Best of the Black Hills | Between The Lines

Summer Rides, Hot Weather Lids and the Sound of Silence


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 8 - 14, 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.

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 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.

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.

**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.

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 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.

**Rally Escape **

This little reprieve from the madness starts in Rapid City. Head down Highway 44, and it’s almost a straight shot into the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. You’ll also be fairly close to Badlands National Park, should you decide to detour into what’s occasionally the hottest spot short of Hell during August. Rolling down rural Hwy. 44 shoots you through a relatively untouristed route through western South Dakota, paralleling Rapid Creek and skirting part of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands as well.