Needles Highway at Custer State Park, SD – A Photo Essay

The Needles Highway in western South Dakota’s Custer State Park is more than a 14-mile road it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen with fields of bright wildflowers, and rugged, almost other-worldly, granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.

Allocate plenty of time to enjoy this roadway. Needles Highway is best enjoyed at a slower pace. Take your time. I can assure you that you’ll want to stop often perhaps around every turn. Whether to take pictures, or to simply stare in awe with your mouth agape, the scenery is incredible and inspiring.

Wildlife is plentiful too. You are almost guaranteed to see bison. Look too for pronghorn, prairie dogs, mule deer and bighorn sheep. If you get off the road for a short nature walk, your chances improve even more.

The highlight of the trip is Cathedral Spires, a natural grouping of eroded granite pillars, towers, and spires. There are six distinct ridges of pillars with pine forest scattered throughout. The area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976. As you can imagine, Cathedral Spires is quite renowned with world-class rock climbers, but even you and I can hike among these majestic formations.

The Needles Highway culminates at Sylvan Lake, a 19th century reservoir across Sunday Gulch Creek that is popular with recreationists of all stripes. Take the time to walk the one mile trail that follows the lakeshore and offers opportunities to sunbathe on a granite outcrop or dip your toes in the cold, fresh mountain water.

If you find yourself in western South Dakota, you must make time to travel The Needles Highway. Your visit just isn’t complete without it. Following are a few photos to give you a feel for what to expect.



This post was created by Jeff Clark. Please feel free to use the sharing icons below, or add your thoughts to the comments. Pack it in, pack it out. Preserve the past. Respect other hikers. Let nature prevail. Leave no trace.

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