Best of the Black Hills

Seven side trips around Sturgis

In 1938, J.C. “Pappy” Hoel and the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club gathered in South Dakota for the first Black Hills Motor Classic in Sturgis. Yep, it’s that time of year, and if you’ve planned on crashing the rally this August, you’re probably already there—or on the road. Or, at least you’ve got a game plan for rally week... right?

In case you don’t, we’ve compiled a couple of scenic suggestions to trim the fat from your trip and steer you to the more enjoyable aspects of the Black Hills. Think exposed granite mountain tops rather than exposed female torsos, and you’ll be on the right track.

There's Mt. Rushmore of course.
There's Mt. Rushmore of course.South Dakota State Tourism

Needles Highway/ Mt. Rushmore Rumble
Kick off the ride from Custer, South Dakota on Highway 16A, then head north on State Route 87. You're now on the Needles Highway, so-named for the oddly- shaped granite spires it threads around. The highway skirts hairpin turns and goes into tunnels blasted through granite walls—all of which means you can count on sightseer-induced traffic jams most days. After Needles Eye Tunnel, merge onto Highway 87, and then turn off for Sylvan Lake, with its cool rock formations. A few miles later, Route 244 will carry you east to Mt. Rushmore.

Wall Drug
Wall DrugSouth Dakota State Tourism
BadlandsSouth Dakota State Tourism

Wall Drug to Badlands Wander
Hoof it on I-90 east straight to Wall Drug, and get the requisite photo-op out of the way. You'll want to get right to the second part of your ride—south out of wall and onto the Badlands Loop, Rt. 240 east. Turning south on Rt. 377 and on to Rt. 44 West, the road begins its weave through odd stone pillars. As you enter the Black Hills, the pavement gets aggressive, so you might as well stop at the funky Longhorn Saloon in Scenic, SD (really), before continuing on Rt. 44 back to Rapid City.

End your wandering in Rapid City.
End your wandering in Rapid City.Rapid City CVB
While on your Wall Drug to Badlands wander, wander into the funky Longhorn Saloon.
While on your Wall Drug to Badlands wander, wander into the funky Longhorn Saloon.South Dakota State Tourism

Spearfish Canyon Cruise
For a leisurely jaunt, you can't beat Spearfish Canyon—otherwise known as us 14A—by far the most picturesque ride out of Spearfish. Start right from the Spearfish Golf Course and wind south through a rock-walled canyon that parallels Spearfish Creek, one of the few creeks in the U.S. that flows north. The curving road (speed limit: 35 mph) passes several photo-worthy waterfalls and scenic pullouts. At Cheyenne, follow Route 85/14 as it hooks north and west, rolling through the town of lead and then Deadwood, and finally Sturgis.

Take Route 24 south to the supernatural Devil's Tower National Monument.
Take Route 24 south to the supernatural Devil's Tower National Monument.Wyoming State Tourism

The Lasso—Sturgis to Devil's Tower
This majestic road heads west from Sturgis on I 90, then kicks out onto Route 111 north to the historic town of Aladdin (population: 15!). As you climb through Ponderosa pines, hook a left on Route 24 west toward Alva, and then head down to Hulett to gas up. Rejoin Rt. 24 south to the supernatural Devil's Tower National Monument—our country's first National Monument—10 miles away. After gawking at the a 60-million-year-old, 867-foot butte, slide back on Rt. 24 south to Rt. 14 east, and I-90 to complete the Lasso.

Custer State Buffalo
Custer State BuffaloSouth Dakota State Tourism

Vanocker Canyon Cut
This short but sweet classic is one of the best in the Black Hills, mainly because of the twisties, and the fact that you can carry some decent speed. Take Vanocker Canyon Road off Junction Ave. to Nemo, and enjoy the scenery and light traffic (except during rally week). Stop at the Nemo store when you get there, or keep going on to Nemo Road and follow it all the way to Rapid City. It's the long way to Rapid City, but it's far more scenic.

Bear Butte State Park
Bear Butte State ParkSouth Dakota State Tourism

Bear Butte Slowdown
It's a mellow ride, but if you take Highway 79 out of Sturgis to the scenic Bear Butte National Wildlife Refuge area, it's also a decent antidote to the insanity of Main Street. There's controversy at Bear Butte too; it's a spiritual place for Native Americans, and the local Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux tribes say there is no place more sacred than the rocky, brown crag. If you go, be respectful and enjoy the natural beauty of the place without disturbing the peace.