Threading the “Needle’s Eye” on South Dakota’s Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

    If you like twisty roads, beautiful views, and a good measure of patriotic flair, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway of South Dakota is the only way to get to Mount Rushmore…

    These days, getting to Mount Rushmore is no big feat… Just a quick cruise from Rapid City then down through Keystone, and presto, you’re staring at four giant presidents carved into the granite. While this may be the most direct route, it skips one of the best drives in the entire nation: the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.

    Combining Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, Sylvan Lake Road, and Horse Thief Lake Road, this 70-mile route has everything from majestic views to wildlife spotting. Originally built for very practical purposes (accessing Mount Rushmore), today it is a favorite byway for sports car enthusiasts, motorcyclists en route to Sturgis, and anyone who enjoys a twisty road and a mountain view.

    What’s waiting for you on the Peter Norbeck Byway? Well, let’s start with the most obvious…

    Mount Rushmore

    Funded largely through the federal fundraising efforts of U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck himself, Mount Rushmore made South Dakota a tourist destination from the moment the first granite face was unveiled years ago.

    Today, it continues to attract visitors from all over the world and is a “bucket list” item for almost every American. While at Mt. Rushmore, hike the Presidential Trail, stop by Borglum’s “Sculptors’s Studio” and try some ice cream from Thomas Jefferson’s very own recipe.


    Like tunnels? You’re in luck. Like cool pictures? You’re in better luck. Six tunnels await you on the Peter Norbeck Byway, and some give you a pretty unbelievable opportunity to take pictures of your favorite cars or motorcycles with Mount Rushmore in the background.

    Pigtail bridges

    Originally an ingenious way for engineers to carve a road up and down steep elevations without taking too much space, the “pigtail” bridges of the byway are now a driver or rider’s dream come true as they wrap their way through the Black Hills.

    Needles Highway

    Uniquely different from Iron Mountain Road and its pigtail bridges is the Needles Highway. Dramatic spires seem to rise and fall around around before culminating in the “Needles Eye and Tunnel.” As you can see, it’s pretty dramatic…

    Nature, nature, and more nature

    From the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve to Custer State Park, the Peter Norbeck Byway gives you a mixture of grasslands, Black Hills forests, gorgeous lakes, and plenty of opportunities to spot all sorts of animals.

    For a Black Hills excursion unlike any other, give yourself a day or two to enjoy the exciting curves and tranquil beauty of the Peter Norbeck Byway.

    If you need help planning your Black Hills and Badlands adventure through South Dakota, check out this website with plenty of sample itineraries and pictures to make you want to rent a car 10 minutes ago.

    Editor’s Note:

    While we’ve been to the Black Hills on more than one occasion, we snapped some of our best pictures last year (2016) on MINI Takes the States. This cross-country road trip for charity features several HUNDRED MINIs and their feisty owners. Since we know they like pictures of themselves out motoring, we’ve got a few more pictures below just for them…

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    • Show Comments (1)

    • Don Bechtel

      We found the public area in Mt Rushmore National Park to be too steril; it seemed like nothing but concrete and stainless steel railings. Oh yeah, there was that carving in the rock too.

      Our day came alive, however, once we entered Custer State Park. Between the the narrow rock passages and the profile view of George Washington we experienced one of the best days of our trip.

      Your article and pictures brought back great memories, thanks.

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