South Dakota’s Iron Mountain Road is the icing on the cake after riding Needles Highway. In the last issue of Allstate Rider News, I covered riding Needles Highway and a little of the history about these roads. Growing up, I traveled all over the country every summer with my grandparents. I cannot remember every trip, just specific bits and pieces. But I'll never forget the first time I traveled on Iron Mountain Road (IMR). While at the time I did not know or remember its name, this road's breathtaking twists and turns are an image embedded in my mind that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
Picking up from where we left off last month, if you took the
opportunity for lunch and homemade pie at the restaurant at Legion Lake Lodge, you continue back east on SR 16A. If you are coming west on SR 36, turn right onto SR 16A — which is a continuation of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. IMR is 17 miles in length and they say you can ride it in less than an hour. I suggest that you give yourself at least 2-3 hours to ride it because of the places and critters you will see along the road.
You start heading north on a very twisty section of the road that rises in elevation until you reach the top. The first time I rode my motorcycle on IMR, I saw the largest heard of wild buffalo I have seen to date and yes, they were on both sides of the road — hundreds of them! As I rode by one, I could have easily reached out and touched it! Needles Highway and IMR travel through Custer State Park. Expect to see buffalo, deer, antelope, sheep, mountain goats and donkeys, as well as the traffic jams associated with people stopping to look at them while you ride. These animals are dangerous, especially the buffalo — so keep your distance!
There are three tunnels on IMR, two of them frame Mt. Rushmore in the distance. This is the sight I remember as a boy. When they built IMR they made sure they took nature and the views of Mt. Rushmore into account. These tunnels are
one-way so be careful when approaching them, especially during Rally Week. If you travel IMR from north to south, you do not get to see these amazing views, and that is why we always ride it from south to north. Near the top there are several very tight switchbacks. When you reach them, you need to get ready to pull off at the viewing area close by. From the top of this overlook you can look across the valley and see Mt. Rushmore.
This is a great place to stop and take a break, but an even better place for photo opportunities. I have met riders from all over the world when I have stopped there. If you do not stop for photos, you will be sorry.
From here the road is downhill and steep. Shortly you will
encounter several “pig-tailed” bridges. You will cross over the bridge and then loop around and ride under the same bridge you just crossed. I have actually crossed under riders in my group that were crossing over the bridge. You are now almost off the mountain and near the end of IMR. Be aware that there are professional photographers along the road that will take your photo as you ride past them. Make sure to take note of the name of the photographer (they always have a large sign along the road) and the date and time, then go to their web site and look up your photo. Many times these are great photos and well worth buying.
As you approach Keystone, SR 16A intersects with SR 224. If you turn left onto SR 244, it will take you to Mt. Rushmore. If you have not been there before I suggest that you pay the parking fee and go into the park. There is a pull-off along the road but that really doesn’t give you the opportunity to experience the magnitude of Mt. Rushmore. By the way, Mt. Rushmore was named after Charles E. Rushmore, a prominent New York lawyer who visited the area on expedition in 1885. The idea of creating the monument came from historian Doane Robinson in 1923 to increase tourism in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The carving of the faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln was the idea of Gutzon Borglum, the man who created the carvings. His monument to America was a grouping of four leaders who brought the country from colonial times into the 20th century.
Work began in 1927 with private funding but later became funded by the federal government until October 1941, when funding was stopped to support the war effort. There was more planned for Mt Rushmore that was never completed. The entire project cost just under one million dollars. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that during construction, not one worker died. During Rally Week there is a special bike lane that makes entering the park easier. After dark, they show a movie on the history of the USA, with special lighting on the monument, and a tribute to the United States military. If you have the time it is definitely worth seeing.
When you leave Mt Rushmore, continue west on SR 244 — make sure you look up and see the George Washington profile from the road. SR 244 ends at SR 385. You can take it south and see the Crazy Horse Monument or head north to Hill City. If you head to Hill City around dinner time, make sure you stop at the Alpine Inn. During Rally Week they serve a $10 fillet, baked potato and salad that is excellent! The wait can be long, but it's worth it, so get there early.
Last month I said I'd tell you which is my favorite road: The Dragon, Needles Highway, or Iron Mountain Road. I have to say, my favorite has to be Needles Highway, followed closely by Iron Mountain Road. The views, the road, altitude changes, and the beauty of the Black Hills are really hard to beat. While the Dragon should be on everyone’s riding list, in my opinion it is a little over-rated and lacks scenic beauty. I really would like to hear your opinion and which is your favorite of these three amazing roads!
Have you ridden any of these iconic roads? Tell us about your experience.
Allstate Insurance Company is not affiliated with Bill Gade or Tour on Two. Allstate makes no warranties or representations and is not liable for any goods or services provided by this individual or organization. The views presented here do not necessarily
represent the views of Allstate.