Hi there!

 

The Needles are one of the most iconic parts of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

They are rock formations that stick up, looking like needles!

And, the way you can see the needles of the Black Hills is by driving the Needles Highway!

 

Where does the Needles Highway start and end?

In order to drive the Needles Highway, you will go to Custer State Park.

This is the best state park in South Dakota that has a bunch of South Dakota state park camping cabins that you can stay at!

But, Custer State Park is a rather big state park, so it’s best to know where in Custer State Park you want to go.

For easy reference on a map, you can consider that the Needles Highway starts near Legion Lake and ends near Sylvan Lake.

This will show you easily on a map the road that is Needles Highway in Custer State Park.

Driving the Needles Highway from Legion Lake to Sylvan Lake means that you are driving from south to north.

 

 

Is the Needles Highway one way?

The most famous part of the Needles Highway is the Needles Eye Tunnel, which is a one-lane tunnel.

This means that cars can only drive through in one direction at a time, making it one-way when you are driving through it!

Otherwise, the Needles Highway is not a one-way road, so you can choose to drive it in either direction.

 

needles highway, norbeck wilderness preserve, black hills national forest, custer state park

 

Which direction should you drive the Needles Highway?

It is possible to drive the Needles Highway in either direction, so you can also drive it from Sylvan Lake to Legion Lake, from north to south.

But, if you do have flexibility, I do think the better direction to drive the Needles Highway is from south to north!

 

needles highway map. where to start needles highway
👆 Needles Highway map: Where to start Needles Highway. You can start the Needles Highway near Legion Lake if you want to drive in the direction of south to north! The Legion Lake Lodge is one of the Custer State Park lodges. From Legion Lake, you’ll head east to get onto Highway 87 aka Needles Highway! Explore the map.

 

needles highway map. where to start needles highway map
👆 You can start the Needles Highway from near Legion Lake. If you start here, then it will be around a 35 minute drive to get to the iconic Needles Eye Tunnel without any stops. Explore the map. Explore more things to do in Custer State Park! Explore more places to visit in South Dakota, including Wind Cave National Park!

 

I think driving the Needles Highway from south to north is the best direction because it feels like the views of the “needles” continue to get more and more dramatic as you get closer and closer to the “grand finale” of the Needles Eye Tunnel and the Needles Eye!

Driving it up from the south, you’ll start off by seeing distant grand views of the Black Hills.

You can pull over at one of the parking areas along the side, or you will can also see some of these views as you’re driving.

And then, as you continue to drive, you start to see some “needles”!

And then, you continue to drive, and you see some more needles!

And then finally, you will reach the famous Needles Eye Tunnel for a drive through the narrow one-lane tunnel for the grand finale of the Needles Highway!

 

drive the needles highway north direction. south dakota SD-87 north needles highway
👆 The best direction to drive the Needles Highway is north so the view of the needles will become more and more dramatic and then end with the Needles Eye Tunnel and the Needles Eye! This is not the actual end of the Needles Highway, but it is like the grand finale when driving the Needles Highway north.

 

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

 

On the other side of the tunnel there is a parking area where you can get out and walk around to see the Needles Eye!

 

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

Needles Highway. best direction to drive the needles highway to the needles. black hills. south dakota

 

Now, the Needles Highway doesn’t actually end at the Needles Eye Tunnel, but after that, basically the dramatic views of the Needles and Black Hills are over with.

And so, if you are driving in the opposite direction, from the north to south, you will be starting with the best part.

But if you drive from south to north, then you will be ending with the best part!

That said, depending on where you’re coming from, it can be a major detour to start from the south side.

In which case, it is really not a big deal to start from the north.

 

👆 Watch the video of driving Needles Highway to the Needles from south to north! If you don’t see a video above, you can watch the Needles Highway video on youtube!

 

 

All that said, I should also note that I did not drive route 87 north of Sylvan Lake.

If you like tunnels, then there is the Hood Tunnel on that side!

And if you do like tunnels, then along with the Needles Highway tunnel, the Mount Rushmore view tunnels are the most famous tunnels in South Dakota! That is a drive on Iron Mountain Road!

 

More below on what you will see driving the Needles Highway!

 

 
Side note!
Partner resources for travel planning!

Look for hotels, vacation rentals, and cabins at booking.com or vrbo.com. You can filter to adjust for your price range to look for cheaper options too. Also look for the "property type" filter at booking.com and the kitchen, hot tub, or cabin filter at vrbo, as well as the map! Read the reviews! (For the Black Hills, look for the towns of Rapid City, Keystone, Spearfish, or Custer. For the Badlands, look for Wall.)

Look for unique South Dakota experiences like hot air balloon and private tours of the Black Hills at viator.com or getyourguide.com. Read the reviews!

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Needles Highway scenic drive

So I started the drive from the south.

 

where to start needles highway
👆 Where to start Needles Highway when you’re driving north on the Needles Highway.

 

where to start needles highway

👆 When you’re coming from Legion Lake to go to Needles Highway, you’ll turn left get to SD-87 and Needles Highway! Or go straight to stay on US-16A which can also get you to Iron Mountain Road for another scenic drive in South Dakota!

 

where to start needles highway

where to start needles highway
👆 When you’re coming from Legion Lake to go to Needles Highway, Center Lake, and Sylvan Lake.

 

where to start needles highway

cost to drive needles highway. custer state park entry station
👆 There is a Custer State Park entry station at the start of Needles Highway.

 

cost to drive needles highway. custer state park entry station
👆 The Custer State Park pass is $20 for a 7-day pass. The annual South Dakota state park pass is $36. If you don’t have a Custer State Park pass or South Dakota state park pass, you need to stop at the entry station to make payment. If you already have a pass, you can drive straight through. “They” say you need a pass if you will be making stops along Needles Highway. This means that there is a fee to drive Needles Highway if you want to stop and get out of the car to take in the views.

 

Then, once you get past the Needles Highway entry station, you can start the drive towards the needles of the Black Hills!

 

needles highway drive

needles highway drive

needles highway drive
👆 Needles Highway has sharp turns!

 

needles highway drive
👆 You can drive the Needles Highway to get to Center Lake where you will find one of the Custer State Park campgrounds.

 

needles highway drive
👆 Needles Highway in winter: There is no winter maintenance.

 

needles highway drive

 

The first official stop you’ll come across on the Needles Highway driving up from the south is the Hole-in-Wall picnic area.

Yes, you can bring along your picnic food and stop to eat here!

You can also go for a look at the “hole in the wall” (a little cave in the rocks), and you can also go for a little walk around the rocks as well.

 

needles highway to hole in the wall picnic area. custer state park picnic area

needles highway to hole in the wall, custer state park

needles highway to hole in the wall, custer state park

needles highway to hole in the wall, custer state park

needles highway to hole in the wall, custer state park

 

Continuing the drive on Needles Highway…

 

needles highway drive

needles highway drive, black hills, south dakota

needles highway drive, black hills, south dakota

needles highway drive
👆 You can drive Needles Highway to get to a Centennial Trail trailhead. The Centennial Trail (pdf) is a 100+ mile trail for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. It goes through Custer State Park, Black Hills National Forest, Wind Cave National Park, among other public lands.

 

Then you will arrive at your first tunnel on Needles Highway!

There is the Iron Creek Tunnel which is another low narrow tunnel on Needles Highway.

 

needles highway tunnel

needles highway tunnel

 

Continuing the drive on Needles Highway…

 

needles highway drive

needles highway through norbeck wildlife preserve

needles highway through norbeck wildlife preserve

needles highway through norbeck wildlife preserve
👆 You will be driving the Needles Highway through the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve which is also a part of Black Hills National Forest.

 

needles highway drive

 

You will also find parking along the Needles Highway where you can stop to get out and take in views of the Black Hills!

 

best stops on needles highway, black hills

best stops on needles highway, black hills

best stops on needles highway, black hills

black hills overlook, best stops on needles highway, black hills

 

And then you can continue the drive to the Needles Eye Tunnel!

 

HAPPY DRIVING THE NEEDLES HIGHWAY TO THE NEEDLES IN THE BLACK HILLS OF SOUTH DAKOTA!

 

More of the Black Hills:

 

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Here are some ideas for a classic South Dakota road trip going from east to west!

After you go to Badlands National Park, you can head west to Wall Drug and then onwards to Mount Rushmore!

You've made it to the Black Hills, where you'll find Custer State Park.

While you're in the area, you can also go to Wind Cave National Park and/or Jewel Cave National Monument and/or the Mammoth Site!

Drive the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on your way west out of the Black Hills and South Dakota as you continue your epic road trip to Devils Tower National Monument and Wyoming!

Then, onwards to the best places to visit in Wyoming with your grand finale of Wyoming being one day in Yellowstone National Park!

Read more for your South Dakota road trip: Best places to visit in South Dakota

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