Navigating The Needles Highway
We spent four days in Custer State Park and wish we would of had time for more. It’s an amazing place for wildlife viewing, hiking and scenic drives. One of those drives is the 14 mile stretch of Highway 87 located within the park called the Needles Highway. Completed in 1922 the Needles Highway is part of the greater Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway.
There are a couple trails accessible from this drive including the Cathedral Spires trail, which was amazing, so it was a no-brainer to drive the entirety of the Needles Highway on our visit. The road is closed in the winter though so plan your visit accordingly. During the drive you will pass through pine and spruce forests. You will also see meadows surrounded by birch and aspen trees.
The most impressive sights though are the granite formations the highway is named after. These needle-like rock spires surround the area reaching impressive heights. There are multiple pull-offs along this windy sometimes narrow road to stop at and enjoy the incredible views while snapping a pic or two.
I believe the speed limit is only 35 mph on this stretch of highway and there’s a good reason for it. Blind curves and narrow stretches mean taking extra precautions while driving. I would not bring trailers, RV’s or larger vehicles on this drive.
The highway passes through two tunnels. Iron Creek Tunnel is 8’9″ wide x 10’10” tall. The more widely known Needles Eye Tunnel is only 8’0″ wide x 9’9″ tall. So if you are driving a van or smaller RV make sure you know your dimensions before traveling the highway, because you might not fit. There are pull-offs on each side of the tunnel so you can get out and take pics.
The tunnels were made by blasting through solid granite. Each tunnel is one lane only so make sure you check before heading through. The “needles eye” opening in the rock formation the tunnel is named for was formed over time from erosion caused by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. While I got multiple pics of the tunnel I somehow never got a pic of the actual eye (sorry about that).
Is the drive worth it?
In my opinion, it’s absolutely worth the time. It’s a gorgeous scenic drive worthy of it’s name and fame. Stop at pull-offs to admire the views and truly soak up the beauty of the Black Hills. I highly recommend the Cathedral Spires hike if you have time. You will also drive right by Sylvan lake which you must stop at. There is a very easy mile hike around the lake which is one of the most picturesque spots in the Black Hills.
Editor’s Note: On their website Custer State Park list the dimensions of the Needles Eye Tunnel as 8’9″ wide x 9’9″ tall. On a map they gave us though it is listed as only 8’0″ wide x 9’9″ tall. If your vehicle is close to these numbers I would call them to confirm the proper dimensions before attempting to drive the highway.