Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (1996)
- Intrinsic QualitiesScenic
- Length70 miles
This byway winds around spiraling "pig-tail" shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mt. Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle's Eye and Cathedral Spires rock formations.
Story of the Byway
Some of the most incredible roads anywhere make up the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. Mix in America’s most patriotic monument along the way and you have a never-to-be-forgotten road trip.
Peter Norbeck was a visionary senator and governor for South Dakota. He personally chose the layout of the Iron Mountain Road in the 1930s and persisted in building it, even after being told it could not be done. This is a masterpiece of artistic engineering. The 70-mile byway includes spiraling bridges, hairpin curves and granite tunnels. The byway was named one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.
Forming a figure-eight route, the byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, near Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89 and 87 combine to create the route.
A good starting point is in Keystone, near the foot of Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a large-scale mountain sculpture by artist Gutzon Borglum. The figures of America's most prominent U.S. presidents--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt—represent 150 years of American history. Each year, approximately three million tourists from all over the world visit Mount Rushmore to experience this patriotic site. Today, the wonder of the mountain reverberates through every visitor. The four "great faces" of the presidents tower 5,725 feet above sea level and are scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall. There are many amenities at the site including the Mount Rushmore Audio Tour, Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center & Museum, the Presidential Trail, Youth Exploration Area, Sculptor’s Studio, a parking garage with R.V. parking, pet exercise areas, the Carvers Café, Memorial Ice Cream Shop, Gift Shop and the Mount Rushmore Bookstores.Traveling southwest on Highway 16A, also known as Iron Mountain Road, the route leads you around impressive wooden “pigtail” bridges. Tunnels carved through the granite mountain not only provide a transportation passage, but artistically frame the four faces on Mount Rushmore in the distance.
Continuing west into Custer State Park, Highway 16 intersects with Highway 87, also known as the Needles Highway. Here the road climbs around fantastic granite pinnacles. These are favorites with rock climbers from across the globe. Twisting and turning between the Needles and through a tight tunnel/crack in the rock, this portion of the byway leads to Sylvan Lake.
Sylvan Lake is probably the most recognizable of the five Custer State Park lakes, and of any of the Black Hills lakes for that matter. It's definitely a favorite of almost anyone who has seen it, especially photographers, artists or anyone that saw the Nicolas Cage movie "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" (although the location may seem off). Sylvan Lake is a very popular spot for weddings and other special occasions or as the most beautiful swimming hole one could possibly find. There's also a swimming beach and boat rentals (non-motorized only) where visitors can rent paddle boats, canoes or other watercraft rentals. Then, drivers can choose to either turn south and then east to visit more of Custer State Park or continue north and east back to Mount Rushmore. Beautiful mountain lakes and rocky terrain greet you around every turn.
Common wildlife along the byway are shaggy mountain goats, deer, and chipmunks, among others. Allow for a day or more and count on many stops for photographs along the way.
The byway travels Highways 16A, 89, 27 and 244 at it winds around the Custer State Park, Black Hills National Forest, and Mount Rushmore in a circular fashion. One section cuts through the circle on Highway 87 to skirt between the Black Elk Wilderness and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.
Points of Interest
Black Hills Overlook/National Forest
1.2 million-acre national park offering wildlife and trails through forested terrain and mountains.
Lake inside Custer State Park. Great for hiking, picnicking.
Figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into the mountain stone.
Custer State Park
71 acres of rolling prairie grassland and rugged mountains.
Within Custer State Park. Trails, rock climbing.
Near Mount Rushmore. Popular for fishing, especially ice fishing.
Crazy Horse Memorial
Monument being constructed depicting Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, atop his horse and pointing to his tribal land.
Harney Peak/Black Elk Peak
Renamed Black Elk Peak in 2016. Highest point in South Dakota. Located in the Black Hills National Forest.
Needles Highway Overlook
View of the nearby tall granite spire shaped like the eye of a needle and the Needles Highway.
Peter Norbeck Visitor Center
Official visitor center with interpretive displays of local history, geology, and gold panning.
Two Days to Enjoy Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park
Begin at Custer, SD, taking Highway 16A to the east. Take the Wildlife Loop to see bison, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and wild turkeys. Stop at the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center to learn about the Black Hills history- from geology to gold panning. Then head north on Highway 16A to Norbeck Overlook, drive through tunnels, experience the Pigtail Bridges, and arrive at Mount Rushmore National Memorial to the west and Horsethief Lake a little further west on Highway 244. Spend the night in or near Keystone in the many hotels, motels, lodges, resorts, cabins, RV parks, or even luxury rustic tents. Choose from the area’s burger, pizza, steak, and Mexican restaurants. Kick back at a pub or wine bar.
Head west on Highway 244 past Willow Creek, then south on 87 around Black Elk Wilderness, through the Hood Tunnel to Sylvan Lake. Feel free to stretch your legs and hike a trail, fish the lakes, or enjoy a picnic lunch. Then either take Highway 89 back to Custer (maybe taking a side trip to Highway 385 and the Crazy Horse Memorial) or continue on Highway 87 to see the Needles Eye and Tunnel, Cathedral Spires, and more of Custer State Park. You then return to Custer on Highway 16A.
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