Your Guide to the Iron Mountain Road Trip

Black Hills of South Dakota

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Forget the thousand-mile long road trips that crisscross the country — we have a great 17-mile one for you. 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. 

The Route 

Officially known as US Route 16A, Iron Mountain Road winds and curves through the Black Hills region of South Dakota. With a speed limit of 35, you can casually meander across the road’s dramatic twists and turns while marveling at the natural beauty around you. 

To get the most from your trip we’ve provided five stops and what you can do there. We’ll move from Custer State Park at the road’s eastern terminus to Mount Rushmore in the west.

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
01 of 06

Custer State Park: Custer County, SD

Custer State Park with people herding buffalo on horseback

Laura Grier / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

13400 US, US-16A, Custer, SD 57730, USA
+1 605-255-4515

Named for the infamous George Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer State Park has 17,000 acres of natural beauty and adventure for anyone near Iron Mountain Road. 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. You can spend a few days at Custer without running out of things to do.

02 of 06

Black Elk Wilderness

Black Elk Peak Fire Lookout Tower in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota

htrnr / Getty Images

Keystone, SD 57751, USA

If you’re into camping, backpacking, wildlife, or big adventure, Black Elk Wilderness is the place for you. The Wilderness area is 13,000 acres of rolling black hills, trails, and wildlife designated as a wilderness area in 1980. 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. Motorized vehicles and bikes aren’t allowed in the wilderness area but there are several dry-camping options if you’re ready for backpacking.

03 of 06

Crazy Horse Mountain Memorial: Crazy Horse, SD

Crazy Horse Mountain Memorial

Greg Anderson / 500px / Getty Images

12151 Ave of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD 57730, USA
+1 605-673-4681

The Black Hills region is sacred to many local Native American tribes including the Lakota. You can honor their presence and all the Native peoples who have cared for the beautiful land by visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial currently under construction on Thunderhead Mountain. The Memorial is approximately 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. 

The monument honoring the late Lakota warrior depicts him on horseback pointing across the region and though it was started in 1948 it has not reached completion. When completed the Memorial will house the Crazy Horse Monument, an Indian Museum of North America, and a Native American Cultural Center. The finished carving will stand at 641 feet long and 563 feet high making it the second largest statue in the world. Though it’s not yet finished, the under-construction statue is still a sight to behold and the Welcome Center gives you great information on the land and project. Drop some donation money off before you go to help along the completion.

04 of 06

Cosmos Mystery Area: Pennington County, SD

Cosmos Mystery Area mystery house

Cosmos Mystery Area

There’s amazing history in the Black Hills region but too much history can make a dry trip, especially if you brought the kids. For a different style of fun off Iron Mountain Road try the Cosmos Mystery Area. The main attraction at Cosmos is the Mystery House which will make you question your physical world. The Mystery House is a unique structure built to make water flow up, make small things appear large, and make you feel silly as you question your grip on reality. In the Mystery House all laws of nature and physics appear to stop working. 

After you’re done at the Mystery House you can also head into the Geode Mine where kids can dig through rubble for their own geode to smash open with a hydraulic press. Families can keep whatever geodes and formations they find. It’s an easy way for kids to accidentally learn about the geology and history of the surrounding land.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Keystone, SD

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd / DigitalVision / Getty Images

13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD 57751, USA
+1 605-574-2523

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the crown-jewel of the Iron Mountain Road Trip. Located in Keystone, SD, 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 our greatest 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 constructing Rushmore. Most don’t need more than one day at the Monument to see everything. 

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Where to Stay Near Iron Mountain Road

Cathedral Spires from Little Devils Tower, South Dakota

Federica Grassi / Moment / Getty Images

Iron Mountain Road is only 17 miles long but there are several great places to stay nearby. Custer State Park and the Mount Rushmore KOA are your best options.

Custer State Park

Custer is packed with adventure but it’s also a great place to rest and recuperate. There are nine individual camping lots for tent camping, RV camping, even camping for horses, so you’ll easily find a match for your camping needs. If you’re looking to treat yourself, you can book a room at one of the several lodges from just the basics to luxurious suites. Several of Custer’s camping options come with electric and water hookups to meet all camping needs.

While you’re resting you can get yourself and your clothes cleaned up at Custer’s hot shower and laundry facilities scattered throughout the park. It’s difficult to go wrong when you stay directly on the back step of nearby action at Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort: Hill City, SD

If you prefer private parks you can try Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort. This clean campground features electric and water hookups for any RVs and plenty of camp spots if you’re using a tent. If you prefer creature comforts this KOA also features cabins. Shower and bath facilities allow you to clean up before grabbing a bite at the snack bar or on-site restaurant.

This KOA features several great activities right at the park. You can fish, swim in the heated pools, go gold-panning, take guided horseback rides, rent a bike, take your pup to the dog park, and plenty more. Summer brings onsite rodeos, chuckwagon-style dinners, and a daily shuttle to the nighttime Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony.

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Your Guide to the Iron Mountain Road Trip