Lucky girl…that’s me.
Playing hooky for a few months, traveling by motorcycle, and seeing some of the world. My odometer just passed 20,000 miles the other day and I don’t think many of them were repeats. My KLR has covered some ground this past two years – from Arizona to Newfoundland, from Ontario to Florida…I’ve spent most of my vacation days on the bike and when I left my job in June I road away from home for an extended bike trip which is nearing 10,000 miles so far.
My little black bike has gone over the Trans Labrador Highway (well part of it, but that’s another blog post), the Million Dollar Highway, and the Tail of the Dragon. I’ve ridden to Joshua Tree, to Niagara Falls, over Independence Pass in the Rockies in the spring while there was still snow at the top, to the Grand Canyon and along the rocky coast of Maine in autumn. I’ve been to some incredibly beautiful places and ridden some amazing roads, and loved almost every one of them. But after riding a few of the “best” roads in the world, I can still honestly say that in all the world, my favorite is still back home in South Dakota.
Growing up in the Black Hills has been a blessing that distance and absence from home have made very clear to me. Having been born and raised in Sturgis meant the thought of riding a motorcycle across the country was just as normal as going camping. But I didn’t work up the nerve to do it myself until after turning 40. I’d spent years riding the Black Hills in the meantime and was really excited to get out and ride to and through other places. And now, after a couple of years of vacations and this years 4-month road trip, I have a new appreciation for my all-time favorite ride – Iron Mountain Road to Needles Highway in the Black Hills.
Ride south from Rapid City on Highway 16 past Rockerville and on to Keystone. If you keep going you go through town, Highway 16/16A leads up the hill to Mount Rushmore, and I ride up to see the monument on almost every ride because I never tire of that incredible view. Between Keystone and Mount Rushmore is a road that takes you south through some of the most beautiful parts of the Black Hills, Iron Mountain Road. This road winds, curls and twists its way through tall pines and giant granite boulders. You will cross over the Pigtail Bridges, old wooden structures built to spiral and climb above the road below. You will also ride through tunnels carved into the granite rock…and pay close attention here, because these tunnels are amazingly well-designed. Each tunnel has been built into the rock at an angle that frames Mount Rushmore in the distance. It’s one of the most incredible views in all the Black Hills.
The road winds and runs through the Black Hills National Forest and past parking areas, campgrounds and trails. I stay on this road passing Spokane Creek and Elk Haven and come out at Highway 36 where I turn right and head toward Custer State Park. Custer State Park’s Game Lodge is the perfect stop for a bite and a beverage.
Highway 87 just west of the Game Lodge is known as Needles Highway,a and is the most incredible road I know. It winds north and west through rock tunnels, granite needles and spires.
Sylvan Lake is at the other side of the Eye of the Needle and the Needles Highway. It’s another great stopping point for a rest or drink and is a beautiful place to stretch out after the twisty ride. Highway 87 carries on to Highway 385 where I turn right (onto the 385) and go through Hill City (such a great little town) and on toward Rapid City riding past Sheridan Lake and over the dam at Pactola Reservoir. Then right on Highway 44 for the home stretch back to town. All told it’s a 3-4 hour ride without stops and if the traffic is light, but it is better paced for a full day.
South Dakota is a “no helmet” state, which I know lots of riders love…but as for me, I love riding and want to keep doing it for as long as I can. My motto is A-T-G-A-T-T, All The Gear All The Time. Please consider some protective gear and a helmet. I’ve provided a link below for a great source for all your gear. Wishing you all happy riding!