You must go to Custer State Park while on your Black Hills trip. There aren’t many untamed areas left in the United States, and the park is one of them. Everyone who enters the park is captivated by the 71,000 acres of towering trees, tranquil waterways, and enormous granite outcroppings.
A winding road called Iron Mountain Road, which is a part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway connects Mount Rushmore with the intersections of Highway 16A and SD 36. During the 17-mile path, three rock tunnels allow travelers to see Mount Rushmore from a distance.
Keep reading below for more information.
History of Custer State Park
To this day, Custer State Park is South Dakota’s most visited and biggest state park. Sections 16 and 36 in each township were given to the state by Congress as school grounds in 1897, only eight years after South Dakota entered the union, giving the group its roots.
South Dakota struggled to manage the sporadic parcels of state school land buried in the Black Hills Forest. Negotiations to swap the dispersed holdings for a single block were started in 1906.
In 1910, South Dakota exchanged almost 50,000 acres of forest in Custer County and around 12,000 acres in Harding County for complete rights to more than 60,000 acres of timberland located inside the Black Hills Forest Reserve. These two plots were combined and given the name Custer State Forest in 1912.
Custer State Forest was transformed into Custer State Park following action by the State Assembly, which was sparked by Governor Peter Norbeck, a “prairie statesman.”
Seeing Mt. Rushmore From Iron Mountain Highway
Custer State Park has various areas that are accessible without paying the entrance charge. One of those sections just so happens to be located along one of the most beautiful roadways in the whole country.
The Iron Mountain Highway connects the Mount Rushmore region with the park’s East Entrance. Even if you don’t know a great deal about it, if you head in that direction, you’ll be guaranteed to enjoy this magnificent route.
The 17-mile Iron Mountain Highway is a feat of pure roadway engineering. There are a few characteristics that set this route apart. The Black Hills’ stunning landscape is the first. This region’s woodlands are wonderfully tranquil. You may relax and slow down on this route because people use it less.
The three tunnels you must drive past on this route are the next feature that sets it apart. If you drive through any of the three tunnels, Mount Rushmore will be in your peripheral vision the whole time. Driving by these mountain tunnels and seeing Rushmore is incredible.
There are several other locations where you may stop and see Mount Rushmore. You may even prefer these views of Mount Rushmore to those you’ll have on your trip there.
We advise looking it over regardless of whether or not you’re coming from this region. If you are on the other side of the park, it is not convenient, but it is worthwhile. You can also pass a couple of enormous bison on the road at this location!
To find out more about the Iron Mountain Highway, watch this video below:
Other Attractions Near Custer State Park
Apart from Mt. Rushmore, there are other amazing nearby attractions, such as:
Crazy Horse Memorial
A mountain carving modeled after Mount Rushmore is located a few miles north of Custer. Standing Bear, a Lakota chief, took it upon himself to create this second enormous 606-footwork of rock art to show the public that Indians also had made fantastic heroes like Crazy Horse, the true winner of the fight on the Little Bighorn River.
Jewel Cave National Monument
A karstic cave with crystals that gleam like diamonds is located about 13 miles west of Custer, known as Jewel Cave National Monument. Jewel Cave is one of the biggest cave systems, with a little more than 195 miles of documented channels at the time of date.
It has various cave formations, glittering calcite crystals, and fine gypsum strands. Boulders, cramped crawl spaces, and dark crevices going into the unknown are all present throughout the vast chambers.
Needles Highway Scenic Drive
The Needles Highway is a breathtakingly beautiful mountain route that passes via Custer State Park (SR 87). It travels through the spectacular scenery of the central Black Hills and is conveniently accessible from Custer. Visitors pass by beautiful rock pinnacles and granite spires, including the famous Needle’s Eye, along the 14-mile section of the winding route.
1881 Courthouse Museum
This historical establishment, housed in Custer city’s heart and open as a museum since 1976, serves as a storehouse for Southern Black Hills history. This formerly operational courthouse is now run by the Custer County History Society and has a variety of exhibits that depict daily life in the Custer region for the past 150 years and beyond.
Wildlife Loop Road
The 18-mile road is simple to reach from Custer. The southwest section of Custer State Park’s Loop Drive is a great place to encounter some animals. In addition to the numerous possibilities to observe prairie dogs, antelope, and bighorn sheep, the park’s native bison are regularly sighted.
Moreover, a variety of Black Hills scenery may be seen along this gorgeous byway, making the trip alone worthwhile. Parking lots often have hiking options throughout the route, and the state park offers guided excursions. Bison and other animals are easiest to spot first thing in the morning or just before sunset.
Four Mile Old West Town
Four Mile Old West Town is a live history museum with various buildings to tour and is accessible through Mt. Rushmore Road. This roadside attraction transports visitors back in time to the Black Hills Gold Rush and other eras. It may be a brief fuel break or a full afternoon’s worth of activities.
Sylvan Lake, the jewel of Custer State Park, is reachable through the Needles Highway and is approximately a 15-minute drive from Custer. This lake, encircled by enormous geological formations, offers a beautiful setting and several hiking, swimming, and boating activities.
Sylvan Lake is a great starting point for people interested in hiking the Sunday Gulch Route or Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak). With an active South Dakota fishing license, you will also be able to fish at Sylvan Lake. Both the tent-only Sylvan Lake Campsite and the nearby Sylvan Lake Lodge provide nice overnight accommodations.
Mount Rushmore is so close to Custer State Park that you can see it from one of its routes. There are also other amazing attractions nearby. When visiting this park, check these out for the full experience.