A go to to Custer State Park is ticking off one of many finest locations in the USA. It isn’t solely stuffed with stunning views, however it’s also a complete wildlife vacation spot. You’ll spot the whole lot 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 unbelievable for climbing trails and scenic drives. If you like outside actions and spectacular views will love these finest 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 among the hottest issues to do in Custer State Park. The climbing path laps Sylvan Lake, the prettiest of Custer State Park’s lakes. With huge 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 simple to navigate – appropriate for households with young children or vacationers wanting a fast climbing path. There are many pure stopping factors across the path as properly. Sylvan Lake has a spot the place you’ll be able to sunbathe with a seaside 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 need a luxurious deal with after your stroll, Sylvan Lake Lodge is out there for high-quality 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’ll be able to camp or get pleasure from leisure services. And the lake is about scenically amidst Ponderosa pines. Visiting Center Lake is among the finest issues to do in Custer State Park: sit down and revel in lake views in peace and quiet.
Since this lake is somewhat smaller than most different lakes in Custer State Park, its water warms up a lot sooner. This means that you may head for a mid-morning swim fairly simply. It is right 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 ambiance than any of its actions. You can nonetheless stroll across the lake and benefit from the water, however its principal draw is its peaceable ambiance. Bring a picnic and a ebook and curl up by the shoreline.
3. Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is among the finest scenic drives in the state park. The highway has 314 dramatic switchback turns and passes via 3 tunnels. Iron Mountain Road is fascinating to drive, and this little highway journey is among the finest issues to do in Custer State Park. You’ll need to hop out each couple of minutes to snap footage. It is the form of highway you’ll be able to think about drone footage of – with curved switchbacks that appear like one thing straight out of a journey journal.
Iron Mountain Road takes round 60 minutes to drive. However, we propose permitting a few hours so you’ll be able to cease as many occasions as you need. Iron Mountain Road is among the most well-known in the USA, not to mention the Black Hills. Make the a lot of the photogenic sections and hop out to snap images. Make positive to cease at Mount Rushmore National Memorial as properly, which is situated alongside this highway.
Logistically you’ll probably use Iron Mountain Road to entry a few of your deliberate sights. But double-check, and make time to drive this thrilling stretch of highway if not. It is value noting that this highway is extra arduous with lengthy autos like RVs due to all of the tight turns. If you determine to enterprise alongside this highway with such a automobile, enable double the time as a precaution so you’ll be able to 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 automotive, take a look at RentalCars.com to evaluate automotive rental costs.
4. Cathedral Spires Trail
Cathedral Spires Trail is among the finest issues to do in Custer State Park if you’d like a difficult hike. The path is 1.5 miles a technique and takes round an hour to full. Despite its brief size, it is among the most strenuous climbing trails and may solely be tried by hikers with correct apparel. Cathedral Spires Trail is unquestionably a late spring and summer season hike as properly since snowfall renders the path too slippery.
The hike begins by approaching the gorgeous Cathedral Spire rock formations, simply into the sky en masse in pointed pinnacles. As you get nearer, the terrain then switches. You make your manner 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 principal draw is the scrambles’ pleasure and delightful views. Custer State Park is understood for its traditional views – just like the rock formations round Sylvan Lake. Cathedral Spires is one other one of many park’s finest views. The rocky pinnacles are a photogenic phenomenon and are good for sightseeing.
Book today 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 in regards to the areas wealthy historical past together with Custer’s expedition to the world in 1874. See extra particulars right here.
5. Wildlife Loop Road
It is unattainable not to love Wildlife Loop Road. It is the most effective of Custer State Park’s scenic drives for wildlife sightings and takes between an hour and two hours to drive. The highway 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’ll be able to usually 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 highway is just 18 miles lengthy. However, there’s a pace restrict of 25 miles per hour due to the variety of animals that stray alongside and on the highway. Trust us, it’s in your finest pursuits to abide by this, as a rogue bison can harm your automobile. We recommend bringing snacks and refreshments and maintaining it regular to get essentially the most out of Wildlife Loop Road.
As a aspect observe, you’ll be able to ebook a guided safari expertise in the event you don’t fancy the drive. You head out in 4WD jeeps and are assured to stand up and shut to a few of the most spectacular animals in Custer State Park. These jeep excursions are just like the African safari experiences and a enjoyable manner 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 among the finest hikes in the park. For skilled hikers, don’t hesitate to add it to your Custer State Park record of issues to do. The 3.8 miles out and again path is reasonably difficult and takes round 3 hours to full. The elevation acquire is the trickiest half, as you acquire roughly 700 toes, primarily in the hike’s closing quarter. You scramble up rocks, in search of the blue-painted triangles that sign the right path. And on the high, you get 360-degree views over the Black Hills and surrounding surroundings.
The high of Little Devils Tower pokes out as a grey mound from the highest of the Ponderosa pine bushes. It is the last word vantage level and stands at 2,121 meters in peak. However, it’s also a beautiful pure landmark shut to Black Elk Peak and Cathedral Spires. If they really feel bold, many individuals deal with two of the three important landmarks collectively and even all three without delay. When you attain the summit, you’ll get views of the opposite two, so maintain a watch out.
Little Devil is among the finest climbing trails to keep away from crowds. It is far much less busy than Cathedral Spires Trail, so that you received’t be climbing in a monotonous line of different hikers. Still, we propose strolling Little Devil in the early morning to beat the noon temperatures. If you intend to deal with Little Devil with Cathedral Spires or Black Elk Peak, set off as early as potential 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 sometimes 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 take into account if you’re 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 lots of pure magnificence. It is a superb place to go to and calm down, relatively 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 considered one of its sandy shores with a seaside towel or take a look at Legion Lake Lodge.
8. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is the last word highway journey and one of many high 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 advocate noting down Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.
The byway passes customer facilities, the Needles, Mount Rushmore, and plenty of wildlife – together with mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Curling your manner via gray rock formations that spike into the highway 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, enable 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 might act abruptly due to animals or an sudden flip forward. The wacky sequence of curves and tunnels additionally demand a excessive focus degree. Consider switching between drivers in the event you suppose you’ll be drained.
9. Needles Highway
Needles Highway is one other unbelievable 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 unattainable feat till you emerge from the opposite aspect. You can discover hilarious movies of individuals attempting to match numerous autos via the tunnel on-line.
Apart from the Needles Eye Tunnel, although, the Needles Highway is among 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″ extensive.
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 properly; simply watch for the shrieks of pleasure out of your youngsters as you attempt to squeeze via a few of the tunnels. When visiting with youngsters, test the customer middle for info on the Pups Program, which helps kids aged 4-6 be taught extra in regards to the state park.
10. Black Elk Peak
Visiting Black Elk Peak is among the finest 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’ll be able to scale Black Elk Peak as a day journey exercise. There are quite a few routes up to the highest, all of which give gorgeous views and may mix different sights alongside the way in which, like Cathedral Spires.
We advocate Black Elk Peak Trail from Lake Sylvan, alongside which you’ll select between trails 4 or 9. For the simplest hike, decide 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 whole for the typical hiker. Still, it’s sensible to enable 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 maintain you motivated. Bring snacks and loads of refreshments to get pleasure from on these pure breaks. The closing viewpoint at Black Elk Peak summit is gorgeous. 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 among 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 motion pictures. 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 change 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 annually, 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 truly definitely 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 huge memorial devoted to Lakota Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. It is value 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 properly collectively, we propose permitting an entire day to full all three collectively. This premiere personal tour consists of sightseeing via the Black Hills together with Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer State Park. Full particulars right here.
12. Go Horseback Riding
Horseback using is a wonderful manner to expertise Custer State Park. Horses can get to all of the locations the place autos can’t go and sooner than an individual might ever hike it – good. You can channel your internal cowgirl or cowboy on a experience 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 probably to get shut to wild animals. Horseback using excursions are an excellent manner to go sightseeing wildlife in Custer State Park.
One of the most effective 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 the 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 using season in Custer State Park is primarily from May to September. Bear this season in thoughts when reserving if horseback using is one thing you might be actually dying to do. For these wanting an much more ‘Western’ expertise, take into account 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 day trip of the state park perimeters and enterprise to Badlands National Park. This nationwide park is among the finest 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 most effective 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 climbing trails and highway 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 endless 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 can even go to a few of the finest 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 most effective 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 propose finishing the Badlands Loop Road and stopping on the a number of overlooks. Roberts Prairie Dog Town can be a spotlight on this loop highway, 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 in every single place. In reality, the rock formations are principally what brings Custer State Park its fame. The park has spectacular views, and if you’re 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’ll be able to at all times head to a customer middle and get some recommendation. However, we propose reserving a climbing tour. With a tour, you’ll at all times have a information with you. This manner, it doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie or can scale the trickiest sections together with your eyes shut. You can get useful suggestions together with your method and skilled 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 among the most historic issues to do close to Custer State Park. The 1895 gold mine is a 30-minute drive from the park’s principal 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 unlimited historic goldmine, reconstructed to be protected for informative visits. It additionally has an 1895-built gold mill. The complete attraction is filled with informative reveals and useful guides.
Visitors get their arms properly and actually soiled, too, donning yellow hats to head into reconstructed mine shafts themselves. You may even get entangled with actions like gold panning as properly. Big Thunder Gold Mine is a extremely immersive manner 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 sweet too, as this fashion guests get to take part firsthand in each strategies. Most excitingly, you get to maintain no matter you discover in the gold panning.
Custer State Park FAQs
Now that we’ve lined essentially the most notable 15 issues to do in Custer State Park, let’s take a look at some widespread FAQs. These are the important bits of knowledge that you simply want to go to Custer State Park.
How to Get to Custer State Park
The finest manner to get to Custer State Park is by aircraft after which by automotive. Rapid City Regional Airport has connecting flights to locations all around the USA. It is round an hour’s drive away from Custer State Park. You can rent a automotive 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 is going to take 5 and half-hour to attain the state park by automotive. Check Rental Car Prices right here.
If you’ll be able to’t rent or deliver a automotive, you possibly can fly into Rapid City Regional Airport, switch to Custer, and cycle to Custer State Park. The bike experience from Custer takes round 20 minutes, and you possibly can then go away your bike someplace protected (just like the customer facilities) or use it to discover the park’s bike paths.
For these with lots of time on their arms, it might be enjoyable to highway journey to Custer State Park. South Dakota has fascinating sights, and you possibly can create an unbelievable highway journey itinerary.
Getting Around Custer State Park
The finest manner to get round Custer State Park is by automotive. Not solely is the park 71,000 acres in dimension (too massive to realistically navigate solely on foot), however the herds of bison and different wildlife are finest noticed from safely inside a automobile. We recommend saving the strolling for particular climbing trails. Plus, utilizing a automotive to get round Custer State Park, you’ll be able to get pleasure from scenic drives like Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.
It is feasible to discover a lot of the park by bike. Custer has many bicycle rent retailers in town middle, so you’ll be able to nip in and rent one for so long as you want. Many retailers even have energy bikes, which give assisted biking – supreme for tackling steep hills, particularly in the event you aren’t often a bicycle owner.
Custer State Park additionally has shuttle providers and guided excursions that you may buy. This extremely rated tour provides a personal full-day sightseeing expertise from Rapid City. As you’ll be able to see, it combines Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park, which is comparatively widespread however could be bold if driving your self. If you might be staying in a sport lodge, it could additionally supply shuttle providers and excursions.
The Best Time to Visit Custer State Park
June is the most effective 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 sport lodge or discover a spacious plot at a campground. And sights received’t be as busy as they are going to in the peak of summer season.
If you want a wider window, May to September is the final tourism season in Custer State Park. During this era, you’ll be able to get pleasure from 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 most effective time to go to does rely on what issues to do in Custer State Park you need to do. If you intend to go to Custer State Park in September, you’ll be able to attend the Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival.
You can ebook 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 excellent for the outside lover. The 71,000 acres are stuffed with pure magnificence and are a unbelievable base to admire the Black Hills of South Dakota. The park is someplace to hike, hunt, sightsee, and discover. You can decide a state sport lodge or discover a romantic little cabin to use as a base for a 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 high 8 South Dakota sights, plus some photographic proof that South Dakota is among the most stunning locations in the world. After you go to Custer State Park, enable loads of time to sightsee the remainder of the gorgeous state.