A view from The Needles Highway, Custer State Park, South Dakota
We caught some sunshine between rain clouds and drove the Needles Highway to the Sylvan Lake area of Custer State Park. The highway is only about 18 miles long, but the scenery is outstanding! The road traverses the high land and has two rather tight tunnels cut through the rock formations. The Needles Eye is adjacent to a tunnel and sits almost on the highway. It is the featured image for this post, but if you are driving the highway and watching the narrow switchbacks, it is easy to miss it!
Once we arrived at Sylvan Lake we let Woolly Bear out of the car and set off on the easy hike around the lake. Dogs are allowed on the trails, but not on the swimming beaches. The lake water was high as South Dakota has had quite a bit of rain in the Black Hills area, so some of the trail was under water. After completing the easy mile long hike we continued on some of the other trails until Woolly began to tire. As those of you who follow this blog know, he had both knees operated on less than a year ago, and he is still not quite up to par. A mile or two is about all our exuberant Airedale can handle at one time.
We decided to have a picnic on the Wildlife Loop watching the bison and the wild burros.
Wild burros at Custer State Park
Bison having lunch with us at Custer State Park
Friday we drove the Iron Mountain Scenic Highway and visited Mt Rushmore in the morning. This highway consists of a series of pig tail log bridges, the road spirals up the mountain and has a series of circles, bridges, and narrow stone tunnels. There is one particular tunnel that gives you a look at Mt Rushmore as you exit it. We stopped at several look offs, let Woolly Bear stretch his legs, and reminisced about our time at Custer State Park and Mt Rushmore 30 years ago! We can’t figure out why it has taken us so long to visit again. Custer State Park is a very special place!
Bison at Custer SP
We left the Badlands and drove to Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This state park is a “must visit”!!! It is set between Wind Cave National Park and Mt Rushmore, but rivals those two as a phenomenal destination in itself.
We camped at Blue Bell Campground at site 22E. It is a spacious, wooded site that lies adjacent to the tenting area and backs up to the woods. The only small downside to it is the difficulty we had trying to get the camper level. We finally decided it was close enough and that as long as our refrigerator worked we weren’t going to fuss with it anymore.
The camp hosts are a delightful couple who go out of their way to be kind and helpful to incoming campers. They showed us where to fill our water tank prior to setting up, as each site has electric, but no water at it. After we set up camp we hopped in the Jeep to traverse the Wildlife Loop. We saw BigHorn Sheep, hundreds of Bison, mountain goats, pronghorns, deer, and lots of Mountain Bluebirds. Charlie was in his glory, taking hundreds of bison pictures. At one point we were surrounded on the road by about 50 bison, several way too close to the car for my comfort! Woolly Bear was well behaved, and only whined at the critters instead of barking loudly.
Too close to the Jeep for comfort!
The second day we drove the Needles Highway through interesting rock formations. We planned on hiking in the Sylvan Lake area, and brought a picnic lunch. Just as we exited the second tunnel the skies opened up and rain and hail hit the windshield. The thunderstorm lasted until we had returned to our camp, and we decided to do the hike the following day. Once again we drove the wildlife loop, and then we headed to Wind Cave National Park, which is adjacent to Custer SP. this National Park offers hiking both above the ground and on guided tours through the cave.
We are spending 5 days in the Black Hills and my next post will show some of the amazing scenery on the Needles Highway!
Pronghorn at Custer SP