rusha. These photos are beautiful. I haven’t been SD. We booked for a trip several months ago, had to cancel it.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Hopefully, we’ll all be able to travel again soon. We may be concentrating our efforts in the U.S., so maybe others will also set their sights on “local” places to see. Thanks for your comment. I hope all is well where you are.

  2. WanderingCanadians

    Look like quite the scenic drive with those rock formations. I enjoyed the playfulness of some of your pictures (especially the ones on an angle or upside down). Thanks for taking us along.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Well, there shouldn’t be any upside down. I’m going to check on that right now. I’m playful, but I’m not accustomed to posting upside down photos. Thanks for letting me know! And thanks for taking a look. This is a beautiful place to see.

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