Maneuvering Needles Highway is a Challenge But a Must See on the Way to Custer State Park

Large Bison eating grass

Published Dunndeal Gazettes, August 2022

One of the greatest blessings we have is to be able to travel across our country and see all that God has created. The mountains, valleys, grasslands, rivers, and lakes are all reminders of God’s prominence in our lives.

We were blessed to take a trip to South Dakota recently. Our adventure included many sites to see, including Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, the underground caverns, the desert badlands, Devil’s Tower, and more. One of the most memorable rides was through Needles Highway, with an opportunity to see the crystal-clear water of Sylvan Lake, on our way to Custer State Park.

Needles Highway is Full of Hairpin Turns and Majestic Views

Needles Highway is best known for its iconic mountain views and nerve-wracking hairpin turns. The challenges are not limited to the turns. In order to enjoy the scenic trip, you must maneuver through small rock “tunnels.” The first is Hood Tunnel, which is 10’ 6” wide x 9’ 10” tall. Next is Needles Eye, which is the narrowest at only 8.4’ wide and 11.3’ tall. The third is Iron Creek Tunnel, which is 9’ wide x 11.4’ tall. I found myself holding my breath as we drove through the narrow openings and wondering how a tour bus can actually fit through these granite tunnels.

The 14-mile road is well worth the challenges, as it overlooks the beautiful mountains with pine and spruce forests. The highway was designed by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

Sylvan Lake has Crystal Clear Water Surrounded by Beautiful Rock Formations

Sylvan Lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder dammed Sunday Gulch. Visitors can enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. A one-mile trail around the lake gives you an opportunity to see the beautiful forest surrounding the lake. If you are the adventurous type, you can climb the numerous large rocks surrounding the lake.

The beautiful lake is the perfect backdrop for weddings and family gatherings. Canoes and kayaks can be rented, but motorized boats are not allowed.

There is a lodge at the lake for overnight visitors. The current Sylvan Lake Lodge was built in 1937, with rooms added in 1991. There are 31 cabins including sleeping cabins, a honeymoon cabin, and housekeeping cabins. The Senator’s Cabin would be great for families as it has five rooms, a full kitchen, and sleeps ten; and the largest cabin is the Cathedral Spires Group Cabin.

Drive Through Custer State Park to see the Amazing Wildlife

Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The 71,000-acre park is home to bison (Tatanka), antelope, prairie dogs, elk, and otherbison laying in grass wildlife.

It was interesting to learn from a park ranger that many times, people will refer to a bison as a buffalo, but there are differences. Bison have a large hump and a beard. Their horns are shorter and sharper than buffalo. They are remarkable creatures, but visitors need to remember they are wild animals, and you must keep your distance. Recently, visitors at Yellowstone have been attacked by bison on three separate occasions because they were too close, and the animals felt threatened.

Custer State Park is located at 13329 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD. To find out more information about the park and surrounding areas, go to