We visited Custer State Park on 6/29. It was not too crowded and was a very enjoyable visit.
I know some people talk about swinging by Custer State Park for a day. That definitely would not be realistic for our family. We are slow movers and we like to have a chance to change our plans and explore. We headed to Custer knowing we would be spending the whole day. We got off later than planned so we didn't hit the wildlife loop until late morning. There were still quite a few animals to view but we missed the opportunity to do a guided tour.
We entered Custer State Park through the town of Custer and Hwy 16A. It was $15 for a vehicle pass that is valid up to 7 days. Once through the gate we headed down Hwy 87 to the Wildlife Loop Road. On this road we were able to see prairie dogs, burros, and bison. We stopped at the Wildlife Station Visitors Center where we viewed the very small museum, attended a hands on wildlife presentation, picked up Jr. Ranger packets, and ate our picnic lunch. The picnic tables were in an enclosed shelter protecting us from sun and wind so that was nice. We chose not to complete the Jr. Ranger packets as the only way to earn the patch was to attend 3 or 4 ranger led activities and the times and locations they were scheduled just didn't match up with our visit.
After our long lunch stop we completed the Wildlife Loop Road and took Hwy 16A back towards the way we had entered and headed up Hwy 87 to tour the Needles Hwy. My son got car sick so this took a bit longer than expected. We stopped after tunnel 5 (you will know which one it is as it is a tight squeeze followed by a small parking area) and got out of the car. We could view the needles eye and watch tour busses fit through the tunnel which was certainly fascinating.
Next we headed up to Sylvan lake where we unloaded the kids and went for a swim. There are flush toilets located at the entrance where you can change into suits. There are pit toilets located near the swim beach which was smelly but convenient. We hung out for quite a while as the kids enjoyed the cold mountain lake water. We then headed up Hwy 87 towards Hill City. We were staying about 1/2 way between the town of Custer and Hill City so this made since.
It was a fun but very full day. We were wiped but really enjoyed it. I recommend spending at least one full day here but more if you can manage it.
We spent hours driving through the park. It was the highlight of our 22 state road trip. The herds of buffalo walked alongside our van and we saw lots of other wildlife. The roads are exciting to drive, as we took several routes and really enjoyed the scenic roads with lots of switchbacks and tunnels. We found this park to be more exciting than Mt. Rushmore.
We ADORE this park. It is the very reason that we planned our entire Black Hills, South Dakota trip. We knew it was going to be tricky with a two year-old, since we all know how much they like to sit in their car seats and admire scenery and animals from the vehicle, after a twelve hour drive to get to the park! BUT, our son surprised us and really had a good time and ended up requesting "donkies" at the end of the trip!
We visited mid-June which not only provided gorgeous weather but it was also just the beginning of the tourism season, so waiting was limited and there was little traffic. Plan for at least half of a day, but if you pack a picnic, you could stay all day long. Also, if you are staying in the area, as we were, it's a fun place to go back to if you have extra time in your travels. We ended up going 3 times!
One thing we would definitely recommend, which we proved to be true by visiting over the course of a few days at different times...GO EARLY. The morning hours are best not only for those crepuscular animals but also to avoid other tourists. We met on average 2-5 cars in the morning hours, while around the noon-time "rush" we would have five cars behind us and we'd meet several more, while roadside restrooms and Visitor Information Centers would be packed. It's worth it to arrive through the gates just after the sun is up.
The wild burros that are residents in the park are eager to greet cars, looking for food handouts. Now, keep in mind it is against wildlife stewardship ethics and most laws in nearly all parks to feed wild animals, BUT these guys have obviously learned what to expect from cars. They are sometimes aggressive toward one another to jockey a better spot near people or vehicles, so be aware of that if you get out! They can easily step on kiddos' feet or bust a side mirror on accident. They are pretty darn cute though! You will likely find them closer to the end of the wildlife loop, near the Wildlife Station Visitor's Center--they have magnets on a map of the park there, and update it regularly with where the wildlife was last seen! Great source of information and really neat gift shop!
The bison were really mellow during our visit--they weren't in their mating season, so the males were pretty lazy. It made for great pictures and it was much less nerve-wracking to stop the car and gaze out of the window or snap photos. We saw a few different groups and an entire herd with many calves--adorable!
The advice we'd give other than arriving early would be to take the dirt roads that are on the park map. They are usually gravel and may be rough, but we were able to find many scenic spots and lots of wildlife by leaving the path most traveled in favor of a little adventure!
The Iron Mountain Road is another great drive that is attached to the park for wildlife and scenery. We've also heard that driving south to Wind Cave from Custer State Park is an amazing opportunity for wildlife viewing, so consider it when planning your itinerary.
**We would like to thank the Custer City Chamber of Commerce and Custer State Park for hosting our family with a week long park pass. We were not compensated in any other way and as always, our opinions are honest.**
This park is one of the most beautiful places I have been in the US. It is full of hiking, driving, camping and water adventures for any family with an outdoor bug. TONS of animals roam the park including burros who come up to your car begging for food and over 1300 bison!
In addition to being an awesome park, it is conveniently located right by Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Mammoth Dig site, numerous caves and the famous town of Deadwood.
We are a family of animal lovers, and Custer State park is full of wildlife! We loved stopping to watch the huge herds of buffalo cross the roads, and saw many antelope, prairie dogs, and other animals. Our favorite were the "wild" burros that practically stopped our car looking for handouts. They enjoyed a snack of cereal we happened to have in the car. The park is beautiful, and made for great memories!
MY MOM, KIDS AND I TRAVELED TO SOUTH DAKOTA LAST
YEAR AND HAD A BLAST. ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRIP WAS SOMEONE MENTIONING THAT CUSTARD'S STATE PARK HAD A LOT OF WILDLIFE AND DID THEY EVER. WE SAW DEER, TURKEYS,ELK, PRONGHORN, BURROS, BUFFALO, PRAIRIE DOGS AND MUCH MORE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE UNABLE TO SEE MANY OF THEM IN THE SOUTH. WE GOT A CHARGE WATCHING A PRAIRIE DOG ENJOYING HIS FOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. IT WAS FUN TO WATCH AND LET BURROS EAT FROM YOUR HAND. WE ENJOYED VIEWING A BUFFALO SCRATCHING HIS BACK ON A TELEPHONE POLE. IT WAS FUNNY. OUR MOST EXCITING PART WAS WHEN WE WERE DRIVING TOWARD THE EXIT AND CAME IN THE MIDDLE OF A HERD WALKING ALONGSIDE THE ROAD. IT WAS GREAT AND ALL OF A SUDDEN WE WERE IN THE CENTER OF A MASSIVE HERD . THE KIDS WERE IN AWE. THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO THINK. THEY WERE TAKING PICTURES AND HAVING THE BEST TIME OF THEIR LIVES. A MUST SEE PLACE FOR THE FAMILY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On our way to Mount Rushmore we happened to come across Custer State Park. What a gift. We saw herds of buffalo roaming the restored plains. The were beautiful (our college mascot is a buffalo - how appropriate). We even saw one wandering by itself. We assumed it was a young male. A must see!
This past summer we took a family vacation to the Rapid City area. Our very favorite part of the whole thing was going to Custer State Park. The drive through was a little long with small children, but in the end it was really worth it. Admission was cheap ($15) and good for an entire week. And at one point along the way there was an entire herd of tame donkeys just wandering around. Lots of people had stopped and were petting and feeding them and taking photos so we did as well, and the kids LOVED it. The donkeys were really gentle with them and it was a lot of fun! (We saw quite a few buffalo too... but didn't get out of the car for that... haha)
We were able to drive all over South Dakota on our vacation, and Custer State park was one of the beautiful areas that we stopped and hiked during our vacation. We also listened to the Elk bugling in the evening, spotted wild turkeys during the day, and watched the buffalo from the safety of our car! This is where we plan to camp on our next trip to SD, as we scouted out several very nice campgrounds within the state park borders.