Custer State Park, located in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota, is a state park rival to many of our national parks in terms of history, scenic beauty, and opportunities for recreation of many kinds. Amid the clear mountain waters and towering granite peaks, you can find solace for body, mind and spirit. Named for George Armstrong Custer, the 71,000-acre state park also offers great scenic drives.
Begin at the Peter Norbeck Visitors Center, which is nearly brand new but housed in a vintage stone and wood arts and crafts style building that is on the National Register of Historic Places; the hours are 9 to 4 daily. See the topographical map that shows the latest bison sightings. In need of snacks and souvenirs? Then head for the Park General Store about a mile away.
American Bison Buffalo herd in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Looking for wildlife? You have come to the right place. See the herd of 1300 free-ranging bison, as well as bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, elk, deer and the famous begging burros, who are looking for you, especially if you bring along a healthy snack for them to enjoy. These donkeys approach passing cars just hoping for a handout.
A Begging Burro asking tourists for a treat in Custer state park South Dakota
Custer State Park boasts several scenic drives that are so special you will be amazed. You can drive them to see wonders not available anywhere else. From the granite spires of Needles Highway to the bison along Wildlife Loop Road. All of these are for slow, relaxing driving, to enjoy the spectacular scenery, the dramatic roadways and the wonderful wildlife. Be sure to stop when you can to savor things up close.
Bison are usually seen all along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. So are burros, prairie dogs, turkeys, antelope, and deer. Needles Highway, SD Highway 87, is a National Scenic Byway that was said to be unbuildable. Even so, it was finished in 1922, and has fourteen miles of granite rock formations called “needles”, the Needles Eye, three wonderful one-way narrow tunnels and plenty of curves. Iron Mountain Road, US 16A, takes you all the way to within sight of Mt Rushmore; its three tunnels are designed so the monument is framed by them, off in the distance. Its three pigtail bridges are considered marvels of engineering.
Beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Want water sports or just a relaxing swim? Both Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake have delightful; flat walking trails, with dramatic boulder backdrops, and perfectly serene reflections. Canoe, kayak or paddle board to your heart’s content.
Want to linger in the park? There are lodges you can enjoy at Sylvan Lake, Legion Lake, Creekside, Blue Bell and the State Game Lodge. Blue Bell Lodge offers a mini dude ranch, and guided trail rides. State Game Lodge is historic and stately; it dates to the 1920’s. The main lodge is reminiscent of visits from President and Mrs. Coolidge. You are likely to have bison on the huge front lawn, in the parking lot, and all around you. If you are going to stay somewhere outside the park, we suggest the darling Chalet in Custer, offering absolute vintage charm in 1930’s motor court units.