Near Custer State Park, the Black Hills are laced with specially engineered, super-scenic highways. To say these are some of the most scenic stretches of highway is no lie, the 70-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway has been named as one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.
The Needles Highway (SD 87), Iron Mountain Road (US 16A), Horse Thief Lake Road (SD 244) and Sylvan Lake Road (SD 89) make up this oval-shaped route through the most rugged real estate in the Black Hills. The Norbeck Byway includes picturesque lakes, towering granite formations, six picture-perfect tunnels, tight hairpin curves, spiral “pigtail” bridges, and the wildlife ranges of Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Black Elk National Wilderness Area and Custer State Park. There are many photo stops, picnic areas, climbing rocks and alpine brooks that add to the fun.
Have a contest to see who can name the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. (HINT: It's 7,242 feet high!) See if you can spot the other high points along the Byway, such as Mount Coolidge (6,023 feet), Iron Mountain (5,445 feet) or our Shrine of Democracy (5,725 feet).
Along the route, be prepared to encounter steep grades, sharp curves and tunnels with height and width restrictions, which all add to the uniqueness and beauty of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. Wildlife crossings are not marked, because they could be anywhere. A traffic jam here can be caused by a herd of buffalo, mountain goats or other tourists.
Plan on spending half a day just to drive the route, but to truly enjoy the beauty and photo opportunities found along the way, make a day of it. The extra time will allow you to explore some of the highlights, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, 7,242-foot Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake and the Needle’s Eye and Cathedral Spires rock formations.
Other Points of Interest along your route are the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, a 35,000-acre preserve with 36 miles of hiking trails among some of the most pristine and rugged mountain forests and lakes around. Check out the General Custer Expedition Campsite, which served as base camp for the 1874 Custer Expedition that first explored and mapped the Black Hills area. The expedition was also the first to discover gold in this area.
Spend some time stretching your legs, and go explore. Dip your feet in the water at Sylvan Lake or Horsethief Lake or hike to the top of 7,242-foot Harney Peak for a breathtaking view. Pack a picnic lunch or stop for lunch at one of five resorts in Custer State Park or in the nearby communities of Custer, Keystone or Hill City. Swing by Custer Chamber of Commerce, Hill City Chamber of Commerce, Keystone Chamber of Commerce to see what fun things are going on in the area.
The byway is named for the late Peter Norbeck , a South Dakota conservationist, Governor and U.S. Senator. It was his vision that inspired Custer State Park, Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. They all exist today because of Norbeck’s tireless efforts. He also helped establish the Federal Duck Stamp Program, Badlands National Monument and Grand Teton National Park.