A visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

As I was in Rapid City I decided to see Custer State Park, that morning I had visited Mount Rushmore and after I decided to head straight for Custer State Park.

It was South Dakota’s first state park and is the largest it has.  It was named after Lt Colonel George Armstrong Custer, who I had learned about at school, who had fought and died in the Battle of Little Bighorn and one of a few places in the US named after him, though it is a few hundred miles away from where he died in the battle.

The park was founded in 1912 and since then the size of the park has considerably increased.  It now covers an area of 287km2.

I drove down the Iron Mountain Road to the east entrance from Mount Rushmore.  This road is a beautiful drive and there are a few tunnels which frame Mount Rushmore when you look through them.  Unless you are me and only find this out after and have actually taken the pictures the opposite way!!  Once I got into the park I stopped at the visitors centre.  I found out that there was a 18 mile wildlife loop road and decided to drive this first.  I was told by the rangers that if I saw any of the 1,300 bison that roam the park that I need to stay in the car, or be at least a football pitch away from them as they can run very fast and are dangerous.

I hadn’t been driving long when I saw a few cars had stopped ahead of me to watch the bison in the field to the side.  As I couldn’t get past I decided to stop and have a look at them myself.  It was the first time I had seen bison in real life and was amazing to see how big they actually are.

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

All of a sudden I realised that they were now crossing the road and I was surrounded by the herd in front and behind my car.  After the warning the ranger had given me I was quite scared they would attack the car but I guess they are used to them and just walked around all the cars.  Some tourists even got out to get close up shots!!  No way I was going to do that, well at least not till later in Yellowstone when I saw a bear!!

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

The scenery along the drive is stunning and I couldn’t help but stop along the way to take pictures.

Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

I then saw the begging burros that true to name were blocking the road, not letting the cars pass and trying to get some food from the tourists.  I parked up to take a few pics for my niece who loves donkeys and they wandered close to see if I had any food!!

Begging Burros, Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Begging Burros, Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

As I was driving along I also saw the Pronghorn Antelope which looked beautiful.

Pronghorn Antelope, Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

Pronghorn Antelope, Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

At the side of the road I also spotted the Prarie Dogs.  At the time I had no idea what they were, but they were so cute to watch for a while.  Though to me they don’t look much like dogs!!

Prarie Dog, Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

After the wildlife loop I decided to drive the Needles Highway, it is 14 miles long and you drive through the forests and the granite formations, one of them called the Needles Eye.  It’s a stunning drive with amazing scenery.

Needles Highway Custer State Park South Dakota USA Needles Highway Custer State Park South Dakota USA

Needles Highway Custer State Park South Dakota USA Needles Highway Custer State Park South Dakota USA Needle Eye Custer State Park South Dakota USA

At the end of the highway I got to Sylvan Lake, where a couple were getting married at the edge of the lake.  It is such a beautiful spot and I got out of the car and had a walk around the lake.

Sylvan Lake Sout Dakota USA Sylvan Lake Sout Dakota USA

From here I then drove around to Crazy Horse Memorial to explore and see the laser show in the evening.  It was a busy but amazing day with lots of beautiful sights and if you are in the area then you must visit Custer State Park.

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Read about my visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA


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38 thoughts on “A visit to Custer State Park, South Dakota, USA

  1. This state park looks like such a great day out. I would love to see bison up so close. I like the little path and tunnel through the rocks! Would love to visit here one day

  2. I would totally love to go hiking in this area. Just gotta watch out for those crazy big animals who think they own the place 😀 Great post and loving the photos 🙂

  3. Wow! I didn’t realize it was so close to Mt. Rushmore! I’m hoping to do some road trips with my kids when they get older. I’m adding Custer State Park to my list of places to stop! How cool to see all those animals!

  4. Wow this sounds like it was an amazing adventure! All of the wildlife you witnessed along the way is unbelievable! The views and the landscape are stunning, thanks for sharing!

  5. I love this park. One of the funniest travel memories I have happened here. My dad managed to knock the sliding door off of our old minivan and it tumbled down the side of a hill at an overlook where you could see Mount Rushmore. We had to recruit some rock climbers who were taking pictures there to rappel down the side of the steep hill and hoist it up. It’s been over 20 years since and we still laugh until we cry every time the story comes up.

    • That’s a good story!! Can’t believe he actually managed to get it back!! It is a beautiful park and I was really surprised how amazing it was 🙂

  6. That’s so cool to be that close to wildlife! I agree with you though: I wouldn’t have gotten out of my car to see the bison up close. No thanks!

  7. Wow, wild Bison to see with your own eyes – this must have been a very unique experience for you! I really envy you a bit for this, since I am fascinated of wild and big animals since I am a child and only had the chance to see such beautiful and impressive creatures only in the zoo. Really glad to see them there in nature… and you even saw a bear in Yellowstone?!
    Overall the whole landscape there looks so beautiful, reminds me a little bit to Yellowstone where we have been last year. The mid and west of the USA has really some of the most impressive landscapes I have ever seen in the world.

    • Yeah it was the first time I had seen Bison in the wild, though once I got to Yellowstone I saw a lot more of them 🙂

  8. What a beautiful park! I’d never heard of it before but it’s on my radar now! I’d love to see bison and pronghorn in the wild. I’m sure it was magical!!

  9. Your post totally brought me back to my trip to SD last fall. I loved those bison and those cheeky burros! South Dakota is such a beautiful state; I loved revisiting it through your photos.

  10. They are so huge form your pictures wow! The park looks great! A safari of your own in the states, why not?! No need to see tigers and lions to be happy with nature. Sounds like a great outing there! Nature looks so beautiful too.

  11. Custer looks like a great State Park – and one I hadn’t heard of before your post. I’d love to watch the Bison roaming free around the land, although I don’t think I’d want to get too close – I think they could be mean if they felt threatened! The hikes and walks here look great too – perfect for a day out in nature!

  12. There are so many amazing national parks throughout US. This one sounds like another must-visit. The pictures of the wildlife is interesting. It’s totally worth the drive itself since you can get so many amazing views along the way!

  13. Custer State Park is certainly one of the lesser known gems. In any other part of the country this would probably be a National Park and get more attention, but in a way I’m glad it doesn’t. I remember my visit there and driving through the tunnels and a tranquil night of camping along a creek.

  14. This looks gorgeous! I’m long overdo for a US road trip (and I should include this stop!) Thanks for sharing!

  15. Wow! What a wonderful day. We would love to drive around the park exploring the wildlife. When the bison was so close to the car I was for a moment like what would come next.. But glad they just passed by. The Needle’s eye looks like an interesting place too and what a beautiful way to end the day watching a couple getting married, isnt it? 🙂

  16. It is altogether a different experience to see wildlife in their natural environs. The National Parks of the US are rendering yeoman service in the preservation of Wildlife and the environment. Custer Park seems amazing in terms of landscape and wildlife.

  17. I think after watching the sunrise I went to the Badlands National Park but I did consider Custer State Park. After seeing your photos on the 18 mile wildlife loop I wish I had stopped here too. It must have been pretty scary with those Bisons surrounding the car! Funny you mentioned the Crazy Horse Memorial because I did drive past this too.

  18. The granite rock formations certainly are in the shape of needles! What an amazing creation of nature. One can never get enough of long drives like these.

  19. Oh my, I would’ve started freaking out if the bison started coming towards my car. Luckily they know to avoid the cars! I’m surprised at the diverse amount of wildlife at Custer State Park, wasn’t expecting the donkeys.

  20. Thanks so much for this article! We did a big California road trip this year and now I have my sights set on the Dakotas, Yellowstone, and Mt. RUSHMORE. This looks like a great addition to my plans.

  21. This is a very interesting write up as I’ve always been curious about South Dakota. The bisons looks like majestic beasts and all part of the Dakota culture. And the scenery looks just as equally epic! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Wow, the road passing through the rock formations looks so cool. The drive through Custer State Park and witnessing the wildlife up close sounds like a great adventure.

  23. Great post! Definitely sounds like you had a super eventful day! Custer State Park sounds really incredible. It must be amazing to get so close to so much wildlife.

  24. Lovely photos, brought back memories ! I love this park such a little unexpected gem : the wildlife (Prairie dog, donkey, antelope, buffalo) is amazing and the needles are beautiful rocks formations. I went to the Badlands National Park & Mount Rushmore the next day 🙂

  25. The rocks look super cool — and those bison! I definitely forget, sometimes, that we have such cool wildlife in the States. I would love to road trip through the country sometime and stop in all the national and state parks.

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