“Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy”. – Anne Frank
No visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota is complete without a drive through the impressive Needles Highway. Designed in 1919 by Peter Norbeck (an American politician from South Dakota who is most famous for commissioning Mount Rushmore) the 14-mile highway meanders through a vast web of spires and pointed, needle-shaped rock formations that look like they are launching off to space. There are several turnouts along the road where you can get out and do some fabulous hikes. However, even just pulling over to take in the view of the massive rock formations is enough to make it worth your while.
It took two years and 150,000 pounds of dynamite to make the Needles Highway. Engineers at the time thought it would be impossible to carve out a road through such wild land yet Norbeck proved them wrong. Finally some of the most gorgeous untouched land of the Black Hills was available for the world to see and enjoy. But not without a cost.
The most dramatic, awe-inspiring way to travel the Needles Highway is from south to north. You can begin in Custer State Park and end your journey at the beautiful Sylvan Lake for a snack and a short one-mile hike around the lake. Or if you are feeling more adventurous, you can pick up the trail for Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota and experience a fantastic four-hour roundtrip hike.
One of the most popular ways to experience South Dakota is on motorcycle and it is no surprise that the biggest biking event in the world, Sturgis, takes place every year in the Black Hills. It is perfect territory for riding, and the hum and drum of Harley’s could be heard for miles. Although the rally is not until early August, there were still plenty of bikes in July.
As a family of four, we preferred seeing the Needles Highway via car. I’m not too crazy about motorcycles but I am sure they are fun. The windy, serpentine road was enough to make my stomach churn but the views were sensational. Ponderosa pines soar to the sky and the blue-black hue of the hills are serene.
The pinnacles of the rocks are quite dramatic. There is one famous rock formation called “The Eye of the Needle” which is over 30 feet high, and there is also the Cathedral Spires which are a massive series of jagged, pointy rocks that jet to the sky. There is an excellent hike to the Cathedral Spires but I didn’t think that the kids were up for it. I am sure it would be a great one to do.
I realized that like with most places, the hike not taken would give me a reason to come back. There is certainly a lot more to do and see in South Dakota than I ever imagined.
I’ve learned in life that sometimes places take you by surprise. I never would have imagined that South Dakota would be such a special place. I’ve been all over the world yet sometimes I forget how much beauty exists right outside my door.
The end of Needles Highway brings you to this treasure, Sylvan Lake.
“The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have”. – Norman Vincent Peale
It looks like I need another trip…