The Narrow Tunnels of the Needles Highway

At the heart of Custer State Park lies 14-miles of winding pavement called the Needles Highway. Built in the 1920s, the road is an engineering marvel that’s located within the South Dakota Black Hills. Known for its three narrow tunnels, steep climbs, and hairpin turns the 2-lane road offers park visitors an unforgettable driving experience – an experience Gail and I thought we would miss.

Our van “Alice” is an oversized vehicle that, at times, can limit where we go. Upon arriving at the state park, we looked up the posted opening dimensions of each narrow tunnel along the route. Based on our comfort level, we felt Alice might not fit through some of them or if she did, we might damage her. Alice is about 7’ 8” Wide (including mirrors) and 9’6” Tall.

The listed sizes of the tunnels on the park map are:

  • Needles Eye – 8’ 4” Wide x 9’ 8” Tall
  • Hood Tunnel – 10’ 6” Wide x 9’ 10” Tall
  • Iron Creek Tunnel – 9’ 0” Wide x 11’ 4” Tall

The last thing we wanted to do was to drive Alice into a tunnel that would damage her. Worse yet, we heard stories of RVs that had gotten stuck in the tunnel while trying to pass through.

What a nightmare that would be!

Alice and the Narrow Tunnels of the Needles Highway

On our last day in the park, we hiked Cathedral Trail and Little Devil’s Tower. When we completed the hikes, Gail started talking to a Ranger in the parking lot about driving Alice through the tunnels. He assured us we could fit through each opening. In fact, he said, “I’m going that way, just follow me and I will guide you through the first one.” Wow! That was an offer we couldn’t say no to.

When we approached the first tunnel, the Ranger got out of his truck and guided us through it. Although it was a snug fit, we really had plenty of room to drive it.

Once on the other side, the Ranger told us, “If you can fit through that one you will fit through all of them. Have a great day!”

Because of the Ranger who went the extra mile to help us, our story of the Needles Highway will always include him. The winding road and tight tunnels were impressive and the Ranger’s role was memorable too!


The Needles Highway is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Custer State Park.

As with any scenic drive, the highway can be busy during peaks season, so it’s best to plan ahead and start early to avoid crowds. The route is also closed during the winter months. They close the road with the first snow and it remains closed until April 1st each year.

With its stunning views, unique rock formations and abundant wildlife, Custer State Park is a gem of the Black Hills and the Needles Highway highlights the beauty of the area perfectly.

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