A go to to Custer State Park is ticking off one of many greatest locations in the USA. It shouldn’t be solely stuffed with stunning views, however additionally it is a complete wildlife vacation spot. You’ll spot every part from prairie canines and bighorn sheep to cute white-tailed deer, and mule deer. But the star attraction is unquestionably its herds of bison. Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the 71,000 acres state park can be unimaginable for mountain climbing trails and scenic drives. If you’re keen on outside actions and spectacular views will love these greatest issues to do in Custer State Park. I do know we did.
Top Things to Do in Custer State Park
This information has amazingly memorable issues to do in Custer State Park. Whether you choose to head to Stockade Lake or Center Lake, Cathedral Spires Trail, or Wildlife Loop Road, we’ve received top-tier actions lined up. Are you prepared to begin planning? Let’s go.
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1. Sylvan Lake Shore Trail
Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is without doubt one of the hottest issues to do in Custer State Park. The mountain climbing path laps Sylvan Lake, the prettiest of Custer State Park’s lakes. With large grey rock formations and woodland that spills proper up to the shoreline in elements, Sylvan Lake is well recognizable.
Sylvan Lake is so stunning that it caught the attention of film producers and was used as a set in the Nicolas Cage film ‘National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets’. (Watch it on Amazon) You can take these views in for your self with a fast hike on the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail.
The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail takes 40-60 minutes to full and is a complete breeze to hike. The route is flat and straightforward to navigate – appropriate for households with young children or vacationers wanting a fast mountain climbing path. There are many pure stopping factors across the path as effectively. Sylvan Lake has a spot the place you may sunbathe with a seashore towel. And the shallow shoreline is ideal for paddling to cool off from the hike. At Sylvan Lake, guests additionally boat and fish. If you desire a luxurious deal with after your stroll, Sylvan Lake Lodge is accessible for positive eating.
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2. Center Lake
Center Lake is the place to go to to keep away from crowds, not be part of them. While Sylvan Lake is its flashy neighbor, this lake is the woman subsequent door. The lake has its personal campground – Center Lake Campground – the place you may camp or get pleasure from leisure amenities. And the lake is ready scenically amidst Ponderosa pines. Visiting Center Lake is without doubt one of the greatest issues to do in Custer State Park: sit down and luxuriate in lake views in peace and quiet.
Since this lake is a bit smaller than most different lakes in Custer State Park, its water warms up a lot sooner. This means which you could head for a mid-morning swim fairly simply. It is good for these wanting a fast dip to begin their day, because the water is heat and the crowds are virtually non-existent.
Unlike Sylvan Lake, Center Lake is healthier for its environment than any of its actions. You can nonetheless stroll across the lake and benefit from the water, however its primary draw is its peaceable environment. Bring a picnic and a e book and curl up by the shoreline.
3. Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is without doubt one of the greatest scenic drives in the state park. The street has 314 dramatic switchback turns and passes via 3 tunnels. Iron Mountain Road is fascinating to drive, and this little street journey is without doubt one of the greatest issues to do in Custer State Park. You’ll need to hop out each couple of minutes to snap photos. It is the type of street you may think about drone footage of – with curved switchbacks that seem like one thing straight out of a journey journal.
Iron Mountain Road takes round 60 minutes to drive. However, we recommend permitting a few hours so you may cease as many occasions as you need. Iron Mountain Road is without doubt one of the most well-known in the USA, not to mention the Black Hills. Make the many of the photogenic sections and hop out to snap photographs. Make positive to cease at Mount Rushmore National Memorial as effectively, which is situated alongside this street.
Logistically you’ll seemingly use Iron Mountain Road to entry a few of your deliberate sights. But double-check, and make time to drive this thrilling stretch of street if not. It is price noting that this street is extra arduous with lengthy automobiles like RVs due to all of the tight turns. If you determine to enterprise alongside this street with such a automobile, permit double the time as a precaution so you may take it good and regular.
Pick up this guided audio driving tour as you self drive via the Black Hills and Mt Rushmore. Explore at your individual tempo with an easy-to-use, downloadable app. If you want to hire a automobile, take a look at RentalCars.com to examine automobile rental costs.
4. Cathedral Spires Trail
Cathedral Spires Trail is without doubt one of the greatest issues to do in Custer State Park if you’d like a difficult hike. The path is 1.5 miles a method and takes round an hour to full. Despite its brief size, it is without doubt one of the most strenuous mountain climbing trails and will solely be tried by hikers with correct apparel. Cathedral Spires Trail is unquestionably a late spring and summer season hike as effectively since snowfall renders the path too slippery.
The hike begins by approaching the beautiful Cathedral Spire rock formations, simply into the sky en masse in pointed pinnacles. As you get nearer, the terrain then switches. You make your approach up the rocks by way of brief scrambles. There are sections of unmarked trails the place you climb up the rock faces.
Cathedral Spires Trail’s primary draw is the scrambles’ pleasure and exquisite views. Custer State Park is thought for its basic views – just like the rock formations round Sylvan Lake. Cathedral Spires is one other one of many park’s greatest views. The rocky pinnacles are a photogenic phenomenon and are excellent for sightseeing.
Book this present day journey to the Black Hills that features and whole day of sightseeing. Take in the views of its rock formations, canyons and lakes as you be taught concerning the areas wealthy historical past together with Custer’s expedition to the realm in 1874. See extra particulars right here.
5. Wildlife Loop Road
It is unimaginable not to love Wildlife Loop Road. It is the very best of Custer State Park’s scenic drives for wildlife sightings and takes between an hour and two hours to drive. The street loops via grasslands and passes herds and herds of bison, mule deer, and elk. Pack a pair of binoculars, too, as a result of you may typically catch sightings of lurking prairie canines, coyotes, and overhead eagles and hawks. Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park’s very personal safari expertise. Book this jeep safari in advance.
The street is simply 18 miles lengthy. However, there’s a velocity restrict of 25 miles per hour due to the variety of animals that stray alongside and on the street. Trust us, it’s in your greatest pursuits to abide by this, as a rogue bison can injury your automobile. We recommend bringing snacks and refreshments and conserving it regular to get essentially the most out of Wildlife Loop Road.
As a facet word, you may e book a guided safari expertise in the event you don’t fancy the drive. You head out in 4WD jeeps and are assured to rise up and shut to a number of the most spectacular animals in Custer State Park. These jeep excursions are just like the African safari experiences and a enjoyable approach to enterprise out round Custer State Park. With open sides, you’ve unobstructed views of the encircling wildlife, and you’ve got the enjoyment of sitting again and having fun with the drive as a passenger. More particulars right here.
6. Little Devils Tower Trail
Little Devils Tower is without doubt one of the greatest hikes in the park. For skilled hikers, don’t hesitate to add it to your Custer State Park checklist of issues to do. The 3.8 miles out and again path is reasonably difficult and takes round 3 hours to full. The elevation achieve is the trickiest half, as you achieve roughly 700 ft, primarily in the hike’s ultimate quarter. You scramble up rocks, in search of the blue-painted triangles that sign the right path. And on the prime, you get 360-degree views over the Black Hills and surrounding surroundings.
The prime of Little Devils Tower pokes out as a grey mound from the highest of the Ponderosa pine timber. It is the last word vantage level and stands at 2,121 meters in top. However, additionally it is a stunning pure landmark shut to Black Elk Peak and Cathedral Spires. If they really feel formidable, many individuals deal with two of the three vital landmarks collectively and even all three without delay. When you attain the summit, you’ll get views of the opposite two, so hold an eye fixed out.
Little Devil is without doubt one of the greatest mountain climbing trails to keep away from crowds. It is far much less busy than Cathedral Spires Trail, so that you received’t be mountain climbing in a monotonous line of different hikers. Still, we recommend strolling Little Devil in the early morning to beat the noon temperatures. If you propose to deal with Little Devil with Cathedral Spires or Black Elk Peak, set off as early as attainable to give your self sufficient time.
7. Legion Lake
Legion Lake is a sleepy retreat that coined its identify from a former American Legion publish. The resort lake is full of cabins and infrequently fairly tacky actions. You don’t have to be a visitor to get pleasure from Legion Lake, although, and you may simply pop in to benefit from the pleasant vibe and water actions. Legion Lake General Store additionally sells fishing licenses and park passes – one thing to contemplate in case you are close by and want to tick off buying these important paperwork.
Legion Lake has the Custer State Park’s trademark gray rock formations stretching proper into the lake’s waters. Surrounded by pines, it’s a shaded and peaceable spot blessed with a number of pure magnificence. It is a wonderful place to go to and chill out, quite than heading to Sylvan Lake and frog-marching round on the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. You can hire a kayak or paddleboard to get pleasure from Legion Lake from the water. Alternatively, camp on one in all its sandy shores with a seashore towel or take a look at Legion Lake Lodge.
8. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is the last word street journey and one of many prime issues to do in Custer State Park. The 70-mile route encompasses a piece of Custer State Park’s different scenic drives, together with Iron Mountain and Needles Highway. If you need to mix these drives into one expertise, we suggest noting down Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.
The byway passes customer facilities, the Needles, Mount Rushmore, and lots of wildlife – together with mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Curling your approach via gray rock formations that spike into the street and power weird turns and quirky tunnels, driving the byway is a memorable exercise in Custer State Park. It could be pushed in 3-4 hours, however truthfully, permit your self the entire day to get pleasure from it. The last item you need is to really feel rushed.
Stay alert whereas driving this scenic byway. A slowing motorist may act all of the sudden due to animals or an surprising flip forward. The wacky collection of curves and tunnels additionally demand a excessive focus stage. Consider switching between drivers in the event you assume you’ll be drained.
9. Needles Highway
Needles Highway is one other unimaginable one of many scenic drives in Custer State Park. It is most well-known for the Needles Eye Tunnel – a tiny gap in a granite spire that enables you to narrowly squeeze via in a automobile. It is a seemingly unimaginable feat till you emerge from the opposite facet. You can discover hilarious movies of individuals attempting to match varied automobiles via the tunnel on-line.
Apart from the Needles Eye Tunnel, although, the Needles Highway is without doubt one of the most stunning routes in Custer State Park. It takes round 60 minutes to full and has many sights alongside the way in which. Iron Creek Tunnel is one other famously slim tunnel alongside Needles Highway, measuring 8’9″ broad.
If you need to admire rock formations and dramatic geographical landscapes, drive Needles Highway. When visiting Custer State Park, driving the Needles Highway is a ceremony of passage. It is family-friendly as effectively; simply watch for the shrieks of pleasure out of your youngsters as you strive to squeeze via a number of the tunnels. When visiting with youngsters, test the customer heart for info on the Pups Program, which helps youngsters aged 4-6 be taught extra concerning the state park.
10. Black Elk Peak
Visiting Black Elk Peak is without doubt one of the greatest issues to do close to Custer State Park. Black Elk Peak is the best pure level in Dakota – e.g., very tall. When visiting Custer State Park, you may scale Black Elk Peak as a day journey exercise. There are quite a few routes up to the highest, all of which give beautiful views and might mix different sights alongside the way in which, like Cathedral Spires.
We suggest Black Elk Peak Trail from Lake Sylvan, alongside which you’ll be able to select between trails 4 or 9. For the best hike, choose the much less steep Trail 4 on the way in which up and Trail 9 on the way in which down and deal with Black Elk Peak as a loop hike.
The 7-mile Black Elk Peak Trail begins on the shores of Lake Sylvan. It takes round 5-6 hours in complete for the common hiker. Still, it’s smart to permit your self an additional couple of hours simply in case it takes longer than anticipated. You have stunning viewpoints staggered all through the path each mile or so, which ought to hold you motivated. Bring snacks and loads of refreshments to get pleasure from on these pure breaks. The ultimate viewpoint at Black Elk Peak summit is beautiful. You get 360-degree views and expansive views of the Black Hills and even the encircling states on the horizon.
11. Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is without doubt one of the most unmissable issues to do in Custer State Park. The enormous cliff-face is an iconic vacation spot and landmark – recognized worldwide and featured in numerous films. Mount Rushmore dons the 4 faces of outstanding presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The faces of those presidents are minimize into the rock in 60-foot-tall carvings. Mount Rushmore has develop into a spot of utmost patriotism and a marker of the USA’s political historical past.
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Visiting Mount Rushmore is a should when in the Black Hills area. Over 2 million guests come every year, primarily between June to August, and 9 am and three pm if you’d like to give the crowds a miss. It is a kind of well-known landmarks which can be really well worth the hype. So add it to your itinerary outdoors of peak hours and circle it as a must-visit attraction.
If you go to Mount Rushmore, add a detour to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Only 16 miles away, it’s a large memorial devoted to Lakota Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. It is price noting that by driving to Mount Rushmore, you’ll even be finishing the Iron Mountain scenic drive. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Considering that Crazy Horse Memorial, Iron Mountain Drive, and Mount Rushmore go so effectively collectively, we recommend permitting an entire day to full all three collectively. This premiere personal tour contains sightseeing via the Black Hills together with Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park. Full particulars right here.
12. Go Horseback Riding
Horseback driving is a wonderful approach to expertise Custer State Park. Horses can get to all of the locations the place automobiles can’t go and sooner than an individual may ever hike it – excellent. You can channel your interior cowgirl or cowboy on a journey via Custer State Park. The quantity of wildlife the park has is simply an enormous further bonus. S
potting bison and prairie canines from horseback is a lot extra particular. And not solely will you admire the expertise extra from horseback, however you’ll even be extra seemingly to get shut to wild animals. Horseback driving excursions are a superb approach to go sightseeing wildlife in Custer State Park.
One of the very best stables inside Custer State Park is Blue Bell Stables at Blue Bell Lodge. It runs guided path rides that vary from 1-hour introductory rides to full-day rides for extra skilled riders. The hour-long rides embrace a jaunt at a stroll and trot to the close by French Creek. The hour-long rides often have heron and deer sightings.
Half-day rides are extra tailor-made in direction of bison sightings and take you briefly to Wildlife Loop. Full-day rides take you on a 6-hour expertise to discover much more animals. You head via French Creek, out to Wildlife Loop, and down to Parker Canyon – the place you’ll have lunch.
Horseback driving season in Custer State Park is primarily from May to September. Bear this season in thoughts when reserving if horseback driving is one thing you’re actually dying to do. For these wanting an much more ‘Western’ expertise, contemplate a wrangler place for a season. Blue Bell Lodge takes on wranglers every season, which is ideal for these wanting to go to the state park for a way more prolonged interval.
13. Badlands National Park
For scenic viewpoint after scenic viewpoint, take a time out of the state park perimeters and enterprise to Badlands National Park. This nationwide park is without doubt one of the greatest nationwide parks in the USA. Out of all of the nationwide parks, it stands out most for its prairie wildlife and layered rock formations.
Book this personal Badlands Package the place your personal information reveals the very best of Badlands National Park drive with a cease at Wall Drug, the ghost city of Scenic, and the Minuteman Missile Site.
Its 242,756 acres are jam-packed with mountain climbing trails and street journey routes. Just an hour and 15 minutes away, it’s a breeze to mix with a vacation in Custer State Park. Read all about it at The Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Wildlife sightings are unending in Badlands National Park. The nationwide park has bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie canines. Like the Wildlife Loop Road, Badlands is an absolute mecca for the animal kingdom.
You also can go to a number of the greatest fossil beds in the world – a few of which protect historic mammal stays just like the saber-toothed tiger. This park has a lot nature, be it pure historical past or dwelling animals to spot. The Fossil Discovery Trail is the very best place to spot fossils in the park, and you may test on-line to see when paleontology talks are operating.
If you solely have a day in Badlands National Park, we recommend finishing the Badlands Loop Road and stopping on the a number of overlooks. Roberts Prairie Dog Town can be a spotlight on this loop street, and the entire expertise takes round 3 hours.
14. Rock Climbing
Rock climbers will love Custer State Park. The park is an absolute dream for mountain climbing. There are fairly actually rock formations all over the place. In reality, the rock formations are principally what brings Custer State Park its fame. The park has spectacular views, and in case you are up for an energetic half-day, add climbing to your Custer State Park itinerary.
There are some areas the place skilled rock climbers can climb independently. If you get caught on which spots to select, you may all the time head to a customer heart and get some recommendation. However, we recommend reserving a climbing tour. With a tour, you’ll all the time have a information with you. This approach, it doesn’t matter in case you are a newbie or can scale the trickiest sections along with your eyes shut. You can get useful suggestions along with your approach and knowledgeable introductions and explanations of the area.
Some of essentially the most well-known mountain climbing areas in Custer State Park embrace the Needles, Spearfish Canyon, and the close by Mount Rushmore.
15. Big Thunder Gold Mine
Big Thunder Gold Mine is without doubt one of the most historic issues to do close to Custer State Park. The 1895 gold mine is a 30-minute drive from the park’s primary customer facilities. The mine is ideal for a day journey away from Custer State Park and perception into the area’s industrial days. The consideration to element is immense. Big Thunder Gold Mine has an enormous historic goldmine, reconstructed to be protected for informative visits. It additionally has an 1895-built gold mill. The entire attraction is filled with informative displays and useful guides.
Visitors get their palms effectively and actually soiled, too, donning yellow hats to head into reconstructed mine shafts themselves. You may even become involved with actions like gold panning as effectively. Big Thunder Gold Mine is a very immersive approach to embrace the historical past surrounding Custer State Park.
We recommend reserving in advance to keep away from experiences being booked out. Doing a mine tour and gold panning expertise in a single go to is possible. It is nice too, as this fashion guests get to take part firsthand in each strategies. Most excitingly, you get to hold no matter you discover in the gold panning.
Custer State Park FAQs
Now that we’ve coated essentially the most notable 15 issues to do in Custer State Park, let’s have a look at some frequent FAQs. These are the important bits of data that you simply want to go to Custer State Park.
How to Get to Custer State Park
The greatest approach to get to Custer State Park is by aircraft after which by automobile. Rapid City Regional Airport has connecting flights to locations everywhere in the USA. It is round an hour’s drive away from Custer State Park. You can rent a automobile on the airport after which drive to one of many cities across the park’s outskirts. Assuming you keep in both Custer, Keystone, or Hill City, it’ll take 5 and half-hour to attain the state park by automobile. Check Rental Car Prices right here.
If you may’t rent or convey a automobile, you might fly into Rapid City Regional Airport, switch to Custer, and cycle to Custer State Park. The bike journey from Custer takes round 20 minutes, and you might then depart your bike someplace protected (just like the customer facilities) or use it to discover the park’s bike paths.
For these with a number of time on their palms, it may very well be enjoyable to street journey to Custer State Park. South Dakota has fascinating sights, and you might create an unimaginable street journey itinerary.
Getting Around Custer State Park
The greatest approach to get round Custer State Park is by automobile. Not solely is the park 71,000 acres in dimension (too large to realistically navigate solely on foot), however the herds of bison and different wildlife are greatest noticed from safely inside a automobile. We recommend saving the strolling for particular mountain climbing trails. Plus, utilizing a automobile to get round Custer State Park, you may get pleasure from scenic drives like Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.
It is feasible to discover many of the park by bike. Custer has many bicycle rent outlets in town heart, so you may nip in and rent one for so long as you want. Many outlets even have energy bikes, which give assisted biking – ideally suited for tackling steep hills, particularly in the event you aren’t often a bike owner.
Custer State Park additionally has shuttle providers and guided excursions which you could buy. This extremely rated tour affords a personal full-day sightseeing expertise from Rapid City. As you may see, it combines Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park, which is comparatively frequent however could be formidable if driving your self. If you’re staying in a recreation lodge, it might additionally provide shuttle providers and excursions.
The Best Time to Visit Custer State Park
June is the very best time to go to Custer State Park. June is heat, with highs of 76 Fahrenheit and plentiful wildlife sightings. It can be quieter, with fewer crowds than in July or August. It is shoulder season and among the best months for a stress-free go to to Custer State Park. You can simply discover lodging at a recreation lodge or discover a spacious plot at a campground. And sights received’t be as busy as they’ll in the peak of summer season.
If you want a wider window, May to September is the overall tourism season in Custer State Park. During this era, you may get pleasure from mountain climbing trails with out snow and in heat temperatures. Custer State Park can be among the best wildlife locations from May to September. It is filled with mountain goats, prairie canines, and mule deer.
Of course, the very best time to go to does rely upon what issues to do in Custer State Park you need to do. If you propose to go to Custer State Park in September, you may attend the Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival.
You can e book Round-Up tickets in advance. It occurs solely every year. Secure your spot for the annual Buffalo Roundup that takes place on the final Friday of September. This full-day tour picks you up from Raid City the place you’ll get pleasure from a continental breakfast, picnic lunch, and sightseeing to Sylvan Lake, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway.
If you need to spot wildflowers (just like the state flower of South Dakota, Pasqueflowers), go to in April, May, or June. Sunday Gulch Trail.
The issues to do in Custer State Park are thrilling and ideal for the outside lover. The 71,000 acres are filled with pure magnificence and are a incredible base to admire the Black Hills of South Dakota. The park is someplace to hike, hunt, sightsee, and discover. You can choose a state recreation lodge or discover a romantic little cabin to use as a base for a mountain climbing or mountain climbing vacation.
Looking for inspiration for locations and issues to do close to Custer State Park? Here are our guides on issues to do in Deadwood, the prime 8 South Dakota sights, plus some photographic proof that South Dakota is without doubt one of the most stunning locations in the world. After you go to Custer State Park, permit loads of time to sightsee the remainder of the gorgeous state.