Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path: Driving the Needles Highway

We woke up early this morning.  Everyone was pretty excited for this part of the trip, so we grabbed a quick breakfast at our hotel and got on the road.  Our morning up until close to lunch time was going to be just driving.  Not driving just to get somewhere, but driving to see things.  We were entering the Black Hills National Forest.


The Black Hills is beautiful.  It’s not forest like we think of back in Iowa, nor are the hills what we have here – gently rolling, grassy hills.  These are mini mountains.  Rocky, high, sharp peaked.  Our kids had never seen mountains (yet) so they really thought that’s what these were.

There are several ways to drive through the Black Hills, but nothing is as impressive as Needles Highway.  Needles Highway leads to our next destination – Mount Rushmore.  You can drive it both ways, but really you need to experience the drive up from the south.  The views are simply incredible.


There is a lot of wildlife up here as well, which the kids were loving.  There are a couple of really neat things about the road itself as you drive the Needles Highway.  One is the tunnels.  There are several of these tunnels cut right into the rock that are just wide enough for one car to go through at a time.


Another spectacular feature is the corkscrew bridges.  It was really difficult to get a picture that tells you what these are like, but they are incredible.  Full 360 degree bridges.  This picture is us driving back under the bridge we just went over.


At about the midway point of the drive, you come to what is known as the Eye of the Needle.  This is an amazing rock formation that really resembles the eye of a needle.  There is a small parking area here where you can get out take pictures and climb around on the rocks a bit.  J discovered an absolute love of bouldering at this point.


Leaving the Eye of the Needle requires driving through the narrowest of all of the tunnels on the road, which is followed by a sharp left turn.


After leaving the Eye of the Needle, there is a wildlife loop road you can take if you choose.  The kids were really excited to try and find some more animals, particularly buffalo.  So we took the extra loop.


We saw some deer and a lone buffalo in the forest.  But when we came out of the forest into some grasslands, there were some large herds of buffalo.  It was incredible to see them just grazing and completely free.

Pause here for a rant: People.  When you are in the national parks, forests, grasslands, or wherever, and you see a wild animal, DO NOT APPROACH.  Also, do not stop in the middle of the road!  If you want to stop, pull off to the shoulder.  Want to get out of your car and take pictures? Fine, but remember that you are on a road and there are other cars – be safe! Also, stay by the road.  No perfect picture is worth the danger of approaching a wild animal.  Not to mention that you are trampling plants and scaring the animals.  Common sense, people.  I could not believe the number of people who got out and were walking across the grass to approach this herd.

After our loop on the wildlife road, we headed off toward Mount Rushmore.  This is where coming from the south on Needles Highway is super important.  The views of Mount Rushmore are stunning, framed in the tunnels of the highway or coming around bends in the road.


At the end of the highway is one of the nation’s most famous monuments.


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