Top Ten Scenic Drives in the United States

Central: Above and Below the Paha Sapa: Custer Scenic Byway, South Dakota
  |  Gorp.com

Although dominated by ponderosa pine, the Black Hills —known to the Lakota Sioux as Paha Sapa—are home to a combination of plant life from the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and the northern boreal and eastern deciduous forests. Custer Scenic Byway cuts through the southwestern corner of South Dakota, a state characterized by the grassy, rolling hills of the Great Plains.

Before heading north travelers can go underground, through seventy miles of winding passageways amidst the incredible limestone formations of Wind Cave National Park.. Further along the byway, the Rankin Ridge National Recreation Trail—a one-mile, self-guided nature trail—explores the virtues of the park aboveground. The Black Hills are a climber's mecca; formerly occupied by 14,000-foot peaks, the land still reflects that rugged height in amazing spires and outcroppings found along the Needles Highway. From the drive's end at Sylvan Lake, hiking trails ascend Harney Peak—the highest American mountain east of the Rockies—for a grand view of the Black Hills and nearby Mount Rushmore.

Just the Facts

Route: From Wind Cave National Park through Custer State Park to Sylvan Lake in Black Hills National Forest

Length: 33 miles (one and a half hours)

Season: Spring through fall

Features and activities: Wildlife viewing at the Prairie Dog Pullout, a 360-degree vista from the Mount Coolidge fire tower, and wildlife (bison, elk, pronghorn, burros) and wildflower viewing in Custer State Park.

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