Custer State Park
Custer State Park, US Highway 16A, Custer, SD, USA
hike, road-trip, outdoor-adventures, run, water-activities
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If there's only one state park you visit in the United States, it should be Custer State Park.
There's a reason why Custer State Park has a reputation for being as amazing as National Parks, and that's because it absolutely is. In fact, I could raise a legitimate argument that Custer has even more to offer than the nearby Badlands National Park. It might be a controversial statement, but only for those who haven't experienced Custer State Park.
The entrance fee for Custer State Park is $20 but this fee includes entrance for a full 7 days. Additionally, this entrance fee also covers all other South Dakota State Parks, so you can get out there and see more of this beautiful state.
Custer State Park comprises a whopping 71,000 acres of pure beauty and serves as the single largest state park in South Dakota. Custer is a haven for all sorts of beautiful wildlife, and I consider it one of the best reasons to make a visit to this wild place. The park is home to pronghorn, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mules, antelopes, mountain lions, wild burros, elk, and bison. And what a thrill it is to see these gorgeous, wild animals in their natural habitat, rather than in a zoo.
There are three scenic drives in Custer State Park: Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and the Wildlife Loop Trail. We drove both Needles Highway, as well Wildlife Loop Trail. The two scenic drives we did were pretty different from one another, but both equally amazing. Needles Highway will see you pass through three tunnels, including the "Eye of the Needle" as it's called. And yes, it's just as much fun as you'd think to pass through the Eye of the Needle. The 'eye' is a hole just big enough for a single car to pass through, and it was created in the rock by natural weather patterns of rain, wind, freezing, and thawing. Passing through the Eye of the Needle is super fun; I've never been through such a small drive-through tunnel before in my life. Needles Highway will also see you pass by really unique rock formations and beautiful spots you can hike your way through. This highway also leads you to gorgeous Sylvan Lake, which is definitely a must-see. This lake was created back in 1881 when a dam was built across Sunday Gulch Creek, and this area is absolutely stunning! The lake offers beautiful views of unique rock formations and has picnic areas, beaches, rock climbing, swimming, and hiking trails. Sylvan Lake is a real treat.
The Wildlife Loop trail is also a must-see. We saw so many incredible animals along this drive...it was really a bucket list experience. This road is amazing if you love seeing wild animals going about their business in their natural habitats. We saw white-tailed deer, antelope, pronghorn, and more. But our favorites were the wild bison (Custer State Park is home to over 1,300 bison) and seeing the famous wild burros up-close. The park prohibits visitors from feeding the wild burros, of course, but they are so habituated to humans that they will come right up to you on the prairie. It was an amazing experience to be so close to such amazing wild animals, and the kids were beyond thrilled.
Custer State Park is one of the most incredible parks we've ever been to, so I highly recommend a visit here. After exploring Custer, head over to Mount Rushmore to see this iconic monument.