The Needles Eye Tunnel in Custer State Park

Updated 6/10/21

The Needles Highway is one of the many scenic drives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This section of Highway 87 is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and is located in Custer State Park. The Needles Highway stretches from the junction of Highway 16A in the east to Sylvan Lake in the west. My favorite part of this drive is the Needles Eye Tunnel.

The Needles Highway winds through spectacular Black Hills scenery.  This 14 mile stretch of highway was completed in 1922.  The terrain is dotted with other-worldly granite rock pinnacles. While driving this highway, you’ll have a better appreciation of the formidable challenge construction crews must have faced trying to make this road happen!

Custer State Park Trips
Needles Highway scenery

The entire drive is amazing, but the Needles Eye Tunnel is truly unique. It is a one-lane section of road which passes right through granite.

Needles Eye Tunnel
Make sure your vehicle meets the size requirements!

The Needles Eye Tunnel is small! Be mindful of the size restrictions. Getting stuck in a tunnel on vacation would seriously cut down on fun time!

Needles Eye Tunnel
Signs indicate the size restrictions for the tunnel.

When I first read about the Needles Eye Tunnel, I assumed its name came from the feeling you get when driving through the tunnel – like going through the eye of a needle. Not so! There is actually a rock pinnacle that looks just like a needle’s eye next to the tunnel!

The Needles Eye rock formation in Custer State Park.
The Needles Eye rock formation.

It is easy to access the Needles Eye Tunnel. It is less than 2 miles from Sylvan Lake Lodge. On the west side of the tunnel, you’ll find a couple of small pullouts by the Needles Eye rock formation. I suggest that you park and get out of your car to get a better view but watch for traffic!

Needles Eye Tunnel
There are a few places to park near the Needles Eye Tunnel.

The Needles Highway and tunnel are not open during the winter. Typically, the season runs from April through sometime in October.

While you’re in the area, be sure to check out some of the incredible hikes nearby! Since the tunnel is close to Sylvan Lake, it’s a great time to take a leisurely walk around the lake or hike the much more challenging Sunday Gulch Trail. Cathedral Spires trail is also very close. This trail is one of my favorites in Custer State Park.

Needles Eye Tunnel in Custer State Park
Driving thru the Needles Eye Tunnel does feel like driving thru the eye of a needle!

The Black Hills in South Dakota has so much to see and do! The Needles Highway is only one of the incredible drives in this area!  The Needles Eye Tunnel is a fun feature that the whole family will remember long after your trip!

I am a big fan of taking a paper map since you never know when cell signal will not be awesome. Here is the National Geographic map we used.

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11 thoughts on “The Needles Eye Tunnel in Custer State Park”

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing one. We’ve been through several times, but it was during the day, so I didn’t notice whether or not there was a light.

      1. I personally don’t think it is long enough to need lights.

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