At 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is one the of largest state parks in the nation. Situated in South Dakota's Black Hills, the park is a top tourist destination that encompasses some of the state's most picturesque scenery. Unique granite spires stand tall after eons of erosion, presiding over a robust forest of ponderosa pines, marshes, creeks, lakes, and meadows. Winding roads corkscrew through impossible turns and narrow tunnels. Bison roam the park along with a wide variety of wildlife including pronghorn and bighorn sheep. A variety of lodges and campgrounds provide opportunities for longer stays in the park, and this is highly recommended to anyone who hopes to fully appreciate the diversity of terrain and activities available here.
Between the rocky summits, narrow valleys, and sprawling grasslands, Custer State Park has a broad selection of outdoor opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities. As such, the park is one of the most visited destinations in the entire state, so crowds can be a serious factor in the height of the summer tourist season. If you can arrange a visit to Custer State Park outside of the peak tourist months, you are bound to enjoy your experience all the more. If that isn't in the cards, be sure to make reservations well in advance whenever possible, and pack plenty of patience. It is recommend to arrive early in the morning during peak tourist months. Parking may be hard to find around the Sylvan Lake area if you arrive by early afternoon. Also, note that while the Needles Highway closes during winter months, the park is still open in the winter and is accessible on the other roads.
Custer State Park offers miles of trails for all lengths and difficulty levels. There are too many to list in one place, but here are some of the most popular ones. Once you arrive to the park you can get more information of all hikes or check out their website.
You should take your time to drive all the scenic byways this park has to offer and stop at each overlook to soak in the view. Listed below are the scenic drives with some of the highlights you can get from each drive.
Needles Highway (Highway 87): Needles highway is by far the most popular drive in the park. The road offers narrow tunnels, miles of sharp turns, and amazing landscape formations.
Iron Mountain Road (Highway 16A): This road is known for it's pigtail bridges with many one-lane tunnels. Head north on this road to get the iconic view of Mount Rushmore from the one of the tunnels.
Wildlife Loop Road: The name of this road speaks for itself. Beware: The donkeys are very friendly. Make sure to respect all wildlife and give them their space. Bison can be very dangerous and unpredictable.
Mount Coolidge: The highest point in the central part of the park. The historic fire tower is located here and is still actively used.