So one of the popular things to do in Custer State Park is to drive the Needles Highway.
And aside from the “needles” (the rock formations of the Black Hills) that you will see, what makes the Needles Highway famous is a narrow tunnel that you can drive through. This is called the Needles Eye Tunnel.
Share the Needles Eye Tunnel video with the people you’ll be traveling to South Dakota with!
This is the tunnel that’s next to the famous rock formation called the Needles Eye. If you look at it from the right direction, you can see the “eye” of this “needle.”
Which direction to drive the Needles Highway?
While the Needles Eye Tunnel can only accommodate traffic going in one way at a time, you can drive it in both directions. You just may need to wait until opposing traffic finishes up coming out of the tunnel!
It probably doesn’t matter too much which direction you drive the Needles Highway to get to the Needles Eye tunnel.
That said, I drove the Needles Highway (aka SD-87) from south to north. (Or east to west, depending on your perspective.) Driving it in this direction basically means that Sylvan Lake can be your “destination” instead of your starting point.
I liked it in this direction because it felt like the “needles” and the Black Hills landscape kept getting more and more dramatic. And then, driving through the Needles Eye tunnel and seeing the needles eye rock was like the grand finale!
If you drive the Needles Highway from south to north, the the tall needles eye rock formation will appear after you drive through the Needles Eye tunnel.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly the grand finale, as there’s still more Black Hills rock formations to be seen as you keep driving. 😜 The hike to Little Devils Tower is afterwards, and so is Sylvan Lake. But I did feel like there was a progression in driving the Needles Highway from south to north!
That said, I’m sure it will be exciting no matter which direction you’re driving it. (If you get excited about this sort of thing.)
For more to do along Needles Highway (and beyond), see the best hikes in Custer State Park.
How wide and how tall is the Needles Eye Tunnel?
The needles eye tunnel is a low narrow tunnel!
According to the road sign posted right before entering the Needles Eye Tunnel, the width of the tunnel is 8 feet wide and the height of the tunnel is 9 feet 9 inches tall. (Although the South Dakota state parks website lists slightly different exact dimensions.)
More below about what you’ll see driving around the needles eye tunnel!
The best of the Black Hills of South Dakota in a day:
- If you want to leave the planning to someone else, you can join this Black Hills group tour or this Black Hills private tour!
To explore the Black Hills and Badlands on your own:
- Things to do in Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills
- Best hikes in Custer State Park
- Best hikes in Badlands National Park
- How to spend 10 days in the Black Hills and Badlands
Driving through the Needles Eye Tunnel!
And then your drive through the needles eye tunnel is over before you know it!!
But since you drove from south to north, good thing your needles eye experience doesn’t have to be! 😜
There are small parking areas with limited spaces near the needles eye.
If you don’t want to drive through the tunnel but you want to see it, you can drive from Sylvan Lake to Needles Eye, and then turn around at the Needles Eye parking lot.
So once you are at the needles eye parking area, you can get out of the car to walk around (there’s a small path through rocks to the right of the tunnel), look up at the needles eye, watch other cars drive through the needles eye tunnel, and maybe even watch the a rock climber scaling the rock near the needles eye. (Rock climbing is a thing in the Black Hills.)
And then once you’ve taken in the views around Needles Eye, you can continue driving along Needles Highway!
And that’s a bit about driving the Needles Highway!
Needles Eye to Jewel Cave National Monument is around a 40 minute drive where you can take a historic lantern cave tour!
Once you’ve explored Custer State Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota, drive over to the Badlands of South Dakota!
HAPPY DRIVING THROUGH THE NEEDLES EYE TUNNEL!