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Our time in the Black Hills in October was packed full of hikes and scenic drives. The first drive we did, well I guess second if the Custer Wildlife Loop counts, was Iron Mountain Road from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. While I wasn’t super excited about the beginning of it, I definitely loved the second half of it, closer to Rushmore.
I don’t know exactly how long it took us to drive the whole thing, but it was definitely less than two hours. We did it in the late afternoon/early evening in early October and it was perfect. We only saw a couple of other cars and people, so it felt like we had it all to ourselves.
The Iron Mountain Road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, which is made up of a combination of scenic drives in the Black Hills. If you can do the whole thing, you definitely should, but even just doing parts of it separately is fantastic and worth any extra driving time you might end up doing. So if you’re trying to decide if driving Iron Mountain Road is worth it, yes!
How long is Iron Mountain Road?
Just 17 miles, but the speed limit is only 35, so plan a couple of hours for this if you’re just driving and making some stops, more if you do anything else along the way. Straight from the website, Iron Mountain Road is 17 miles, has 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, 4 presidents, and 2 splits. The minimum time to drive the whole road is 45 minutes, but you’ll probably want to be out there a little longer to really enjoy it.
What to bring on a Black Hills Trip
NatGeo National Parks Book – This is one of the best national park guidebooks and I take it on all my park trips. Plus, it’s got the nice glossy pages. This is a must if you’re going to Wind Cave or Badlands. Buy the book here.
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
What is there to do along Iron Mountain Road?
While the Iron Mountain Road isn’t packed full of things to do, the drive itself just makes it worth it. You’ve got one of the best views of Mount Rushmore from here and get to drive one of the best scenic roads in the Black Hills.
While this isn’t technically on the Iron Mountain Road, it’s at one end of it making it the perfect place to start or end your drive. You can do a little walking here and keep an eye out for bison, burros, and prairie dogs. This can connect you to the road in Wind Cave National Park, too, if you want to keep going.
Stop at pull-offs and overlooks
There are plenty of pull-offs to stop and stretch your legs, walk around a bit, maybe enjoy a picnic, and admire the views of the hills around you.
This is really the only hiking trail I could find along the road, but apparently, the trail isn’t in the best condition and is hard to follow. I would be cautious if you decide to do this. There are plenty of other amazing hikes in the area I would do instead.
Admire Mount Rushmore
While you should go visit the Mount Rushmore monument, too, you can get another great view of it from here. There are pull-offs in the best places to see it. You can even get a great view of it framed by at least one of the tunnels.
Can I see Mount Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road?
Yes! We drove it from Custer Wildlife Loop Road to Keystone and had wonderful views of it coming through tunnels. You’ll be able to see it no matter which direction you’re driving it, though. There are pull-offs and specific viewing areas so you can see it from a few of the best places. I much preferred this view and other views from roads over actually going in to see it.
Is Iron Mountain Road or Needles Highway better?
They’re both amazing! I liked the Needles Highway more and noticed right away I liked it more, but both are great. If you can only do one of the drives, I’d do Needles, but if you have time, definitely do both! Iron Mountain Road is perfect for getting from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore though, so keep that in mind if you know you’ll be seeing both of those things.
Hotels near Iron Mountain Road
There is one place to stay on Iron Mountain Road, the Spokane Creek Cabins and Campground. This is great if you want to stay on the road, but if not, there are plenty of other options. At the Spokane Creek location, there is also a cafe, coffee shop, gas, playground, pool, mini-golf, hiking trail, laundry, showers, WiFi, basketball court, volleyball court, and more. This looks like the only place to camp on Iron Mountain Road, but there are lots of other campgrounds in the area.
There are so many hotels in Keystone, right by Mount Rushmore. I’ve included a few, but you can find all of them and check prices here. I like staying in this area, but there are also plenty of hotels in Custer if you would rather stay on that end of the road. I haven’t stayed here but would consider it. You can check prices and availability here.
Quality Inn – This is where we stayed and I liked it. It’s right on the main road of Keystone and easy to walk around to shops and restaurants. It’s not the fanciest, but it was nice and I’d definitely stay there again. Check prices here.
K Bar S Lodge, Ascend Collection – The K Bar S Lodge is a few miles outside of Keystone, so if you want something out of the main part of town, this is a good option. It’s also part of the Choice Hotels chain if you’re part of their rewards program. It’s in the Peter Norbeck Wildlife preserve and offers a great profile view of Mount Rushmore. Check prices here.
Buffalo Rock Lodge (and cabins) – This is about 12 miles from Mount Rushmore and Keystone, so it’s not quite as close, but it’s a bed and breakfast, so it’s probably worth it. I would absolutely stay here because I love B&B’s. Check prices here.
Under Canvas Mount Rushmore – A little closer to Keystone than Mount Rushmore, this is perfect if you want to stay somewhere fun and different. Instead of a regular hotel, you’ll be glamping here. I stayed at Moab Under Canvas and loved it! I would definitely stay here. Check prices here.
Have you done the Iron Mountain Road drive? What did you think of it? What is your favorite scenic drive in the Black Hills?