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
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 winter months due to weather conditions. It’s typically open 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.
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.
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!
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.
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. Which 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.
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.
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Places To Stay Nearby
We spent the night in a 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.