Western Adventure: Black Hills – Needles Highway

June 3rd, 2022:

Fueled by a hot cup of State Game Lodge coffee, I hit the road for a day of Black Hills adventure in and around Custer State Park just after eight a.m.

Custer provides unlimited opporunities for breathtaking views, wilderness pursuits and resort fun. I have limited time to explore, and wanted to make sure I maximized my last full day in the area before I drive west towards Yellowstone.

I made my way up towards the Legion Lake junction veering north towards The Needles Highway.

The Needles Highway is one of the most photographed roads in the United States – it is a marvel and engineering that forces drivers to slow down and enjoy the view. The road is not for the faint of heart but worth winding through.

Deemed impossible to construct, The Needles Highway cuts through the heart of the Black Hills Cathedral Spires, twisting with hairpin turns through pine and spruce forests, across meadows and literally through the eye of the needle.

The Needles Highway was constructed in 1922 under the guidance of conservationist Senator Peter Norbeck.

Norbeck, known as the Father of Custer State Park, loved the Black Hills and fought to preserve the land and showcase the natural beauty in promoting a tourism economy. With the advent of automobile tourism, he wanted to ensure that visitors didn’t speed through the scenery, but would be able to enjoy the roads as if they were hiking or riding on horseback.

The Needles Highway with switchbacks and tiny eye tunnels -you need to SLOW town and take in the immense and vast beauty of this place.

Driving The Needles Highway with the rocky spires towering the sky like Cathedrals – one cannot help but feel as though they are on a heavenly road. I found myself in prayer with every bend and break in the awesome beauty.

The sixteen mile road has multiple scenic turnouts for photo ops. But following the spirit of Norbeck, I invite you to pause at the turnouts and just breathe in the view and enjoy the moment. The Black Hills have a mystic beauty. The Cathedral Spires – God’s creation of wonder in stone against light.

The terminus of the Needle’s Highway winds to Sylvan Lake and the Black Elk Peak area.

Sylvan Lake is one of the most unusal geological areas of the park and a beautiful place for a hike – I had hoped to get into a lakeside walk, but unfortunately as I arrived at Sylvan Lake around ten a.m. the blue skies had quickly turned to gray and a steady rain set in.

I took time to visit the lakeside giftshop where I grabbed a bottled water and loaded up on postcards…we’ll revisit Sylvan Lake when the sun peeks back out later in the day.

For now, I decided to return to the Wildlife Loop. The area is one of my favorites in the park and I wanted to see the bison again.

Luckily within the hour the sun came out and the rain dissippated.

Reviewing the map I decided to spend the next few hours taking on the famed Iron Mountain Road.

Like the Needles, the Iron Mountain Road is defined by winding sharp turned roads, switchbacks. The Iron Mountain Road was designed to connect Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore and offers unparalleled views of America’s monument in stone.

In my next blog post we’ll navigate the winding Iron Mountain Road and explore Mt. Rushmore!!!

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