Custer State Park

Custer State Park

Quick Facts

Custer State Park

South Dakota

(605) 255-4515

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

Custer State Park, the second largest state park in America, is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the park is home to a variety of wildlife and magnificent scenery spanning 71,000 acres. Nearly 1,500 bison, commonly called buffalo, roam the prairies and hills of Custer State Park, which they share with swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats and curious burros. Visitors often enjoy close encounters with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park.

Slender granite formations called "Needles" dominate the skyline. These unique rock outcroppings are an excellent place for rock climbers to push themselves to the limit. Visitors are free to roam amidst pure nature. Enjoy leisurely walks along extensive hiking trails throughout the park or climb the summit of Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. At the top is a breathtaking vista of granite peaks carpeted with evergreens and aspens.

Park visitors love kayaking, canoeing and paddleboating in the refreshing mountain lakes. The park offers horseback riding, Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours, chuck wagon suppers, gold panning demonstrations, fishing, naturalist programs and much more. Unique lodges and scenic campgrounds provide the ideal location for creating lasting vacation memories in the great outdoors.

Map of Custer (SD)

Latitude, Longitude: 43.731351, -103.425234

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Activities

  • Boating

    Custer State Park Resorts offers rentals of paddle boats, kayaks, and row boats, which may be used on most of the lakes in the park.

  • Bicycling

    Mountain biking is allowed in most areas of Custer State Park, except in those areas posted closed, which include the Sylvan Lake watershed area. A brochure describing biking opportunities may be found at the visitor centers, entrance stations and the Custer State Park office.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Custer State Park boasts several scenic drives that explore the diversity of the area, from the granite spires of Needles Highway to the bison along Wildlife Loop Road.

    The Needles Highway is 14 miles long, taking 45-60 minutes to drive. It is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen and rugged granite mountains. The road's name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway. Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle's Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing and thawing.

    The seventeen miles of the Iron Mountain Road connect Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The highway passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Black Hills and including three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. The road is famous for the "Pigtail Bridges" that allows travelers to drop or gain altitude quickly.

    Wildlife Loop Road is 18 miles long and twists and turns its way through the prairie and ponderosa pine-studded hills that harbor many of the park's wildlife species. On most days guests will come face to face with the number one inhabitant of the park, the 1,300 free roaming buffalo. The best time to view animals along the Wildlife Loop Road is early morning or late in the evening, just before sunset.

  • Camping

    Custer State Park offers a variety of camping options: car and RV camping, primitive camping for backpackers, a horsecamp, and cabins. Each campsite at Custer State Park has a gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate and picnic table. Electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. There are nine campgrounds. All campgrounds except Center Lake offer flush toilets and showers. Center Lake has showers and vault toilets. There are also two group campgrounds to suit large partys' needs. The French Creek Horse Camp is designed specifically for campers with horses. Campsite fees are collected daily and are based on the number of camping units in the party. A camping unit is a powered vehicle, motor home, camping bus, pull-type camper, tent or any other device designed for sleeping. There are also evening programs presented nightly at campground amphitheaters between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Program listings and other information are found on each of the campground's bulletin boards.

    For a more primitive outdoor experience, backpackers will find the French Creek Natural Area much to their liking. Hikers using this area can camp anywhere in the canyon bottom, but open fires are prohibited.

    In addition, there are cabins available for use. These one-room, log-style cabins are found in Blue Bell, Game Lodge, and Stockade South campgrounds as well as in French Creek Horse Camp. Each cabin has heating, air conditioning, electricity and a porch. Furnishings include a bunk bed, a double bed, table and benches.

  • Climbing

    The "Needles," dramatic granite formations offer excellent opportunities for rock climbers. In all there are about 1000 granite spires with ascents of up to 300 feet.

  • Fishing

    A South Dakota fishing license is required. Fly fisherman prefer French Creek or the Walk-In Fishing area, located between Grace Coolidge Campground and Center Lake. Sylvan Lake, in the shadow of Harney Peak, offers some excellent trout fishing for rainbow and brown trout. In Center Lake, one of the most pristine lakes in the Black Hills, anglers will find rainbow and brook trout. Stockade Lake, the largest lake in the park, offers a variety of fish including large and small mouth bass and northern pike along with a variety of pan fish. Legion Lake, named after the American Legion Camp that was founded in the area is the smallest of the lakes in the park. Here fisherman will find trout and large mouth bass. Grace Coolidge Creek and French Creek offer the best stream fishing within the park. Fisherman will find a variety of trout including rainbow, brown and brook trout.

  • Hiking

    Custer State Park's early pioneers, ranchers and loggers have left behind miles of trails and backcountry roads to explore. Several of these trails are shared by hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers. There are hiking trails for hikers of all levels and trip needs, from the half mile Badger Clark Historic Trail to the twelve mile trail through the French Creek Natural Area. The wide variety of trails provide opportunities for wildlife viewing, access to fishing ponds, and views of spectacular rock formations.

  • Historic Sites

    Visitors can walk on the banks of French Creek, where Custer's expedition first discovered gold in 1874, visit the log cabin that was home to Badger Clark, South Dakota's first poet laureate, or stop by the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center and witness the unique stone and log construction created by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

  • Horseback Riding

    Horseback riding is allowed in most areas of Custer State Park, except in those areas posted closed, which include the Sylvan Lake watershed area and the Grace Coolidge Walk-in Fishing Area. Other areas may be posted closed due to resource management concerns. There are 4 marked horse trails in Custer State Park, accessible from the French Creek Horse Camp. The trails are the Centennial Trail, French Creek and Mount Coolidge, Big Tree and Robber's Roost Draw, and Parker Canyon. Other activities for horseback riders are trips to the nearby buffalo corrals and Racetrack Butte.

  • Hunting

    Visitors hunt buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and wild turkeys in the park. Hunting is one of the tools for managing Custer State Park's prized buffalo herd. The application process and arrangement for the hunt are handled through the park. Hunts for Trophy Buffalo and Non-trophy Buffalo are held during the fall. Trophy Buffalo Hunts are a management tool to remove the oldest breeding bulls from of the herd. These bulls are at least ten years old. After the summer rut, these bulls leave the herd and winter by themselves or in small groups throughout the park. The purpose of the Non-Trophy Buffalo hunt is to remove excess cows and bulls, (primarily two year old bulls), from the herd. A guide will locate this class of animal. With the exception of buffalo, all hunting seasons are only open to residents of South Dakota. Other big game seasons include elk, deer, antelope, and turkey.

  • Wildlife Watching

    A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The herd is one of the largest publicly-owned herds in the world. Bison can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the "tatanka" for food, clothing, and shelter. Besides bison, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. The Wildlife Loop Road offers great opportunities for viewing the animals of Custer State Park.

Seasonality/Weather

The park has different activities in different seasons. In the early autumn, visitors enjoy the fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and herds of bison moving across the park.

Park Partners

Black Hills Parks & Forests Association

The Black Hills Parks & Forests Association is a non-profit cooperating association that partners with state and federal agencies to promote public understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of the Black Hills natural and cultural heritage.

The Black Hills Parks & Forests Association sells books, maps, and other park related publications online and in visitor centers at Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer State Park, the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, and Black Hills National Forest. The association publishes books and material about these areas.

The association uses the proceeds from its sales to provide financial aid to its partner agencies. The monetary donations are used to print interpretive publications, fund internship positions, purchase educational supplies and equipment, serve as matching funds for grant requests, and provide assistance toward research projects.

They also supply bookstore materials to the 1881 Custer County Courthouse Museum in Custer, SD and the Hudson Meng Bison Kill in Crawford, NE.

Custer State Park Resorts

Custer State Park Resorts operates four resorts in the park, with distinct lodging and a variety of outdoor activities.

(888) 875-0001

Directions

Driving

Heading northeast on US-16, turn right at SD-87.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(605) 255-4515

Permits

(800) 710-2267

Links