Black Hills National Forest

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

You're not supposed to drive here at 760 miles an hour. To do the scenery half justice, people should drive 20 or under. To do it full justice they should get out and walk.
Peter Norbeck

This 70 mile scenic route honors a South Dakota conservationist, Governor and US Senator Peter Norbeck. Norbeck first saw the Hills in 1905, after crossing the prairie on rugged, unimproved roads. This first visit began a lifelong love affair with the Black Hills. Traveling on foot and horseback, Norbeck chose much of the route himself , taking pains to insure that natural features would be preserved.

The total system is comprised of U.S. Highway 16A, and State Highways 87, 89 and 244. Today, the Needles Highway (87 through Custer State Park) and Iron Mountain Road (16A through Mt. Rushmore National Memorial lands) wind their way through some of the most scenic country in America, characterized by massive granite outcroppings, rough terrain, vegetative variety, and visual diversity.The Needles Highway consists of 14 miles of hairpin curves and narrow tunnels, where granite spires and pinnacles of greatly varying shapes and sizes can be seen. The Iron Mountain Road, 17 miles, features the nationally famous "Pigtail" bridges and equally famous narrow tunnels that were made to frame Mount Rushmore National Memorial. From the Norbeck Memorial Overlook, there are spectacular views of the Black Elk Wilderness, Grizzly Creek drainage of Norbeck, and Harney Peak.

Portions of the Byway have steep grades, sharp curves, tunnels and bridges. Watch out for wildlife, other recreationists and traffic. Portions of US 16A south of Mount Rushmore and SD 87 east of Sylvan Lake are closed in winter.

Here are some of the sights along the way. . .

General Custer Expedition Campsite was base camp for the 1874 Custer Expedition that explored and mapped the Black Hills and discovered gold at this location.

Gordon Stockade is a replica of the 1874 structure build by the first settlers in the Hills.

Forest Ecology Wayside conveys the natural history of Black Hills forests and fire.

Cathedral Spires is a spectacular rock formation in the 1.7 billion year old Harney Peak granite.

Needles Eye is just one of the unique erosion features known as the "needles".

Sylvan Lake is the oldest reservoir in the Black Hills, constructed in 1898. Visitors can swim, fish, hike, camp and rock climb in the area.

Norbeck Wildlife Preserve is home to deer, elk, mountain goats, big horn sheep and many bird species.

Horsethief Lake is a favorite spot for camping and fishing and for hikes into the backcountry.

Washington Profile is a spectacular side view of the Washington head on Mount Rushmore. Mountain goats frequent this area.

Mount Rushmore was carved by Gutzon Borglum between 1927 and 1941, and stands as a memorial to the principals of our present form of government.

Pigtail Bridges, designed by Norbeck and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930's, span steep climbs in short distances.

Norbeck Overlook has panoramic views of Harney Peak, outcrops of ancient granite and the 9800 acre Black Elk Wilderness, named after the Lakota spiritual teacher.

Galena Fire Wayside focuses on the 1988 wildfire that burned over 16,000 acres, and illustrates fire recovery.

Game Lodge was originally built as the Game Keeper's residence, and later served as the 1927 Coolidge summer White House.

Peter Norbeck Visitor Center offers information on Norbeck's life and Black Hills history.

There are visitor information centers, ranger stations and other facilities along the Byway with further information. A park entrance license is required in Custer State Park. Camping requires a daily fee in the Park and at most Black Hills National Forest campgrounds.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 25 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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