Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway

We took Highway 16 to Iron Mountain Road to get to Custer State Park. Iron Mountain Road goes through Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Custer State Park.

Planned by Governor Peter Norbeck, the ninth governor of South Dakota, Iron Mountain Road is a gorgeous drive of twists, hairpin turns, and narrow single roads through tunnels framing Mt Rushmore. Built with tourists in mind, the 17 mile long highway often has speed limits of 15 mph to get you through the sharp turns. The highway meanders up and down the gorgeous Black Hills with beautiful vistas of the forest and peak a boo views of Mt Rushmore.

Iron Mountain Road will bring you to the entrance of Custer State Park. Custer State Park is South Dakota’s first and largest state park at over 71,000 acres.  The park only costs $15 for a 7 day pass. We took the 18 mile Wildlife Loop Road in hopes of seeing some of the 1300+ head of bison. Near the entrance a sign states “Buffalo are dangerous. Please, do not approach. animals.” How did they know that I just want to ride the buffalo? Buffalo are right up there with giraffes, we could have races!

Before we started the loop we came across mountain goats by the entrance sign. We saw mule deer, pronghorns, and bison in the far distance about mile away and the begging burros. The burros once took visitors to the top of Harney Peak. Once the rides were discontinued, the burros were released into the park.

Stop at the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center or the Wildlife Station Visitor Center to learn more about the area. Pick up a Pups Program activity book for kids ages 4-6 and learn how they can earn a patch. Older kids 7-12 can participate in the Junior Naturalist program to earn a certificate, gold seal and embroidered patch.

The 18 mile Wildlife Loop through prairie and ponderosa pine forest took us about an hour to drive through.  Although we didn’t see any herds of bison up close, we did see three bull bison in a clearing. I recommend going earlier in the morning or late afternoon for a chance to see the bison herds closer to the road. The bison are also more active Mid-July to Mid-August when it is breeding season.

We took Needles Highway out of the park. Also planned by Governor Norbeck, Needles Highway is a scenic 14 mile section of highway 87. This stretch of highway gives tourists more great views of the Black Hills, two more very narrow tunnels, and views of granite spires and Needles Eye. 

I feel we only scratched the surface of the park during our visit and could have easily spent a few days exploring the park. Custer State Park could be your destination point. The park has nine campgrounds, Seventeen hiking trails go through the park ranging from 0.5 miles to 10.3 miles. Visitors can boat and/or fish at one of CSP’s four lakes, Sylvan Lake, Legion  Lake, Stockade Lake, or Center Lake.

Lunch at Sylvan Lake

Upcoming events include the Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival Sept 25& 26 and The 45th Annual Buffalo Roundup Sept 27 when the bison are round up to be tested, vaccinated and branded. Next year don’t miss the annual Open House and Free Fishing Weekend, and National Trails Days

About Theresa Jorgensen

Theresa is the mother of four including twins. She is the owner of SixSuitcaseTravel, a travel site for big families of 5, 6, 7, 8. She enjoys helping other big families build life-long travel memories. Her family's travel bucket list includes DC, Yellowstone, London and anywhere in the Caribbean.

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2 thoughts on “Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway

  1. Yes we drove through that tunnel – its only 8’4″ wide and 12′ tall! The kids thought it was cool. You doubt your car will make it through when you drive up to it!

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