Custer State Park, SD: Visitor’s Guide

Explore 71,000 acres of South Dakotan wilderness, “Where the buffalo roam.”

If you’re planning a trip to South Dakota this year, make sure that Custer State Park is a destination on your list. One of the nation’s largest state parks spanning 71,000 acres across the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park truly has something for everyone. No matter your area of interest or skill level, we can almost guarantee you’ll find something you love to do.

6 Things to Do at Custer State Park

1/ Visit the Wildlife Loop

The Wildlife Loop is a must-visit attraction in the park. This 18-mile scenic drive takes you through stunning landscapes and provides an opportunity to see a wide variety of wildlife, including bison, pronghorn, elk, and coyotes. According to travelsouthdakota.com, “Quite often found near the loop road’s southeastern tip, wild burros that don’t seem so “wild” will beg for snacks from passing vehicles.” Make note, though, that while offering the wildlife a treat may be tempting, it is also strictly prohibited. You’re also very likely to encounter the number one inhabitant of the park, 1,350 free roaming buffalo.

Black Hills tourism pros advise that you time your 90-ish minute Wildlife Loop drive around the movement of the wildlife. Ideal times are early in the morning or later in the evening, around sunrise and sunset. You’ll probably see more action that way anyway, plus, pretty skies just make an already scenic drive all the more enjoyable.

2/ Go hiking

Custer State Park has a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. From easy strolls to challenging hikes, you can explore the park’s natural beauty on foot. Again, there’s something for everyone, no matter your preparedness level or the length of your stay. If you only have a few hours but want to take in as much of the park as possible, stretch your legs around the 1-mile loop of the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. On the other hand, the Black Hills’ most dedicated hikers, cyclyists, and horseback riders might try their hand at the 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail, which some explorers take close to 40 hours of walking to complete!

Take a peek at the bottom of this page to find a trail map of Custer State Park’s hiking trails.

3/ Take a scenic drive

The park has several scenic drives that offer breathtaking views of the Black Hills. The Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are two of the most popular drives in the park. If you’re in the mood for a slow meander around the park, soaking in the sights, take a slow afternoon to roll along Needles Highway or Iron Mountain Road, “the most unusual and captivating road in America.”

Find Custer State Park’s full list of suggested scenic drives here.

4/ Visit Mount Rushmore

Custer State Park is located just a short drive from Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a famous national landmark. Be sure to include a visit to Mount Rushmore in your itinerary. There, you’ll find an abundance of local wildlife, a rich cultural history, and some of the nation’s coolest off-roading terrain. Of course, Mount Rushmore itself is the main event. But, don’t let anyone convince you there isn’t anything else cool to see.

5/ Go fishing or horseback riding

Custer State Park has several lakes and streams that offer great fishing opportunities. You can catch trout, bass, and other fish species in the park’s waters. Known among fly fishermen as an angler’s vacation destination, the Black Hills offer an abundance of water features packed with wildlife. Horseback riding is also a popular activity in the park. Several local stables, including Blue Bell Stables, Rockin’ R Trail Rides, and Sage Meadow Ranch, offer guided trail rides that take you through the park’s scenic landscapes.

6/ Attend a special event

Custer State Park hosts several special events throughout the year, including the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival. Check the park’s event calendar to see if any events coincide with your visit. Key events throughout the year include an off-road rally, gold discovery days, November’s buffalo auction, and National Trails day events.

Photo from blackhillsbadlands.com

Plan Your Trip to Custer State Park

For the ultimate guide to visiting Custer State Park, check out the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks department’s complete guide to the park. It’s called “Tatanka,” which is the Lakota word for bison or buffalo. The Tatanka is updated every year, so be sure to stay updated by checking out the park’s website while planning your trip.

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