The best route from Crazyhorse is to go back north on Hwy 16, then turn right onto Hwy 87 and travel the needles highway, wildlife loop, and iron mountain road in a counter-clockwise direction. This eliminates any backtracking, and gives you the best views of Mt. Rushmore through the iron mountain tunnels.
The only issue here is that is you drive the Wildlife Loop Road in the middle of the day, the wildlife may be scarce, as they tend to hide from the heat during the day. Otherwise this is the direction we always take.
Have fun!Edited: 25 July 2018, 09:25
If you drive the Wildlife Loop without stopping, it takes about an hour. Of course, it's a lot more fun to stop and actually see the wildlife on its namesake road. I'd say give yourself three hours, which is probably more than you'll need, but it will bank in a good buffer in case there is a ton of traffic (I wouldn't expect this).
If you're coming in from Rapid City, you might want to take Hwy 79 south to Hwy 36 into Custer, and then drive the Loop road clockwise, just to get there in the quickest fashion in the morning. This throws a bit of a wrench into the whole "drive it counter-clockwise to catch the best view on Iron Mountain Road later" idea, but overall I would say a little backtracking is worth it to see the wildlife. You could drive Custer clockwise, then catch Hwy 16A back east and head north on the Iron Mountain road from there.
Hope this helps!
If you drive the Wildlife Loop in a clockwise direction, you can stop at the Visitor Center first to find out where the animals are hanging out. The north entrance to the loop is right across the street and it's a good place to stop. Lots of info available there as well as how to avoid getting injured.
I don't know if you have a second day in the area, but for the struggles John is having with "clockwise" vs. "counterclockwise" is exactly why I don't recommend driving these roads in one day. Crazy Horse pairs well with the Needles and Sylvan Lake (Jewel Cave as well), and the Wildlife Loop, IMR and Rushmore work well.
That is so true! Doing all 3 in one day can be a real chore. Needles and Iron Mountain can be physically exhausting for the driver, especially if you've already done a lot of driving just to get here. You can not sight see! During the tourist season, the driver must pay 100% attention to the road because a lot of other people aren't! The Wildlife Loop doesn't have the hairpins, switchbacks etc. so it's an easier ride plus there are bunches of pull-outs to stop in.
Good points by Road Runner. As the driver, you really do have to pay attention, which takes away from the ability to sightsee..
Day 2: Needles Highway, Crazy Horse, and Jewel Cave (not sure what order is best)
Would appreciate any recommendations on the best routes to take. Google maps is not being very cooperative especially when trying to plot the Wild Life Route, IMR, and Needles :-)
Drive down Hwy 79 from RC to Hwy 36, south of Hermosa, turn right and go into CSP where it meets with Hwy 16A. Stop and visitor center and then cross the street and do the Wildlife Loop. Come out on Hwy 87, go north and go back to the start of IMR and up to Mt. Rushmore.
You can take Hwy 16 out of RC for different scenery. You could do Needles first, then go thru Custer to Jewel Cave and catch Crazy Horse on the way back to RC.
Since you only have one day available for the tour of Jewel Cave, it would be best to pre-book your ticket. If you rely on trying to get a Scenic Tour on a same-day basis, you might miss out. To book tickets, see: https:/…651834-Jewel-Cave-National-Monument
Here's a link to a place where you can download detailed maps of the Black Hills. It will allow you to actually see where Iron Mountain Road, the Needles Highway and the Wildlife Loop are located. http://www.blackhillsbadlands.com/maps