Thematic videoCuster State Park Best Campsites, South Dakota
MOUNTAIN VIEW LODGE & CABINS
In the Black Hills near Hill City, South Dakota, you'll be minutes from all the Black Hills attractions - Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Mickelson Trail, Pactola Reservoir and more! Don't forget about the roads less traveled. There are countless trails and hiking opportunities for the whole family and skill levels. You won't find anywhere else with breathtaking scenery like the beautiful landscape of South Dakota.
Hill City has everything you'll possibly need on your trip. And there are lots of locals that are happy to share their town's rich heritage with you. Founded in 1945, it's the oldest existing city in Pennington County, South Dakota. It's located only 26 miles south of Rapid City just off Highway 16 on U.S Route 385.
We provide our guests with suites family units and cabin rentals, all with a great atmosphere and exceptional character. We know that you'll love your time here with us, and we want to make sure you have the best experience possible. Kick back and relax with us on your Black Hills and Mount Rushmore vacation!
We look forward to hearing from you!
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Needles Highway gets its name from the needle-like spires that are found in this part of Custer State Park. This road connects Sylvan Lake, in the northwest, with the heart of Custer State Park.
This is a gorgeous drive with stunning overlooks of the park.
One of the highlights of this scenic drive is the Needles Eye Tunnel. This is the narrowest tunnel in the park, first community bank harlingen tx 8 feet wide and 9 feet 9 inches high. Traffic jams are very common here, as visitors get out out of their cars to walk through the tunnel, photograph it, and photograph the nearby spire called the Needle’s Eye. There is also a scenic view of the park right from this point, making it a very popular, busy spot.
We visited midday and crowds were crazy. On a different day, early in the morning, we had it all to ourselves.
Needles Eye Tunnel
View of the granite spires from the overlook next to The Needle’s Eye
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Needles Highway is closed in the winter. It is typically open from early April through mid-October, although these dates can change depending upon snowfall.
Iron Creek Tunnel on Needles Highway
Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is a 70-mile byway that includes the above scenic drives: Wildlife Loop Road, Iron Mountain Road, and Needles Highway. It also includes Highway 385 and Highway 244, two roads near Custer State Park, that form one big driving loop. This road has been named one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.
Since most of this drive lies outside of Custer State Park, you won’t be able to do this entire drive and one driver login the park in one day. But if you also have plans to visit Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, or the Crazy Horse Memorial, there is a very good chance you will be driving more of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.
Learn more here.
One of the best things to do in Custer State Park is to hike the trails. Ranging from short, easy lakeside strolls to challenging mountain summits with a bit of rock scrambling thrown in, there is something here for everyone.
Here is a list of some of the best hikes in Custer State Park.
Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. 1 mile loop, easy, 30 minutes. This short, sweet hike makes a loop south dakota state park lodges Sylvan Lake (another must-see in Custer State Park). This hike is great for all ages.
Little Devils Tower Trail. 3 miles round trip, strenuous, 2 hours. This short but strenuous hike is lots of fun, especially at the end. The trail ends with a rock scrambling section that ends on top of a granite dome. From here, you have spectacular views of Custer State Park.
View of Black Elk Peak from Little Devils Tower
Cathedral Spires Trail. 1.6 miles round trip, 650 feet of total ascent, moderate to strenuous, 1 to 2 hours from the Cathedral Spires Trailhead. This popular hike takes you to canyon that is encircled by needles of granite rock, aka, the Cathedral Spires.
Black Elk Peak Trail. 7 miles round trip, strenuous, 4 to 6 hours. This is the longest hiking trail in Custer State Park but it has a big pay-off at the end. The trail ends at Black Elk Peak, the highest peak in the USA east of the Rockies. This is also the location of the Harney Fire Peak Lookout, a fire lookout that was built in the 1930’s by the CCC. You can enter the building for even better aerial views.
Cathedral Spires + Little Devils Tower + Black Elk Peak Hike. 8 miles round trip, 3.5 to 6 hours, strenuous. Combine three of the best hikes in the park into one epic hike. If you like hiking, this is one of the best things to do in Custer State Park. Read our post to get the full details on how to do this hike.
Black Elk Peak
View from Black Elk Peak
About Black Elk Peak
Until recently, this peak went by the name “Harney Peak,” but there is a lot of important history behind this name.
This mountain peak is sacred to the Lakota Sioux. They called the peak Hinhan Kaga, or “owl maker” and Hehaka Sapa, or “elk black.”
In 1855, the name was changed to Harney Peak, in honor of US General William S. Harney, who led a military expedition that massacred Lakota Sioux warriors, women, and children in the Battle of Blue Water Creek in Nebraska. For decades, the Sioux tried to get the name changed, since Harney massacred their people.
In 2016, the name was changed to “Black Elk Peak” in honor of Black Elk, a noted medicine man.
Go Swimming or Boating in Custer State Park’s Lakes
Swimming and fishing is permitted in all five lakes: Sylvan Lake, Center Lake, Legion Lake, Stockade Lake, and Game Lodge Pond. Just note that there are no lifeguards on duty and pets are prohibited. If you plan to go fishing, you must have a valid South Dakota fishing license.
Boating is permitted on Sylvan Lake, Legion Lake, Stockade Lake, and Center Lake. Paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes can be rented at Legion Lake and Sylvan Lake.
Sylvan Lake is by far the most popular lake in Custer State Park. This lake, with its backdrop of granite rocks, is one of the most photographed spots in the park. Numerous hiking trails start here and this is a great place to hang out on a hot summer’s day. Nearby is the Sylvan Lake Lodge and a General Store.
If you are looking for a quieter lake with fewer crowds, we recommend Center Lake. There were only a handful of people here during our visit. It doesn’t have the amenities and hiking trails like Sylvan Lake, but you’ll have a lot more peace and quiet.
The Begging Burros
The big draw to Custer State Park may be its herds of bison and scenic drives, but another popular thing to do is to see the quirky begging burros. And if you are traveling with kids, this just might be the highlight of your visit.
Burros were originally used as pack animals to transport visitors from Sylvan Lake Lodge to the summit of Black Elk Peak. Once these trips ended, the burros were released to the wild.
This small herd of burros can now be found on Wildlife Loop Road. Just join the line of cars waiting to say hello to the burros. They are not shy about approaching people, walking up to cars, and putting their heads through the window. This may look like a friendly hello but really, they are just begging for food.
Feeding the wildlife in Custer State Park is prohibited, but since these burros are the recent descendants of pack animals, they can only loosely be described as wildlife. Feeding the burros is not exactly encouraged but it does happen so frequently that it is permitted by park rangers. Crackers, apples, and carrots are popular snack foods for the burros, if you choose to feed them on your visit.
Where to See the Begging Burros:The Begging Burros are usually found on the southern end of Wildlife Loop Road, near the junction for Red Valley Road.
Watch the Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup
This is the highlight event on the park’s calendar. At the end of September, 60 riders herd the bison into corrals, where they are tested, vaccinated, and sorted. This event is a big deal, drawing roughly 20,000 visitors every year.
Why are the bison corralled? The grasslands in the park can only support 1,400 bison and there are no natural predators. Once all of the bison are rounded up, they are checked for disease and vaccinated. The surplus of bison are auctioned off and the remainder are released back into the park.
Bison in the Buffalo Corrals in Custer State Park
Attending the Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up is free to the public. The event lasts three days, in conjunction with a three-day arts festival.
Future Dates of the Custer State Park Buffalo Round Up:
- 2021: Friday, September 24
- 2022: Friday, September 30
Best Things to do in Custer State Park: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
How Many Days Do You Need in Custer State Park?
For the best experience, plan to spend one full day in Custer State Park. This gives you enough time to do the best things in Custer State Park, which include Wildlife Loop Road, the Cathedral Spires Trail, Sylvan Lake, Needles Highway, and Iron Mountain Road.
On the quickest of visits, you can visit Custer State Park in four to five hours. Drive Needles Highway, making a quick stop to see Sylvan Lake, and consider walking part or all of the Lake Shore South dakota state park lodges. Drive Wildlife Loop Road and exit the park on Iron Mountain Road.
Custer State Park Itinerary
Here are suggestions on how to spend your south dakota state park lodges if you have one to two days in Custer State Park.
One Day in Custer State Park
If you have one day in Custer State Park, here are two suggestions on how to spend your time, depending on your interests.
#1 Best of Custer State Park
- Morning: Starting at the Visitor Center, drive Wildlife Loop Drive in a clockwise direction. Along this drive you will see the Begging Burros.
- Late Morning:Drive Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake. If you like the idea of doing a short hike in the park, I recommend the Cathedral Spires hike. You will pass the parking lot for Cathedral Spires Trailhead on the way to Sylvan Lake.
- Midday: Spend some time at Sylvan Lake. Consider the easy stroll on the Lake Shore Trail or renting kayaks or paddle boards here (great in boone county ky public library summer months). Have a picnic lunch, dine at Sylvan Lake Lodge, or grab something quick to eat at the General Store.
- Afternoon: Backtrack down the Needles Highway. If you are doing good on time, and are looking for some solitude, visit Center Lake.
- Late Afternoon: Drive Highway 16A towards the Game State Lodge. If you 4 h boone county ky visiting with kids, consider visiting the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center, just note that it closes at 5 pm. Then exit the park on Iron Mountain Road. If it is getting dark, stop by Mount Rushmore if you have not yet seen it at night.
#2 For Hikers
If you plan to hike one or more trails in Custer State Park, it is best to do this first thing in the morning, to avoid the crowds and the midday heat if you will be here during the summer.
- Morning:Hike to Black Elk Peak, Cathedral Spires, and/or Little Devils Tower. This can be done from Sylvan Lake or the Cathedral Spires trailhead parking lot.
- Midday: Visit Sylvan Lake and have lunch at Sylvan Lake Lodge
- Afternoon: Drive Needles Highway and then drive Wildlife Loop Road counter-clockwise. Along this drive you will also see the Begging Burros. This drive ends near the Visitor Center and the Game State Lodge, so if you need food, drinks, or to use the restrooms, you can do this here.
- Late Afternoon: Exit the park by driving Iron Mountain Road. Consider stopping to see Mount Rushmore at night, if the sun will be setting soon.
Two or More Days
With two or more days, you have plenty of time to hike many of the trails we list and to explore Custer State Park at a leisurely pace. The park is least crowded in the morning, so this is the best time to do the more popular activities, such as driving Needles Highway, hiking around Sylvan Lake and the Cathedral Spires Trail, and driving the Wildlife Loop.
Best Time to Visit Custer State Park
Summer is a great time to visit Custer State Park. On average, daily highs hit 80°F with cooler temperatures at night.
Spring and fall also make great times to visit Custer State Park. Daily highs range from the 50’s to the 70’s. Rainfall is more likely in the spring and summer months, so if you want to visit Custer State Park with cool, drier weather, go in autumn.
Winters in Custer State Park can be very cold. The main visitor center remains open but the Peter Norbeck Center and the Wildlife Visitation Center are closed from October 1 south dakota state park lodges Memorial Day. The Needles Highway is also closed during the winter months.
If you want to catch Custer State Park ablaze in fall colors, plan your visit for late September into early October. We were in the Black Hills between October 8 and October 13 and the colors were just past peak, although there were still a fair amount of leaves on the trees.
Plan Your Visit
Park Fee: $20 per vehicle, valid for 7 days.
The park is open 7 days a week 365 days per year. The Needles Highway is closed during the winter months.
Pets are permitted in the park but they must be on a leash. Pets are not allowed near swimming areas or in any park buildings.
Get updates on park conditions and trail closures on the official park website.
Where to Stay
There are four lodges within the park, the South dakota state park lodges Game Lodge, the Sylvan Lake Lodge, the Legion Lake Lodge, and the Blue Bell Lodge. We didn’t go into any of the lodges but the State Game Lodge has a beautiful setting. In the evening, bison and deer were grazing in the fields right outside of the lodge. This lodge also has a great central location inside of Custer State Park.
There are also numerous campgrounds scattered throughout the park. Several campsites have cabins. Campsites can be reserved one year in advance.
The town of Custer is located just outside of the park, on the west side. EO Bungalows is one of the highest rated properties and your room comes with a kitchenette. The Rocket Motel is a nice pick if you are looking for a budget property that gets good reviews. The Holiday Express & Suites Custer-Mount Rushmore also gets good reviews.
Keystone is located north of Custer State Park, near Mount Rushmore. It is located near the end of Iron Mountain Road. This town has a very touristy feel to it but it does have a nice, central location for exploring the Black Hills. We recommend the K Bar S Lodge and the Rockerville Lodge and Cabins.
Hill City is another small town to consider. The Freedom Ridge Cabins and the Black Elk Resortare two of the highest rated properties in this town.
Where to Go Next
There are an unbelievable number of things to do in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota. We spent one week here and had a great time exploring this area. Here is a list of things to do.
More Information about South Dakota
If you have any questions about things to do in Custer State Park www walmart money card customer service if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.
If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.
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Great State Park Stays: South Dakota's Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake Lodge Contemporary canvases of horses and cowboys splash the dark wood walls inside the park's most traditional lodging. Plush leather seating warms the posh lobby. Spacious hotel rooms reveal a hint of woodsy decor but otherwise recall a midlevel chain; the cabins feel more upscale. The big draw to this part of Custer? Out back, the park's crown jewel, Sylvan Lake, shimmers below towering rock formations. Families picnic along the shore, and dogs hang out next to owners casting lines for rainbow trout. For a bird's-eye view of the lake, dine alfresco at the white-tablecloth dining room known for beautifully plated entrees.
Legion Lake LodgeA 7-year-old from Chicago squeals as a bass glides past his legs in the shallows of Legion Lake. His mom looks around a little nervously, hoping he's not bothering anyone here in the middle of 71,000-acre Custer State Park, just southwest of Rapid City. No one seems to notice. A family with teens pedals a boat past; a middle-aged couple in a rowboat glides by soaring rocks on the opposite shore. Kids clamber on the beachside playground. On a hill overlooking it all, beach towels snap like flags on lines outside rustic but recently remodeled sleeping cabins. Families who stay here are used to squeals now and then-along with the slam of the screen doors.
Blue Bell Lodge It doesn't matter if you've never ridden a horse. Even the saddle stools sidling up to the bar say sit a spell. Navajo-style blankets top comfortable beds made in the Western-theme lodge's rough-hewn log design, 5th third bank customer service phone number cowboy cookin' best describes the dining room chow. After iced tea served in Mason jars and grilled bison burgers, families roast s'mores outside log cabins surrounded by spruce trees. Most visitors sign up for guided trail rides and Blue Bell's famous Chuck Wagon Cookout. Everyone gets a cowboy hat and bandana; even if that's a first for you, chances are you'll probably know some of the words to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" when the sing-along starts.
State Game LodgeA sense of history infuses the tall stone-and-timber facade of what once was Calvin Coolidge's summer White House. Wooden chairs dot the wide front porch. A leather couch sits alongside the lobby's stone fireplace, presided over by a portrait of Coolidge. Rooms are smallish by today's standards but feel like just enough in a place where people go to drift away from the present, stare at bison wandering by, eat elk and pheasant in a remodeled dining room, and admire wildlife.
While you're there …
1 It's almost west valley city library utah that you'll see bison, but to get within snorting distance, sign up for a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour.
2 Driving 25 mph feels plenty fast on the 14-mile Needles Highway, a cliff-hugging journey past gorgeous soaring rock formations.
3 Mount Rushmore National Memorial never fails to impress; for a moving experience, go at night for the flag-lowering ceremony.
4 Construction continues on the massive Crazy Horse Memorial;its devotion to the region's Native American heritage shines in its construction story, its daily activities and with the artists in residence.
Treat Yourself at These Custer State Park Lodging Options
On a hiking trail in South Dakota’s Black Hills, tucked among ponderosa pine trees and craggy granite cliffs, a simple wooden sign reads: “Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.” This sentiment is what inevitably draws this park into the hearts of so many visitors, and Custer State Park lodging provides a way to hold onto that feeling for a bit longer.
Custer State Park, South Dakota’s first and largest state park, offers a fine balance of the state’s north texas giving day toolkit outdoor recreation, as well how to embed a gif in an email luxurious options for resting your head and filling your stomach. For foodie trekkers, Custer State Park lodging has you covered for the perfect treat in between adventures.
Within the park’s 71,000-acre wildlife preserve, Custer State Park lodging offers several options for where you can unlace your hiking boots, sit by the fire, reflect on the day’s adventures, and enjoy a warm meal. In total, Custer State Park is home to five lodges, over a dozen specialty cabins, nine campgrounds, and one horse camp.
Within these options are four historic lodges we think you will love: the State Game Lodge, Blue Bell Lodge, Legion Lake Lodge, and Sylvan Lake Lodge.
These historic lodges each have their own flair and flavor. They are excellent stops for both visitors spending the night, as well as those simply passing through. Tired, hungry campers will love these lodges, as each offer unique dining options. Staying at Custer State Park lodging is a perfect excuse to ditch the camp stove for a night and treat yourself to a delicious meal.
1. State Game Lodge
Image from Shutterstock
The State Game Lodge is perhaps the most distinguished structure amongst Custer State Park lodging. The building was constructed in the 1920s from native stone and wood. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is famously known as the “Summer White House.”
In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge wanted a summer away from Washington, DC. South Dakota was eager to attract him to the Black Hills, so the state legislature passed a resolution inviting the President. It was written in part as a tribute to the region. Senator Peter Norbeck delivered the invitation to the President, who responded, “Senator, I can’t tell whether this is a chapter from Revelations or Mohammed’s idea of the seventh heaven.”
However, the flowery language ultimately worked. President Coolidge arrived with his wife, Grace, via train. Their stay was originally planned for just three weeks, but not long after arriving, the President decided to extend it to three months.
Visitors sleeping at the lodge can stay in the exact rooms where President Coolidge and his family once stayed.
Location and Dining
Image from The Dyrt camper Ashley Y.
The State Game Lodge is located at 13389 US-16A in Custer, South Dakota along the southeastern stretch of Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, close to the park’s Wildlife Loop. It’s the starting point for any visitors hopping on a Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour.
The lodge’s restaurant is open April through mid-October for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It also hosts an annual Sunday Easter brunch and Harvest Feast Wine Dinners on Fridays in October. Reservations are recommended. In addition, the lodge has a cozy lounge area where guests can grab drinks until 11pm.
Dining at the State Game Lodge is best for an elegant night out. Shower up after your day’s activities, throw on that one just-in-case fancy shirt you packed, and head over for a relaxing meal with great service. Grab a bottle of wine for the table, and try the restaurant’s seared rainbow trout with wild rice.
2. Blue Bell Lodge & Cabins
Image from The Dyrt camper Shari G.
If you’re looking for Custer State Park lodging that comes with a warm welcome and a “y’all take care now” finish, look no further than Blue Bell Lodge. The lodge was built in the late 1920s by pioneer C.L. Jensen, also an executive of the Bell Telephone Company. His son, Governor Leslie Jensen, sold the structure to the park in 1935.
This lodging area is designed to give a feel for how the cowboys of the old days lived, but with a little more comfort. It includes 29 rustic, but modernized cabins tucked into the woods around the main log-cabin-style lodge. Each cabin comes with an outdoor fire pit, and many come with stone fireplaces. There’s also a quaint general store nearby.
Visitors to Blue Bell Lodge can take a trail ride through the park leaving from the Blue Bell stables, or sign-up for an all-day horseback ride. The hallmark of the Blue Bell Lodge, however, is its hayride and chuckwagon feast. Leaving from the lodge, this 45-minute, old-fashioned hayride travels a scenic route through the park’s backroads to a canyon meadow. Once at the destination, guests enjoy a big, western cookout with country and folk music and other live entertainment. It’s a perfect summer vacation activity for families. All participants leave with a souvenir cowboy hat and bandana. Reservations are required.
Location and Dining
Image from The Dyrt camper Shari G.
Blue Bell Lodge is located at 25453 US-87 in Custer, South Dakota along the park’s Wildlife Loop and just six miles north of an entrance to Wind Cave National Park.
If you don’t have time for the chuckwagon feast, you’ll still be able to find a warm, down-home meal at the lodge’s restaurant. It is open from April through mid-October for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The restaurant includes a lounge area, as well as an outdoor patio overlooking French Creek.
In addition to a good country breakfast, it’s best for a dinner of comfort food when autumn’s evening chill starts to kick in. Stop by and order yourself a thick, creamy stout. Next, try the rabbit and rattlesnake sausage appetizer. The baked triple mac and cheese or the buffalo meatloaf make for a cozy entree. If you happen to have any room left in your belly, an apple crisp or a cast iron skillet brownie should be in your future.
3. Legion Lake Lodge
If you want to spend your vacation as a lake bum, Legion Lake Lodge offers the casual lakeside ambiance you’re after. The original structures in this area were built after several American Legion Posts leased the area around Galena Creek in 1913. In 1932, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a dam on the creek to form what is today Legion Lake. The main house on the land was later sold to the state and added to the park. In 2015, the original structure was torn down and a modernized version was erected, preserving the original fireplace. The modernized lodge increased lakeview dining room and patio seating.
Today, visitors can fish and swim at Legion Lake. Kayak, canoe, stand-up paddle board, and paddle boat rentals are also available at give me the phone number for usaa insurance lodge for those looking for an afternoon on the water. The lake is close to the Centennial and Badger Clark Historic trails, and also has a one-mile stroll circling the water. A general store is available for fishing licenses, park passes, and other supplies.
Location and Dining
Image from The Dyrt camper Angie S.
Legion Lake Lodge is located at 12967 US-16A in Custer, South Dakota along the southern stretch of Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, close to Mt. Coolidge and Badger Hole.
The lodge’s restaurant is open from April until early October for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and ice cream. Full service is offered both inside and on the deck, with floor-to-ceiling windows allowing for beautiful views of the lake anywhere you sit. If swooning over people’s pets is a favorite past-time of yours, you’ll love the Legion Lake Lodge restaurant. It’s the most dog-friendly restaurant in the park.
Legion Lake dining is best for those wanting a fast-casual meal so they can get back to their lake lounging as quickly as possible. Stop here in the afternoon for an order of fish and chips, or to split some small plates of pretzel cheese curds and coconut curry shrimp with your friends. Better yet, check out the lodge’s picnic menu for an order you can take back out to the lake or your cabin.
4. Sylvan Lake Lodge
Sylvan Lake Lodge is the perfect stop for visitors taking a scenic drive on Needles Highway or otherwise stopping to see the park’s famously picturesque Sylvan Lake. The lodge was built in 1937 out of stone and thick timber, with a new wing of rooms added in 1991 in the original style. Its location along the pine and spruce hillside forest was was suggested by the building’s architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Historically, the lodging was often used by people coming to climb Black Elk Peak (formerly titled Harney Peak), the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Today, the area still attracts many hikers and rock climbers, with several stunning trails, including the Little Devils Tower and Sunday Gulch trails, leaving from the lake. Visitors can also rent watercraft, go fishing or swimming, and relax on the lakeside lawn.
Location and Dining
Image from The Dyrt camper Matthew W.
Sylvan Lake Lodge is located at 24572 US-87 in Custer, South Dakota along Needles Highway, southwest of Black Elk Peak.
The lodge’s restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from the start of May through the end of South dakota state park lodges. Reservations are recommended. In addition to the main dining room, the lodge has relaxing outdoor seating on an intricately-built stone veranda, as well as a classic lodge lounge complete with a stone fireplace, impressive wood beams and hardwood floors, and taxidermy forms of nearly every animal in the region. This lodge suits those looking for Custer State Park lodging that’s an elegant scene, but still casual enough for your flannel shirt.
Sylvan Lake Lodge’s restaurant is best for grabbing an afternoon cocktail and sitting on the veranda or enjoying a warming nightcap in the lounge. If coming for dinner, try the creamy tomato soup to start and then fill up with the pheasant stew or stuffed pepper.
Custer State Park : The Great American Safari
Custer State Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is one of the best places in America for spotting lots of photo-ready animals: buffalo, antelope, big horn sheep, prairie dogs, deer. the list goes on
This is my favorite state park in America. No contest.
When the anonymous cowboy poet of Home on the Range wrote "Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam / Where the deer and the antelope play," he must have been thinking about South Dakota's Custer State Park (605-255-4515, gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer).
Custer State Park—73,000 acres of granite peaks, mountain meadows, sparkling lakes, and ponderosa pine–shrouded foothills—is tucked into the Black Hills of southwest South Dakota, just 20 miles south of Mt. Rushmore (and 28 miles from Rapid City) and 88 miles west of the weirdly eroded landscape of the Badlands.
Custer may only rate a "state park" ranking, but for my money it blows away half the national parks in the system.
It's no great shakes in the hiking department (about a dozen trails ranging from one to 22 miles), but has spectacular scenery, drop-dead gorgeous lakes, thrilling drives, and hands-down some of the best wildlife spotting in the entire country.
In fact, a drive through the park is like a big game safari, American-style.
Antelope and coyote and buffalo, oh my!
I've been to more than 100 national parks, monuments, forests, etc., and I'll tell you right now: if you want to see the highest concentration and variety of impressive wild animals in the shortest period of time, take a drive through Custer—especially the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road.
Every time you come around a bend, there seems to be a small herd of tawny, white-striped pronghorn (the American "antelope"—though they are not, technically, antelopes) grazing on the shoulder, a massive buffalo bull lazing by a creek, small stands of whitetail or mule deer nibbling grass in the shade, wooly white mountain goats scampering up a steep hillside, wild mules looking for handouts, or a lone coyote loping through the grass near the entrance to Wind Cave National Park.
Once, I jumped out of bmo harris locations near me car to snap a picture of Sylvan Lake and nearly stepped on a five-foot snake.
When I stopped to photograph some Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (transplanted cousins to the now-extinct Audubon sheep that once roamed the park) picking their way up a steep hill in the sun-dappled shadow of pine and oak, I found myself standing in the middle of a prairie dog town. Its residents yipped and scolded me as they high-tailed it into their burrows to pop up and down, whack-a-mole style (which I thought was cute, until I remembered the little guys can carry the bubonic plague).
I saw all of those on a single drive through the park. (And it wasn't a fluke; I've been galf a dozen tiems, and see most animals on just about every summetimes visit). Can you send money on zelle with a credit card about the only big animal I didn't get a glimpse of in Custer was one of their 1,000 elk.
And we haven't even mentioned the 180 species of birds. (If you stay at Custer Park Game Lodge, you're likely to get a wild turkey wake-up call, which sounds like someone strangling seagulls.)
But the animal you can see in Custer like nowhere else on Earth is the American bison.
Custer State Park is home to one of the largest publicly owned buffalo herds in the world. Somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 buffalo roam free in the park, and jpmorgan chase retiree login to use the park's roads to migrate, making for possibly the most photographic traffic jams in America.
Come fall, cowboys gather to round up the herd in one of the best glimpses into an authentic Wild West tradition that continues to this day (trust me; I got to help round them up in 2006).
The Needles: Scaling pinnacles of rock by car and by rope
Beyond the wildlife, what draws most folks to Custer is the vehicular thrill ride of Needles Highway, a 14-mile rolling, curving ribbon of road hairpin-turning and roller-coastering 6,400 vertical feet up past cathedral spires of rock and threading through tight slots and narrow tunnels bored through the mountainsides.
To its north, beyond Cathedral Spires and Little Devil's Tower, looms Harney Peak —at 7,242 feet, the highest mountain east of the Rockies.
Driving past the most photographed of the rock pinnacles, the Needles Eye, I saw two old-timers rappelling past the 60-foot high/three-foot wide slit through the rock that gave it its name. I congratulated the intrepid climbers when they reached the bottom, and politely tried to find out how old they were. George proudly admitted to being 71; Pete wouldn't say, just that he was young enough to still be able to climb the Eye.
Age aside, I'm nowhere near talented enough to tackle something like the pinnacles, so when I wanted to strap on a harness and scramble up some rocks, I made my way to the end of the Needles Highway at scenic Sylvan Lake to hook up with Daryl Stisser.
Daryl is a guide with Sylvan Rocks, which runs climbs of the Needles, Mt. Rushmore, and Devils Tower, just over the Wyoming border (www.sylvanrocks.com; 3-hour "Discover Climbing" course $65, 6-hour basics courses from $150 per person).
The water reflected a puffy-clouded cobalt sky and the low cliff of rounded and time-smoothed boulders that formed the boundary of the far side of the lake. As we crunched along the path around the picture-perfect lake, I asked Daryl about the odd platform in the middle of the lake.
"Oh, that's to aerate the water." I looked at him, and he explained that the lake is so overstocked with fish for sportsmen that they have to artificially oxygenate the waters to keep the fish alive.
I dunno; doesn't seem very login costco citi credit card to me.
Where to stay in Custer
Talk about wildlife; When I stayed at Custer's Stockade South campground in the summer of 2006 (one of seven campgrounds in the park ), in order to get from my tent to the restrooms I had to navigate a Beatrix Potter tableau of nibbling deer, twittering birds, and hopping bunny rabbits. Custer campgrounds cost $13–$15 per is my pokemon card worth money (except French Creek Natural Area, a bargain $2 per person per night). You can reserve campgrounds at 800-710-2267 or www.campSD.com.
On another visit, in the dying days of September, I left the tent at home to shack up in relative style at the Custer Park Game Lodge (605-255-4541 or 800-658-3530; www.custerresorts.com; $95–$160), a log cabin mini-mansion atop a grassy rise at a curve in the park's main road.
The lodge served Calvin Coolidge as a summer White House, and now rents rooms ($95–$135), wings of nice motel units ($125–$185), and a scattering of cabins (nos. 4–9 are set back from the road in an oak grove along a creek; avoid nos. 1–3, right on the road; $110–$125 regular cabin, $155–185 housekeeping cabin).
The dining room ain't bad (picture a wood-paneled 1950s den, only filled to the rafters with stuffed pheasants and antler trophies), but for a quickie meal I recommend a buffalo burger and Killian's at the hotel bar.
There are three other lodges in the park. The Blue Bell Lodge (605-255-4531 or 800-658-3530, www.custerresorts.com; $175–$195 cabin, $125–$195 housekeeping cabin) is a log cabin with a dude ranch theme arranged around chuckwagon cookouts and trail rides.
The other two overlook lovely lakes: the 1937 Sylvan Lake Resort (605-574-2561 or 800-658-3530; www.custerresorts.com; $120–$185 room, $140–$185 cabin, $125–$210 housekeeping cabin), and Legion Lake Resort (605-255-4521 or 800-658-3530; www.custerresorts.com; $110 cabin, $145–$175 housekeeping cabin), great for trout fishing.
While you are there, check out what is playing at the excellent Black Hills Playhouse (blackhillsplayhouse.weebly.com). I took my four-year-old to a musical there one summer (the Drowsy Chaperone) and it was near Broadway quality (and this is from someone who lived in New York City for nearly a decade, alright?).
You can reserve any of the lodges at 800-658-3530, www.custerresorts.com.
Front view with flagpole.
Front entry staircase, great stonework detail.
"The State Game Lodge was built by
CECIL C. GIDEON, Contractor-Builder in
A.R. Van Dyck - Architect
Monroe Nystrom - Stonemason
All three were from the Minneapolis area. Gideon
and his wife Elma Mary were the genial hosts with
their "Western Hospitality" for 27 years, including
the Presidential visit of the Coolidges. Gideon
was chosen personal guide and companion for the
President while he was here."
Down the hall directly ahead is the dining room and beyond the dining room.
If you walk through the dining room you come to another stairway that leads down to the gift shop.
Immediately to the left of where this photo was taken is the bar and lounge.
To the right is the main public room.
The lodge has a third floor with guest rooms, however it was not open to the public at the time of our visit because it didn't meet modern emergency exit requirements. At the time they were working on retrofits to correct the problem, so the third floor may now be open to the public.
Note: Our visit to the State Game Lodge was unplanned and way too brief. I wish we had more time to explore it and get more details and photos, similar to what I have done for some of the other lodges on this website.