Tag Archives: Sylvan Lake

The Black Hills [Mount Rushmore &The Needles Highway]

Last spring I ran home for my brother wedding in the Black Hills. The Sexy Master Electrician has never spent much time in the Hills and we’ve never really spent any time at my parents, just quick trips through. We still didn’t spend much time at my parents but we did do a little afternoon trip in the Hills. (There was a misunderstanding that made us think everything was set up for the wedding, not that were were overtly excited to spend the day doing that anyway.) We did a drive from the Deadwood area down to Mount Rushmore, through the Needles Highway and ended back up in Deadwood to meet TSME’s parents for dinner.

One thing I recommend for traveling around the Black Hills, most gas stations, tourist stops, etc. have this 11x 17ish sized paper map that has all the big places to stop and ways to get there and it’s free. They’ve been doing it forever and they still are. If you’re going to run around the Hills, I highly recommend it as a go to reference. You may also want some Dramamine depending on your route, there are some pretty winding roads. We tried to avoid main tourist roads if we could and still see all we wanted. It has been probably about 10 years since I had last visited these places. It was a great little afternoon. 

Black Hills map overall

Our drive from Deadwood through Lead to Mount Rushmore took us along Lake Pactola. It is a man made lake that is named after the town that lies below it. It’s also the place we went cliff jumping way back in the old days.


We made it to Mount Rushmore late in the afternoon. There was hardly anyone there. It was perfect for a quick stop. We watched the little video and went through the exhibit about how they made the sculpture and the creator, Gutzom Borglum, and the politics behind it. For the record, I know it is a massive carving in the rock, but it does not seem that big. Especially when you see Crazy Horse. However, it is impressive.  We were pressed for time, so we didn’t do any of the longer walks up closer to the heads, but there are trails you can take through the hills that are lovely if you have time.

After that we took off to go along Iron Mountain Road toward the Black Hills Playhouse and the Needles Highway. This was basically a short cut to get to the Needles. On top of that, it is this windy, barely two-lane road that goes through a few tunnels that purposefully frame Mount Rushmore. I don’t know why, but I have no pictures of this. I don’t know what happened. It’s really cool though to drive and beautiful.  I recommend it.
Black Hills map loop
Mt Rushmore from US16A.jpg
Via Kimon Berlin, user:GribecoOwn work, CC BY 2.5, Link

Once you get to Highway 87, you have to get a park pass to Custer State Park. There are lots of things to see in there, including Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, but we’ve saved those for another trip. The needles are these amazing rock formations. Back when I was a climber, I’d been up there to do just that. It’s a beautiful area and one of my favorite drives. We also missed taking pictures of this area too.
The Eye of the Needle via
The road ends at Sylvan Lake, also the starting point of the hike up to Black Elk Peak, (formerly Harney Peak), highest point east of the Rockies in the US and and easy hike if you need one.
sylvan-lake via https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/campgrounds/sylvan-lake/

That concludes our little afternoon in the hills. We headed back through the cute little town of Hill City and back to Deadwood for dinner. While this post may have been focused on Mount Rushmore, I fully encourage you to explore the Black Hills beyond it and other touristy things. They are a beautiful little area filled with lots of surprises.