What seems like a long bike ride is actually one of the most picturesque portions of pavement in the country and it’s surrounded by fun things to do. Read on to learn about this short but fascinating stretch of road that is the Iron Mountain Road, including stops and where to stay.
Officially known as US Route 16A the Iron Mountain Road twists and turns through a portion of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Quick Facts about Iron Mountain Road
- 17 miles long
- 314 unique curves and turns
- 14 switchbacks
- 3 tunnels
- 3 pigtail bridges
- Only route that allows free passage through Custer State Park
Custer State Park
Named for the infamous George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer State Park has 17,000 acres of natural beauty and adventure. There are several ways to explore the dozens of miles of trail in the park but hiking and biking are the most popular. If your feet are tired you can go on the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour, the Hayride and Chuck Wagon Cookout, take a guided tour on horseback, or rent a kayak or canoe to explore the park by water.
Black Elk Wilderness
If you’re into camping, backpacking, wildlife, or big adventure, Black Elk Wilderness is the place for you. The area is named for the Oglala Sioux spiritual leader Black Elk and is sacred to many American Indians. The Wilderness area spans over 13,426 acres of rolling black hills, trails, and wildlife.
It’s also home to the 7,242-foot Black Elk Peak (formerly called Harney Peak) where you can see four different states from the summit. Black Elk has a unique ecosystem of rocky slopes and classic cragged peaks where you can spot mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk or you can toss your line in the water for the aquatic wildlife.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the crown-jewel of an Iron Mountain Road trip. Located in Keystone, Mount Rushmore was completed in 1941 and has hosted millions of visitors since. It took sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his aptly-named son Lincoln around 14 years to carve the 60-foot heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
You can spend hours walking around the main plaza and gazing up at the likenesses of the presidents but there’s more to do than sit and stare. The best place to start is Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center (which is temporarily closed through the rest of 2019) to see exhibits and watch a 14-minute movie that discusses the planning and execution of the monument.
After the Center you can stroll down Presidential Trail for a quick snapshot of the area. If you have a half to full day you should book yourself into a ranger-guided tour. If you’re more comfortable with your own pace you can also try an audio tour with facts about the area and carving Rushmore.
Where to Stay Near Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is only 17 miles long but there are several great places to stay nearby. Custer State Park is packed with adventure but it’s also a great place to rest and recuperate. There are nine individual campgrounds for tent camping, RV camping, even camping for horses, so you’ll easily find a match for your camping needs. Several of Custer’s camping options come with electric and water hookups to meet all camping needs.
It’s difficult to go wrong when you stay directly on the back step of nearby action at Custer State Park.
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in
awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit
— John Muir