Custer State Park Travel Guide

  • A bison herd in Custer State Park
    A bison herd in Custer State Park
    by xoxoxenophile
  • Custer State Park
    by TooTallFinn24
  • Bison in Custer State Park
    Bison in Custer State Park
    by xoxoxenophile

Custer State Park Highlights

  • Pro
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    TooTallFinn24 says…

     Great Wildlife, Amazingly Designed Scenic Roads, Lots to Do 

  • Con
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     Isolated from Big Cities 

  • In a nutshell
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     Worth Spending A Full Day or More 

Custer State Park Things to Do

  • Needles Highway

    Another scenic loop through Custer State Park is Needles Highway. It is named Needles Highway after the granite like needles in the rock that you view from the road. The highway commences at the intersection of US Highway 16A and US 16. Travel is on US 16.In the fourteen miles it runs, it goes through three tunnels and winds among some interesting...

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  • Wildlife Loop Road

    The Wildlife Loop Road not only has some of the best opportunities to see a range of wildlife but also offers some spectacular scenery.The road which is about 18 miles long begins from the north at the intersection of South Dakota (SD) 16 and Wildlife Loop Road. As you enter the park from the north, it is the first turn south. The road runs through...

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  • So Many Bison

    Without doubt you will see bison in Custer State Park. With over 1,500 bison roaming the park, Custer State Park contains one of the worlds largest publicly owned bison herds.Bison, as opposed to buffalo which are found in different areas of the world, are characterized by short crooked horns, a big forequarter, and a large head with a heavy mane....

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  • Iron Mountain Road

    Iron Mountain Road is one of the best designed scenic roads anywhere. The road is also known as US 16A begins in the town of Keystone, South Dakota. It then winds through the Black Hills, around Mount Rushmore , into Custer State Park, and up to the top of Iron Mountain.The road offers some amazing views of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of...

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  • Sylvan Lake

    Sylvan Lake is a strange landscape. This lake, formed from the damming of the river at the end, is beautiful and austere at the same time. The rocks which lay to the northern end of the water give it an alien appearance, yet definitely reinforce the fact that you're in the Black Hills.The lake is prime vacation spot, and is always crowded. It is a...

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  • Wildlife Watching!

    Custer SP has a wealth of wildlife. The hills support large herds of bison, pronghorn, and deer (both white-tailed and mule). Other smaller mammals abound as well, including the cute and very social prairie dogs. If you come through, , going out to watch the wildlife is an absolute must. Most of the larger animals can be seen from the roadside, as...

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  • Hiking: Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing...

    This trail is nearly level, just gently sloping as you walk along side Grace Coolidge Creek (which was named in honor of the former first lady). I counted 15 creek crossings one-way, heading from Center Lake down to the the Grace Coolidge campground. Lots of marshy areas, complete with reeds, prairie flowers, and butterflies, dragonflies, and bees....

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  • Hiking: Sunday Gulch Trail

    The Sunday Gulch trail is a very beautiful hike. It starts along the lakeside walk by Sylvan Lake, but soon takes a different turn. You drop down the gulch, literally climbing down among boulders (there are hand rails to help you!) as you reach the narrow canyon at the bottom. From there you hike alongside the creek, before turning and making the...

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  • The Lakes

    There are several small lakes in Custer State Park - all extremely popular places for swimming and relaxing. They were particularly full the week we were there, when unusually warm temperatures for this area sent people looking for some place to cool off.

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  • The Grasslands

    Here's where you can feel like you're on the set of the "Dances with Wolves" movie. This part of Custer State Park has vast grasslands - and buffalo herds grazing in the distance. The wide open spaces.

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  • Needles Highway

    The drives around Custer Park are some of the more beautiful - through forests, interesting rock formations, and past a couple of small lakes. Allow yourself plenty of time. Traffic doesn't move very fast because of the winding roads, traffic, and numerous sight-seers. After all, that's why most of us are there - to see the sights.

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  • Mt. Coolidge Fire Tower

    Stop here at the northwest corner of the Wildlife Loop road for some beautiful views of the park and black hills, as well as a few displays regarding forest fires. It's at the top of a small winding mountain road, and worth a few minutes to see.

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  • One last animal

    We did spot this lonely coyote near the entrance to Wind Cave - he's in the middle of the picture. Needless to say, this park has a lot of wild animals to see. There also were prarie dogs and antelope.

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  • The Begging Burros

    As you can see, they aren't shy! The first guy got his head in the car before I could get my camera up, but I was ready for his friend. Apparently they are looking for handouts - spoiled even though you are told about a dozen times not to feed the animals! It's wild to see these guys just come on up to your car.

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  • Bison

    Pictures of these abound everywhere, and sure enough, as we turned south onto the Wildlife Loop Road from the visitor center, we ran into the herd. They're gigantic animals, so don't get too close. This was the first of three herds we ran into between Custer and Wind Cave NP.

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  • Rams

    The first set of animals we saw were a collection of rams sitting in the shade between Legion Lake and the visitor center. It's a little hard to pick them out in the picture due to the lighting, but there were about half a dozen sitting there.

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  • Cathedral Spires

    Take a break at one of the pullouts to view these granite peaks that poke out of the forest. There are more trails to get closer views, but we didn't have an opportunity to try them. These are just east of the Sylvan Lake area.

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  • Sylvan Lake

    Our trip through the park started in the Northwestern section of the park, so our first stop was Sylvan Lake. There is an opportunity for paddleboat/kayak rentals during the season. If boating isn't your thing, there is a short trail you can walk along the lake where you can take in the very blue water and some of the surrounding rock formations....

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  • Buffalo

    Drive thru Custer state park and see the wildlife. You can pay the fee and have acess to more areas of the park or follow the hwy bypass and see a few.

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  • Prairiedogs

    So it's your choice, either feed the prairiedogs or disturb them--but you can't do both.Just kidding--the "Don't" part of the sign didn't find it's way into the frame.

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  • Beautiful Scenery

    It's not just animals that make this park worth the drive. The scenery is very nice with rolling hills, pine forests and lots of grassland for the hooved animals.

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Custer State Park Restaurants

  • Rhubarb Pie With Ice Cream!

    I really really wish I had taken a picture of this place. It's a two story framed restaurant with a bright purple and brown front. This crazy place is the Purple Pie Place. I had heard about this place before and had to try it for desert even though they serve much more than pie.This is really a fun place. The waitresses and waiters really enjoy...

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  • good wholesome food

    This is a new restaurant in Custer, South Dakota. It is located in the southern part of the black hills region of western South Dakota. Mount Rushmore, Crazy horse mountain and the Needles area of Custer State Park are within a few minutes of here. It's in a beautiful mountain setting. This restaurant will stay open all year, unlike most around...

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  • Great Food and Fresh Pies

    The Legion Lake Lodge is located next to Legion Lake which is named for the American Legion Post that leased the area. Inside you can visit the gift shop/store, the dining area, rent a boat, or rent one of the rustic cabins by the lake. The dining area has some wood and lots of windows. The food tends toward burgers and other light fare but when I...

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Custer State Park Local Customs

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    Pay the toll please

    by zrim Written Apr 6, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The birros are so used to getting handouts from the passing motorists that they will shamelessly stick their heads in your vehicle and demand their tribute. (No, Mrclay, we did not feed the animals) Obviously, it is not good practice to feed wildlife. Dependence on human food can lead to a host of problems including disease and intolerable agressiveness amongst the animals.

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Custer State Park Warnings and Dangers

  • Watch For Animals Running Into the Road

    Custer State Park is literally awash with wildlife. From bison, big horn sheep, burros, mule deer, antelope and a variety of other animals it is a wildlife lovers delight. However even driving at 25-35 mph we nearly ran into two deer who ran right across Wildlife Loop Road in the middle of the day. Fortunately we did not hit any of the animals....

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  • large vehicle warning

    If you are going to drive on the "Needles" highway (us87) or the "iron mountain road". Any vehicle larger than a standard pickup truck may be in danger! There are low narrow rock tunnels(that a large vehicle can not go through) and very tight turns (switch backs) that low or long vehicles can at get stuck on. The roads are also very narrow, so the...

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  • Tunnels

    As you go through the hills, there are several tunnels you must pass through. Be sure to take your time (and your turn) so that accidents are avoided. Only one car can make it through at a time.

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Custer State Park What to Pack

  • HasTowelWillTravel's Profile Photo

    by HasTowelWillTravel Written Sep 8, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Best Easy Day Hikes Black Hills Country from Falcon Guides has a good listing of hikes all through the Black Hills region, perfect for easy strolls for the family or for soaking up the scenery. It helped a lot planning some of my hikes on days when I didn't want to kill myself on extreme hikes.

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    • Family Travel
    • National/State Park
    • Hiking and Walking

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Custer State Park Off The Beaten Path

  • Custer Wildlife Loop

    Do not miss driving the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park! As a native of South Dakota, I've spent plenty of time in the beautiful Black Hills area, and this is by far the best place to see wildlife there. Everyone does the Needles Highway drive, but many people miss the treasure that is the Wildlife Loop Scenic Byway (because of this, there are...

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  • Watch 4 Old guys tower overhead

    Mount Rushmore is definitely a unique place. Originally designed as a tourist destination, the state of South Dakota was looking for something to drum up visitors. That's when the suggestion of carving out a monument to some of our past Presidents came up, and the rest is history. Excavation took around 14 years and now we have the Mount Rushmore...

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  • Caving: Wind Cave awaits!

    Wind Cave National Park is just a little jaunt down the road from Custer, and holds in it some amazingly beautiful caves. That is really all there is to do in the park, there are few hiking trails, the big draw is the cave. There are several tours, taking you deep into the bowels of the Black Hills. The caves there are wonderful, beautiful in their...

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