Custer State Park Scenic Drives

Threading the Needles Eye Tunnel

Threading the Needles Eye Tunnel


The mountainous scenic drives around Custer State Park include multiple tunnels.

The most famous is Iron Mountain Road with 3 stone tunnels that frame the view of Mount Rushmore.  The Needles Highway has 2 one-lane tunnels.


Iron Mountain Road | 18 miles

Iron Mountain Road is an 18 mile stretch along highway US 16A North.  The scenic drive runs between Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. The road is famous for its beautiful views, one-lane tunnels, and loops of wooden bridges with 360 degree turns where the road completely circles around and passes over itself, as it climbs the side of Iron Mountain.  At the summit is a panoramic view of the mountains, including Mount Rushmore. In all, the road winds through 3 tunnels, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and 3 pigtail turns.

Iron Mountain Road — US 16A N

Doane Robinson, 13' 2" Wide 12' 2" High

C.C. Gideon, 13' 0" Wide 11' 0" High

Scovel Johnson, 3' 2" Wide 12' 4" High

Sylvan Lake, view from rocks

Sylvan Lake, view from rocks

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake is the most recognizable of the five Custer State Park lakes, with its smooth giant granite boulders jutting from the placid water.  The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is a simple but beautiful hike that loops around the lake. There's a swimming beach and boat rentals (non-motorized only) where visitors can rent paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards.  Fishing is allowed in any of Custer State Park's lakes with a valid South Dakota fishing license. The lake area also offers picnicking, rock climbing, and additional hiking trails. Trailheads for Black Elk (Harney) Peak and The Needles are located in the parking lots.  The historic Sylvan Lake Lodge provides lodging and dining and there are campsites and a general store.

Sylvan Lake Road — SD 87/89, North of Sylvan Lake

Hood Tunnel 10' 6" Wide 9' 10" High

Needles Highway | 14 miles

Custer State Park is famously known for rock formations called the Needles - eroded granite pinnacles.  The Needles Highway, also Sylvan Lake Road, leads to the Needles, through ponderosa pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.  The Needles Highway is 14 miles long, winding through two one-lane tunnels. Sylvan Lake and the Needle’s Eye are two recommended stops. Expected travel time is one hour.

Needles Highway — SD 87 N

Needles Eye Tunnel, 8' 4" Wide 11' 3" High

Iron Creek, 9' 0" Wide 11' 4" High

» Expected Travel time 45 to 60 minutes

» Closed in the winter

Wildlife Loop Road | 18 miles

Wildlife Loop Road is an 18 mile drive through open grasslands, pine covered hills, and red canyons.  The best time for wildlife viewing is early morning or evening. You may see buffalo, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer, elk, coyote, prairie dog, wild burros and numerous bird species including wild turkey.  Park rules prohibit feeding any wildlife in the park.

» Expect travel time of two to three hours

» Open year-round

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, by Mount Rushmore and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area.  Within Custer State Park, the byway follows Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway. Shaggy white mountain goats, deer and chipmunks are among the most commonly seen wildlife along the way.  You will want to devote most of a day’s time to the byway. Count on a visit to Mount Rushmore as well as many stops for photos along the way.

» Expect travel time of about two to three hours.