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Driving Down The Needles Highway In South Dakota

Driving Down The Needles Highway In South Dakota

You know those scenic drives where you can’t believe what’s outside your window and you keep pulling over for pictures? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like driving down the Needles Highway in South Dakota. Expect to see crazy rock formations and epic landscapes in the Black Hills.

We found ourselves turning around and driving back through the Needles Eye tunnel on Needles Highway three times. We’ve put together everything you need to know about the Needles Highway.

Needles Highway South Dakota

Panorama of an outlook over the Needles Highway in South Dakota

Where is the Needles Highway?

The Needles Highway is part of the South Dakota 87 toll road that is located inside Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The portion of the highway is called the Needles Highway due to the tall granite peaks aka needles.

It’s 14 miles long with tons of granite needles, sharp turns, and low rock tunnels. It’s located only 30 miles from Rapid City and 35 minutes from Mount Rushmore. It’s one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.

When Was The Needles Highway Constructed?

The highway was completed in 1922 when it was told it would be impossible to complete. The whole road was marked by foot & horseback by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck.

Related Article: South Dakota Road Trip

When is the Needles Highway open?

The highway is closed during the winter months due to weather conditions. It’s typically open from April through October. We took our South Dakota road trip the first week of May and was open HOWEVER it did snow while driving on the Needles Highway.

Entrance Fee

You’ll have to pay the Custer State Park admission fee of $20 per vehicle/ $10 per motorcycle which allows you to visit the park for up to 7 days. If you are traveling non-stop on US Highway 16A tell the park ranger and you’ll be exempt from the admission fee.

Related Article: Things to do in South Dakota

Fold your mirrors in for the Needles Tunnel along this famous highway

Needles Eye Tunnel

The most famous part of the drive is the Needle Eye Tunnel. This one-way tunnel is only  8′ 4″ wide by 12′ 0″ high. Before entering the tunnel make sure no other car is coming from the other end and gauge the size of your vehicle. It’s a tight fit!

The needles eye just outside the needles eye tunnel along the highway in custer state park

Make sure to pull over and check out the actual rock formation that looks like an eye of a needle and where the highway got its name. It really does look like an eye of a needle.

Things To Know When Driving the Needles Highway

It’s a windy road that weaves through Custer State Park so don’t be in a rush. Slow down and enjoy the scenery. On average, the speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Give yourself about 45 to 60 minutes to drive the entire 14 miles.

Even though it is called a highway it is most common with tourists and not used by locals on a daily basis.

Out look between Custer State Park and Black Hills national forest

My favorite outlook just outside of Custer State Park (where I could legally fly my drone)

There are several places to pull off to take in the landscapes. The rock formations that pop out of the ground are out of this world. There are several pull-offs for some spectacular views.

Despite lots of misinformation online, as of 2017 drones are not permitted in Custer State Park and along the Needles Highway. In previous years they were allowed, but in 2017 South Dakota State Parks adopted national parks rules in regards to drones. This is really too bad because the park would look sick from above and in the spring months there’s hardly anyone in the park. Regardless the park is beautiful through the lens of a flying or non-flying camera.

Sylan Lake in Custer State Park just before the Needles highway

Other Things To Do In Custer State Park

If you have time, give yourself the entire day to explore the park. There are tons of great hikes, or you can rent a kayak, go on a horseback guided tour, join a Buffalo Jeep safari, and much more. We highly suggest spending a night or two either camping in the park or in a nearby hotel.

Rent an entire Cabin on Airbnb. Get a $40 credit when you book your trip! –>> sign up here!

Log cabin at sunrise on a south dakota road trip

Places To Stay Nearby

We spent the night in Hill City so that we were able to visit Custer State Park over two days and drive Needles Highway twice. The first day we visited we ended up in a whiteout snowstorm with no view, so it was a must to return the next day. The Sylvan Lake Lodge has great views of the lake and located right in the park.

Check Nearby Hotel Rates | | Expedia | Orbitz

pinterest pin for the post on the Needles highway with text over

Have you driven down Needles Highway? Any tips you’d like to add leave them below in the comments we’d gladly add them in.


Jeffery J Alenski

Saturday 24th of November 2018

Drove the needle highway 2 years ago with family. It was everything dwscribed above and then some. There are places to pull over ao you and the kids can explore till your legs say uncle. I have some great pictures I' love to post.


Saturday 3rd of November 2018

Just left SD. NEEDLES IS A MUST DO. TUNNELS georgous. Scenery awsome. Leave the Rv behind. Double tunnel with view of mt rushmore when exiting amazing

Fred Campisano

Tuesday 30th of October 2018

The sights in Custer State Park are insanely beautiful and have to be experienced first hand to be truly appreciated. A must for everyone's bucket list.

Jeannie Iverson

Sunday 28th of October 2018

Hi all We just left Custer State Park and can hardly wait to go back. We have a 350 Duli so driving on the Needles Highway didnt happen, there is NO WAY you will fit without ripping off your fenders. However, you can still drive toward the Needle Tunnel, park, and walk through it. Just doing that was worth the price of admission. We went hiking around Sylvan lake with our 2 dogs after and that was awesome. Our dogs are both 10y/o and they were able to do the hike around the lake with no problem. Last note: we have a truck camper and staged at Game Lodge Campground. It was fantastic, super clean with REALLY NICE showers and bathrooms in addition to having full hookups. They were also celebrating their 1st annual Ranger led Halloween night hike and many of the rv's were decorated with orange lights and other fun Halloween decor. The finishing touch for a great day; the Ranger educating us that they have the largest wild herd of bison in the nation that are cared for and managed sustainably. Then we saw two bison on the road next to our truck on our way out of the park; spectacular!!! They also have horse camping with cabins so we will be back FOR SURE!!

Michael Rykhus

Sunday 26th of July 2020

I drove my 2002 Dodge dually through that tunnel. Got a standing ovation from a bunch of bikers when I emerged. Couldn’t put our fingers on the outside of our mirrors or would have scraped our knuckles.


Monday 29th of October 2018

The narrowest tunnel is 8'-4", we saw some pretty big buses go through - but measure twice, get stuck none! It's an awesome part of the world here!


Monday 24th of September 2018

We were just there today. Breath taking! Even had two mountain goats on the road! You should stop ar Sylvan lake and climb on the rocks. So fun!


Monday 1st of October 2018

That's awesome! It's such a great drive!