Custer State Park

Custer State Park is one of the largest state parks in the United States. When you visit Custer State Park you are opening yourself up to free-roaming buffalo, beautiful views, lakes, streams and the absolutely magnificent granite outcroppings of the Needles spires. Here are some things to know before you visit Custer State Park in South Dakota.

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Custer State Park was officially declared an official state park in 1912 and welcomes over 2 million visitors each year.

Wildlife Loop Road

The wildlife loop road is 18 miles and takes approximately an hour to drive. This winding road will typically bring you up close to free range buffalo herds.

The park is home to approximately 1,350 head of North American bison (commonly known as buffalo) and if you are lucky, you will see quite a few. At first you may only see them off in the distance, but when you get about halfway around the loop, you can find them grazing and crossing the road.

When you come over the rise and see hundreds and hundreds of American buffalo, it’s pretty amazing. But when you get in the middle of the herd and they are walking past you within inches of your car, it can be a bit intimidating! The buffalo are so close you could actually touch them, but of course, you know better!

While we were going through the wildlife loop one of the buffalo decided that they loved the little car in front of us. It kept rubbing his head all over the trunk of the car and gave the driver and passenger a story they will never forget.

Towards the end of the Wildlife Loop, there are donkeys that you can feed. On our visit, there were so many people around the donkeys that we didn’t get out, but some people have a great time with the burros.

Needles Highway

When you leave the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop, you definitely want to take the time to drive the 14 mile road known as Needles Highway. The road name comes from the needle like granite formations that you see along the drive.

Be aware that there are several tunnels on Needles Highway and they are tight. Before you get to the tunnel there will be a sign telling you how wide the tunnel is. Pay attention to the dimensions because there is no wiggle room.

The tunnels are as narrow as 8’0″ and as high as little as 9’9″. If you are in a large vehicle, measure carefully because there are very few places to turn around.

The farther you drive on Needles Highway, the more magnificent the views become! Around every tight bend of the road, you find yourself being more amazed!

At the end of Needles Highway, you will see one of the most beautiful lakes in the area. Sylvan Lake is very popular with outdoor lovers and adventure seekers so we were unable to get a parking spot. I suggest you get there early and enjoy the view before the crowds pickup so you can actually get down to enjoy the lake!

Things to Know:

  • Do not approach the buffalo or other wildlife. They are wild and though they appear tame and docile, they should not be touched or approached.
  • There is a fee to enter the Park.
  • You can use your National Park Service pass upon entrance.
  • Restrooms are available at the Visitors Center before you enter the Wildlife Loop.
  • Time on the Wildlife Road is not measured the same as interstate or typical road driving. Most of the time, people go approximately 25 miles per hours or slower on these roads.

Have you ever driven through Custer State Park? What’s your favorite memory of the buffalo or Needles Highway? I’d love to hear!

Where to stay when you visit Custer State Park:

After a day exploring at Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore, you need a place to stay. We stayed at the MainStay Suites just 30 minutes up the road in Rapid City. MainStay Suites offers space for the family to stretch out after a full day of exploring the amazing attractions.

Located just minutes from shopping options, a movie theater and Walmart, you can let the family unwind however they choose.

You can even grab supper right across the parking lot at Sickies Garage for some great burgers and fries! *Tip: Always ask the hotel clerk to see if they coupons to save you some money!

Have you ever been to Custer State Park? What was your favorite part of the trip? I’d love to hear!

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