Custer State Park is located in the Blackhills of South Dakota and is consistently listed as one of America's top 10 State Parks. One trip here and you will easily see why as it is incredibly beautiful with plenty of camping and lodging options.
Custer State Park is a destination in itself and is also centrally located to many of America's National Park Sites like Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands. Let's explore the things to do Custer State Park!
Things to do in Custer State Park
Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
The Custer State Park Wildlife Loop is 18 miles of roadway that takes you through the grasslands filled with wildlife. Visitors often see one of the 1300+ buffalo, Pronghorn Antelope, Elk, deer, birds, coyotes and the famous burros that will stick their head in your car if you are not watching! This drive alone makes it worth visiting Custer State Park.
Park Ranger John Pro Tip: Make sure to take some of the dirt roads that lead off of the wildlife loop road. You will find there are fewer park visitors and will get up into the pine forest. Make sure to watch out for other cars as they can surprise you around the corner, especially when looking at wildlife and the scenery.
Sylvan Lake Custer State Park
Words can't describe the beauty of Sylvan Lake. I vividly remember taking this picture thinking to myself that it looked more like a painting than real life!
I noticed that there was a wedding set up just around the corner, can you imagine those wedding photos?
After picking your jaw up from the ground head out onto the lake in a kayak or perhaps go for a hike. Afterward, you can enjoy a good meal at the restaurant with locally sourced food. Talk about a great day!
You can stay at the Sylvan Lake Lodge and Cabins for easy access to the lake.
Needles Highway Custer State Park
The Needles Highway is a 14-mile drive through some of the best scenery you could hope for. The needle-like granite formations instantly capture your attention, especially the tunnel at the summit that barely fits one car at a time.
This drive takes you through pine, spruce, aspen and birch trees and has amazing color in the fall! Guaranteed this will be a drive you will be telling your friends and family about back home.
Fun Fact: The original idea of Mount Rushmore was planned for the Needles area. Gutzon Borglum rejected the needles due to the poor quality of the granite and the strong opposition from Native American groups and decided Mount Rushmore and its southeast facing sun exposure.
Custer State Park Game Lodge
Have you ever wanted to sleep where a U.S. President has slept? The State Game Lodge was the "1927 Summer White House" for President Calvin Coolidge.
Dwight D. Eisenhower also stayed in this breathtaking lodge made of stone & wood and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today you can rent out either room that one of the presidents stayed in! This magnificent lodge also has a dining room, a store and a place to unwind and grab a drink.
Don't miss the Creekside Lodge for another great place to stay in the park.
Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup
Each September is a special time in Custer State Park. It is where Park staff and lots of volunteers work together for the buffalo roundup in Custer State Park!
It is here where you can watch 1300+ buffalo go thundering by a few hundred feet away at this annual event!
This is the time where the buffalo are branded, tested and treated. Why? Park Staff want to help protect one of America's largest buffalo herds.
Custer State Park Jeep Tour
Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours includes taking an open-air Jeep where only these vehicles are allowed to go, off-road. You will be looking for some of the park's wildlife including bison, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope.
Other paid tours include a hayride and chuckwagon cookout and there are guided horseback trail tides from the Blue Bell Lodge.
Reservations for the Safari Jeep Tour and hayride & chuckwagon cookout can be made by calling (605)255-4541.
Horseback trail rides reservations can be made by calling the Blue Bell Lodge Stables at (605)255-4700.
Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park
The Iron Mountain Road is the third must-do drive while visiting Custer State Park. The Iron Mountain Road (Highway 16A) is 17 miles long, has 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 2 tunnels, 2 splits and an incredible view of Mount Rushmore!
It may sound like a nightmare for those who suffer from motion sickness but the views are amazing and we found ourselves stopped several times to take photos. It's a great way to start your adventure to Mount Rushmore!
Explore area Parks
After exploring Custer State Park, make sure to check out other area parks. Custer State Park makes a great hub while exploring the Black Hills, especially with the number of campgrounds and lodges on site.
Nearby Parks include:
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Wind Cave National Park
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Crazy Horse
- There is also camping at the Mount Rushmore KOA
Other Parks within a few hours include:
Additional Custer State Park Articles
Lodging near Custer State Park
Norma Hamilton says
Thanks Ranger John. I've done all those things and have loved every minute spent at Custer Park. My friend and I stopped and stayed in Custer for a short while in 1992, on our way to GNP in Montana. We made 22 trips to Custer State Park after that. We always found something new as well as enjoyment in the usual delights. My friend passed 2 years ago and I no longer have a travel partner, but we both fell in love with South Dakota, especially the Custer area, and I'd love to be able to return one day. Thanks for taking good care of our park. I'm so glad the park and most of the animals survived the fire. Bless you and bless Custer State Park
Thank you for sharing your experiences! This is the magic that makes parks so special
MARSHA HAGEL MUTMUTSCHLER says
This is a wonderful post. I love the Black Hills and Custer State Park along with Needles Hyway and other places including the caves!
I am wondering how the Burros are doing since the fire, can you please let us followers know??
I am so happy you enjoyed this article on Custer State Park! Here is a link to an article about the burros after the fire. This is all I have seen posted
d Mark Armstrong says
Wondering if my old Navy buddy Ralph Turner, who I believe is retired as a park ranger is still around and do you know him? If so, I'm looking to reconnect with him and other Vietnam Vets i served with.