– By #Powder House Lodge
One of the most common remarks we hear from our guests is how beautiful the area is and how drastically it can change from one area to the next. While the Powder House Lodge &Restaurant is located in the heart of the Black Hills, we’re less than an hour away from the expansive and rolling plains of Custer and only an hour or so from the desolate beauty of the Badlands. We love hiking and biking as much as anyone else, but sometimes nothing beats taking a nice drive with the windows down and a gentle breeze blowing through your hair to really soak in the beauty of the Black Hills. Here are the top 5 scenic Black Hills drives according to our staff.
3 - Wildlife Loop Road
One of the most popular drives and one of our top recommendations, the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park makes the list of top 3 scenic Black Hills drives for a couple of reasons. First and foremost: buffalo. That’s right, not only is this a leisurely drive through Custer State Park that showcases rolling grassland and a true appreciation for the Great Plains, it’s your best chance to see buffalo on your trip to the Black Hills. Not only will you see buffalo on your drive through the park, you’ll see a wide variety of wildlife including Elk, Mules, Prairie Dogs, Mountain Goats, and more.
2 - Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
A local favorite, especially during fall, the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway comes in at number two on our list. The 22-mile drive through the canyon gives you views of thousand-foot limestone and granite peaks of the Black Hills. Starting at Spearfish, you’ll take Exit 10 or 14 off I-90 for some truly breathtaking views. Spearfish Creek runs along the drive while the local waterfalls make for great photo ops. Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls are must-see stops. While this drive is beautiful any time of the year, the locals know that a Fall drive through Spearfish Canyon is where it’s at. You’ll see some of the most colorful scenery ever as the leaves change to yellow, orange, and red. Mix that with the Black Hills pine tree backdrop and a 2,000-foot elevation change, and you have a drive that will truly leave you speechless.
1 - Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
Sometimes you want to see everything, but just don’t have the time. Well, the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway lands at the top of our list of scenic Black Hills drives because it gives you a little taste of everything. Starting just outside our beloved town of Keystone at the foot of Mount Rushmore, this byway makes a bit of a figure-eight shape throughout the Hills. The byway winds up Iron Mountain Road around the “pigtail” bridges through several tunnels carved right into the granite of the Black Hills. The Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway continues into Custer State Park where it intersects with the Needles Highway. Drivers can continue their trek into Custer State Park or turn back toward Mount Rushmore while taking in endless evergreen and granite scenery.
Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway sits at the top of our list, but if you’re not ready to do the full 68 miles of the byway, the aforementioned Iron Mountain Road and Needles Highway sections of the byway are well worth your time.
Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is an accomplishment of vision and engineering. Planned and championed by Peter Norbeck, it's most famous for the wooden "pigtail" bridges that scale the pine and granite forest. The one-lane tunnels perfectly frame Mount Rushmore in the distance and the road splits into two different, one-way halves so the local landscape wouldn't be disturbed.
We get more questions from our guests on how to get to the Needles Highway than any other drive on this list. There's a reason why this is one of the most popular drives in the Black Hills - it's just awesome. You'll find some of the best photo opportunities on your vacation while taking this drive. Deemed impossible, this highway was part of Peter Norbeck's vision for creating a scenic drive through the Black Hills. Twisting through the granite spires and evergreen trees of the Black Hills, the Needles Highway makes it to number one on our list of top five scenic Black Hills drives for its popularity, beauty, photo opportunities, spots to climb and hike, and it's sheer achievement in engineering.
Honorable Mention - Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway
Badlands National Park is not like any other place on the planet. We honestly believe that. The Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway might not be as popular as some of the other drives on this list, but what it lacks in popularity, it makes up for in sheer beauty and truly awesome views. The 38-mile cuts through a labyrinth of overlooks, trails, and passes that encapsulate the harshness of the South Dakota desert. With the multicolored sediment and rock formations and multiple scenic outlooks along the way, this drive is best done at early morning or at sunset to see a color palette you've never thought possible in nature.
While there are plenty of activities for you and your family to do in the Black Hills during your stay, taking a leisurely stroll through the amazing local scenery is one of the best ways to enjoy your time here. The Powder House Lodge is centrally located in the Black Hills, so you're close to all of the drives on our top five list. There still time in the 2020 season to book your stay with us, and we're taking reservations for 2021. Book with us today to stay in the heart of the Black Hills and its breathtaking scenery.