A Little Place Called South Dakota
8 of the Country’s Best Riding Roads Are All Hiding in One Place
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is one of the largest motorcycle gatherings of the year. It’s filled with countless Harley-Davidsons, tricked-out baggers, and a cacophony of colorful personalities. But even if the Harley crowd really isn’t your scene, go anyway. Rent a bike and get lost on any road in almost any direction — you won’t be disappointed.
The western section of South Dakota is home to the Black Hills National Park and Custer State Park. Every highway is a pristine, paved slice of perfection, home to every kind of riding one could expect and speckled around these roads is a number of spectacular must-see monuments and historical locations worth visiting without a motorcycle. But you’d be missing out on the best way to pay a visit: on two wheels, completely immersed in nature. Now, you could take a few days off to fully enjoy each one of the roads on this list, but if you’re on a time crunch and want to ride some of the best asphalt the Midwest has to offer, you can hit a few of these all in one day.
The Iron Mountain Road
Heading South from the town of Keystone, Highway 16A — or as the locals call it, Iron Mountain Road — is one of the Black Hills more technically difficult stretches of pavement. Prepare yourself for 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, three pigtails, three rock tunnels, and two split road sections. Speed limits along this highway are kept low to prevent accidents — but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun going back and forth up the mountain.
Wildlife Loop Custer State Park
The Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park is an unmarked, unblemished road that cuts through rolling hills and grassland surrounded by wildflowers and sparsely spaced trees. Don’t be surprised if you come across herds of bison, deer, elk, or even coyotes along the way.
Highway 244 is a 10-mile road filled with scenic views and long stretches of sweeping highway. After you run the mountain roads and admire the magnificent rock formations along Needles Highway, Highway 244 leads you to Mount Rushmore.
Nestled between Highway 16A and Highway 244, Needles Highway is a 14-mile stretch of Highway 87 that cuts through a forest of spruce and pine, meadows of birch and aspen, and majestic granite formations known as the Cathedral Spires. Needles Highway is closed during the winter months, but during summer, spring and fall, the unmarked roadway features some of the twistiest roads you’ll find in the Black Hills.
Hill City Keystone Road
Hill City Keystone Road, formally known as Old Hill City Road, is an incredibly special stretch of asphalt that connects the town of Hill City and Keystone. The road consists of a two-lane, eight-mile road with scenic valley views and lush forests on either side. One truly iconic aspect of this road is the 13 rail crossings, and especially the Black Hills Central Railroad heritage steam locomotive that ferries tourists between Keystone and Hill City. Here you can follow the locomotive along the road — just be sure to stay ahead of it and cross the rails safely. There are no guard rails or signals to force you to stop. It really is a slice of the Old West.
Vanocker Canyon Road
Vanocker Canyon Road begins at the south end of Sturgis, just off Interstate 90, and winds southwest into the town of Nemo. For 17 miles you’ll be treated to vast open views of low lying grassland, hills filled with aspen and birch, and great views of the open sky. Vonocker Canyon will speak to your inner easy rider with continuously linked sweepers and gradual changes in elevation.
Nemo Road North Toward Deadwood
Yes, that Deadwood. After running Vanocker Canyon Road, you’ll come to Nemo Road. Head south toward Rapid City or head north and you’ll be rewarded with pavement that undulates and twists like the tail of a dragon. At the end of Nemo Road, head north on Highway 385 into the historic town of Deadwood. A once-illegal settlement from the 1870s, the town was known for its lawlessness, gambling, and violence. Today, the entire town of Deadwood is on the National Historic Register and is one of the few places you can gamble where Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok once did.
Merritt Estes Road
If you’re looking for a little shortcut from Highway 385 to Vanocker Canyon and Nemo Road, and your bike can handle a little dirt, Merritt Estes Road perfect: seven beautiful miles of the brown dusty stuff. The Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park are just some of South Dakota’s crown jewels for motorcycling and sight seeing.
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