Just One Road: Needles Highway, South Dakota

There's nothing secret about this road. It lies smack at the heart of the T-shirted darkness that is the Black Hills. You know. Jackpines. Mount Rushmore. A stone's throw from Sturgis.


Part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, the ride starts just outside of the town of Custer and tears right through Custer State Park. Most riders head to the greatest hits of the area—Iron Mountain Road, Needles Highway and Mount Rushmore—so you might get lucky and have the first section to yourself. But you're never really far from the crowds during Bike Week, so don't count on it.

Head north on SD State Highway 89 from Custer and revel in the sweet asphalt and bucolic setting. Like many roads in this area, surface quality is excellent, but there's not much shoulder run-off, so watch your line and keep an eye out for wildlife. Far off in the distance, if the light is good, you'll get a brief, awesome glimpse of the Mount Rushmore faces—a wide shot that gives real perspective into the sheer scope of that undertaking.

Soon enough the intersection of Highway 87 and gorgeous Sylvan Lake rolls into view. It's beautiful, but chances are that'll be lost in the ominous rumble of dozens of V-twins on Needles Highway (Highway 87). Hook a right (east) onto 87, and throttle down—you'll be in the thick of thousands of motorcycles. That's understandable; this is a bucket-list ride, one that slips through narrow tunnels scoured into mountains, winds past granite Cathedral Spires, and skirts Mother Nature's garden art, the Eye of the Needle. With big elevation changes and serious switchbacks in the mix, be sure to keep your focus. Make it a loop by continuing on 87 until it hits 16A, then hoof it back to Custer for a shower and maybe a Buffalo Burger at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park on Highway 16. You'll need it.