Natural beauty knows no bounds here in South Dakota’s head-turning Black Hills. Known for its hairpin turns, jaw-dropping valley overlooks, and rugged terrain, the Black Hills remain one of the most beautiful places in North America to simply drive (or ride). Thus, the region is a common gathering place for motorcyclists and those who own a convertible. After all, there’s nothing quite like motoring along the world-famous Needles Highway with the wind streaming through your hair and the sun shining down from above. Today, the Rushmore Express team has gleefully hand-selected three distinctly scenic drives in the Black Hills, all of which require a patient motorist who has ample time to enjoy the natural beauty while simultaneously driving with care.
1. Needles Highway: Center Lake to U.S. Highway 385
Technically, Needles Highway is a loop that connects the Mount Rushmore National Monument, the northern rim of Custer State Park, and the Sylvan Lake area, home to Black Elk Peak and the Cathedral Spires. However, today, we’re going to focus on the 17-mile northbound stretch of pavement from Center Lake (located off Playhouse Road) to U.S. Highway 385. This spellbinding trek twists, turns, elevates, and descends through the region’s prettiest topographical sect. Roadside attractions include the “Hole in the Wall,” three tunnels (including Needles Eye), Sylvan Lake, and a handful of the Midwest’s best hiking trails. The northbound journey allows both the driver and passengers to obtain stellar views of the entire valley at significant elevations. Don’t forget to pull over intermittently to admire the beauty fully.
There’s no denying that the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop is less visually appealing than several other sections of the region. That being said, no other Midwestern landscape features as much roaming wildlife, ranging from herds of bison to curious burros and jovial prairie dogs. Set aside 90 minutes (or so) for this 18-mile loop, which circles approximately 71,000 acres of preserved, uninhabited land. As usual, we recommend starting in the early morning at the “Game Lodge” entrance and driving clockwise. The northeast corner of the loop is typically where the bison herds congregate from sunrise to the late morning hours. Pro tip: Turn off the radio, drive slowly, supply your passengers with binoculars, and let them be your eyes and ears.
3. U.S. 14 Alternate: Spearfish to Roughlock Falls
Whereas Needles Highway is all about the spectacle and Custer State Park is centered around the region’s free-roaming wildlife, U.S. 14 is merely a joy-ride. Start in Spearfish (after a trip to Devils Tower, perhaps?) and motor up into the high mountains. Much of the trip follows serene Spearfish Creek, where families bathe in the summertime and anglers hook wild brown trout. On the southbound journey, you’ll likely spot cars parked along the side of the road near the Spearfish Community Caves, Bridal Veil Falls, the Devil’s Bathtub, Iron Creek, and, eventually, a fork in the road that leads to two more waterfalls: Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls. However, unlike most scenic drives in the Black Hills, U.S. 14 is less about the roadside attractions. In our eyes, the journey is all about the exhilarating climb up Spearfish Mountain en route to a Rocky Mountain-esque aesthetic.
Classic, Affordable Lodging in Keystone, SD
After a scenic drive (or two) in the breathtaking Black Hills, return to Keystone, home to Rushmore Express and Mount Rushmore. We’re minutes away from all of the best adventures and world-famous attractions, as well as a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Rushmore Express remains an idyllic place to rest and relax between adventures to the Devils Tower, the Badlands, Wind Cave, and Wall Drug. On-site amenities include complimentary breakfast, a coffee bar, free parking, and luxury suites, many of which feature a fireplace and a private Whirlpool tub.