First held in 1938, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has grown from a small gathering of enthusiasts to the premier American biker event, attracting half a million riders to Sturgis, South Dakota, every August. For decades it’s been the rallying cry of bikers from across North America. Whether you are riding to the region or the rally, start planning now and check out some motorcycle rally riding tips before you leave!
Riding in the Black Hills of South Dakota quickens your senses and offers an elixir for the soul. The Black Hills National Forest surrounding Sturgis and nearby Badlands National Park offer miles of twisty roads, awesome scenery and memorable motorcycle rides, no matter which direction you’re coming from.
While it is worth the extra time to check out the following specific destinations, they are only a sampling of many amazing and unforgettable sensory-overload opportunities throughout the region.
Custer State Park
If you’re looking to reconnect with nature, Custer State Park should be first on your list. More than 70,000 acres of scenery, free-roaming wildlife and twisting, winding roads give riders a sense of awe at the spectacle of their surroundings.
Custer State Park is where you’ll find legendary scenic routes including Wildlife Loop Road, Needles Highway and the “Pigtail Bridges” on Iron Mountain Road. You’ll enjoy riding through rock formations and narrow tunnels with stunning views, including the Mount Rushmore Natioanl Monument. When you think you’ve witnessed the most picturesque setting imaginable, another unforgettable experience appears seconds later.
America’s first national monument, Devils Tower is massive volcanic column rising 1,265 feet from the river plain that draws almost half a million visitors per year. The tower is considered sacred by indigenous populations, has become a destination for professional rock climbers, and was featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Sci-Fi film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
While a bit farther away from Sturgis than other popular scenic routes, a motorcycle ride to Devils Tower is worth the extra time. Take the popular 100-mile “Lasso” route through South Dakota and Wyoming directly out of Sturgis and you’ll be accompanied by plenty of bikers with the same idea.
The striking geologic colors of Badlands National Park contain deposits from one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The park’s 244,000 acres are an expanse of mixed-grass prairie and rugged topography that bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and other wildlife call home. The animal kingdom and otherworldly palette of colored terrain are typically best viewed during sunrise and sunset.
Start with the steep passes and low speeds of Loop Road through the North Unit of Badlands National Park while keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife. There are numerous overlooks and pull-outs for sightseeing and scenic photography of the multicolored hills that give the park its name. For more adventurous riders, the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road can also be accessed from Badlands Loop Road, just north of the Pinnacles Overlook.
It wouldn’t be a trip to South Dakota without stopping at the tourist trap Wall Drug. Afterward, head south through the town of Scenic and continue 47 miles west around the southern side of the park to Red Shirt Table Overlook on your way back into the Black Hills and Sturgis.
Just 22 miles west of Sturgis, Spearfish Canyon Nature Area is considered one of the most beautiful locations in the Black Hills and is also one of the most popular destinations for annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees.
More than 20 miles of scenic roadways include many places to pull over and awe at spectacular views of thousand-foot limestone palisades and stunning waterfalls. An elevation change of nearly 2,000 feet along the length of the canyon adds to the beautiful backdrop found along the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.
For those who want to see all the above and more, the Black Hills Grand Tour might be the king of all motorcycle rides. Starting in Sturgis, wind west through the historic Old-West towns of Deadwood and Lead, South Dakota, and continue north through the Black Hills into Wyoming for Devils Tower, before looping back east through Spearfish Canyon.
The next day, continue south from Sturgis through forest scenery to Custer State Park and continue east toward Badlands National Park. Along this route you’ll have the option to visit regional mainstays including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
A true Black Hills touring experience, this route is made for bikers and will leave you with eternal memories. Watch the video below to find out more!
AMSOIL Technical Writer and 20-year veteran of the motorcycle industry. Enjoys tearing things apart to figure out how they work. If it can’t be repaired, it’s not worth owning.