Visiting the Mt. Rushmore State and looking for the best scenic drives in South Dakota to enjoy on your trip?
South Dakota is a road tripper’s delight and you will find amazing scenic drives and byways in every corner of the state.
The scenic cruises in South Dakota weave through dramatic geological formations, gorgeous views, interesting roadside attractions, and charming small towns.
The scenic byways offer the quintessential ‘open roads’ experience – often you won’t see another car for hours!
You can have hours of fun cruising on the beautiful South Dakota scenic drives.
Best South Dakota Scenic Drives
Is South Dakota pretty to drive through?
South Dakota’s scenic drives travel through diverse landscapes, are marvelously engineered, and perfect for ‘just pack and go’ kind of travel!
You need not be going anywhere, just driving aimlessly along the outstanding byways will allow you to experience the state’s nature and wildlife at its best.
Here are the best scenic drives and byways in South Dakota to enjoy this summer:
Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway
More popularly known as the Badlands Loop Road, this is the paved two lane route that takes visitors through the heart of Badlands National Park.
The Badlands Loop Scenic byway has a special place in our hearts for its extraordinary views of the unearthly and utterly remote Badlands formations.
Needless to say, this 39 mile long road is very popular.
If you drive the Badlands Loop Road in the peak season of summer or on holiday weekends, you will be tailgating others.
Plan to road trip this scenic drive in the shoulder season, on a weekday, or at dawn – and you will have the road to yourself!
Driving the Loop Road without the crowds is an incredible experience.
The still air is broken by the shrill cries of watching prairie dogs and whistling meadowlarks.
Hawks soar in the sky and antelopes prance around.
As you drive along the road, the flat prairies suddenly give way to the badlands.
Mysterious mounds, buttes, pinnacles, and spires stretch as far as you see.
Drive further along and the never-ending Badlands Wall looms up ahead!
To make the most of this drive, plan a visit at sunrise or sunset: the bad lands look magical at these hours!
Travel Tip – the unpaved Sage Creek Road is also a great drive to explore the park.
Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, located in Custer State Park, is one of the best scenic drives in South Dakota and our personal favorite.
This route is amongst America’s Top 10 Byways and a sheer delight to drive.
This is actually a system of 3 scenic byways: all beautiful, different, and worth the drive!
The 3 drives that are considered part of the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway are Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road, Iron Mountain Road, and the Needles Highway – each of them are discussed in depth below!
The byway is named after the South Dakota Senator Peter Norbeck, who is credited with developing the byways.
The byways have an interesting story: Senator Norbeck rode on horseback and mapped the exact route for this scenic byway.
The result is a 70-mile long scenic drive that is an engineering marvel: pigtail bridges, looping hairpin curves, narrow tunnels through the granite mountains, and beautiful rock formations are some of the prominent features!
The scenic byway passes through stunning vistas of pine covered hills and features breathtaking panoramas at every turn.
It offers plenty of Black Hills wildlife viewing opportunities including deer, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, and chipmunks.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an added attraction of this road trip extraordinaire!
Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road
Visitors to Custer State Park should definitely take the time to drive the Wildlife Loop Road.
This 18-mile scenic drive winds its way through some of the park’s most picturesque scenery.
It takes you through the heart of Custer State Park and offers amazing views of the park’s wildlife, including the famous bison herd, elk, mule deer, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, and other animals in their natural habitat.
The best time to take this drive is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the animals are most active.
Pack your binoculars and camera, and get ready for some amazing photo ops!
Also, make sure to keep your distance and always respect the beautiful creatures.
Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is one of the most popular roads in South Dakota for motorcyclists.
The road, also known as 16A, winds through the Black Hills National Forest and offers stunning views of the Black Hills, Sylvan Lake, and the surrounding countryside.
It is 17 miles long and the plenty of switchbacks limit the speed to 35 miles per hour.
The main highlight of the road are the three granite tunnels; through the last one you can see Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the distance!
There are plenty of curves and hills to keep riders entertained, and the road is well-maintained so it’s perfect for a scenic drive.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, there’s no better place than the Needles Highway in Western South Dakota .
This 14-mile scenic drive winds its way through stunning granite spires and boulders, making for a spectacular sightseeing experience.
It’s highlight is the Needle’s Eye rock formation.
Driving the Badlands Loop Road is an amazing experience. Dramatic landscapes and abundant wildlife surround you at every turn.
Spearfish Canyon State And National Forest Service Scenic Byway
The 19 mile stretch of US Highway 14A in the Black Hills is known as Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
It begins at the town of Spearfish near Wyoming–South Dakota border and follows the pretty Spearfish Creek through the deep and narrow Spearfish Canyon.
The scenic route offers views of towering limestone cliffs, rapids, waterfalls, and dense forests of spruce, pine, oak, birch, and aspen.
A popular stop along the byway is Bridal Veil Falls.
This 60-foot tall cascading waterfall drop from the cliffside and makes for beautiful views.
Visitors can enjoy it from a small viewing platform built right next to the falls.
A good place to stay along the route is the Spearfish Canyon Lodge.
Keep about 2-3 hours minimum for the scenic overlooks, birding, and wildlife watching along the drive.
Best time to drive the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is in fall when the leaves turn color.
The byway is also popular with bicyclists and is one of the top 50 scenic biking routes in USA.
Black Hills Parkway
The Black Hills Parkway connects Rapid City to attractions in the Black Hills such as Deadwood, Hill City, Hot Springs, and Custer.
The road, also known as 385A, is the longest road in the Black Hills and a delight to drive.
Explore the unique tourist town and cities, hike or bike the trails, swim or fish in the mountain lakes – and enjoy your time on the road!
Native American National And State Scenic Byway
The Native American Scenic Byway in central South Dakota is a great place to learn about the indigenous history and culture of the region.
The byway follows the Missouri River and goes through grassy prairies and rolling hills.
It offers great views of limestone cliffs carved by the river.
Several prominent museums and cultural centers are located along the byway.
These explain the history and culture of the Native American tribes that live here since generations.
Must visit stops include the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain and South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center at Pierre.
The Akta Lakota Museum has a vast collection of historic artifacts that helps visitors appreciate the rich Lakota heritage.
The museums also feature contemporary works of art, handicrafts, and other items by Sioux Lakota artisans, as well as souvenirs.
I-90 W Through South Dakota
The stretch of I-90 W passing through South Dakota is as good as a scenic byway because of its innumerable attractions.
Prominent stops include Sioux Falls, Mitchell Corn Palace, Dignity Statue at Chamberlain, Minuteman Missile Site, and Badlands National Park.
All of the above western South Dakota scenic drives are also easily accessible from I-90.
Views along the road feature straight road that stretches for miles, sunflower fields, hay bales and grazing cattle, rustic buildings, and quirky roadside attractions.
A South Dakota Road Trip is an amazing experience.
Whichever roads you take, you can’t help but fall in love with the Mount Rushmore State and the beautiful Badlands during your trip.