Discover Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in the heart of the Black Hills, Custer State Park in South Dakota is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife seekers. Spanning over 71,000 acres of lush landscapes, rolling prairies, and majestic mountains, this iconic park offers a unique blend of natural beauty and diverse wildlife. Established in 1912, Custer State Park is one of the largest state parks in the United States, drawing visitors worldwide to experience its breathtaking scenery and abundant recreational opportunities.

The park is renowned for its thriving population of approximately 1,300 free-roaming bison, often grazing in the expansive grasslands. In addition to bison, the park is home to a variety of wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and a variety of bird species. Wildlife Loop Road, an 18-mile scenic drive, provides ample opportunities for visitors to observe these animals in their natural habitat.

Whether you’re seeking the thrill of wildlife watching, the tranquility of nature hikes, or a deeper understanding of the region’s history, Custer State Park offers an unforgettable experience for all who visit.


Top 3 Facts about Custer State Park


Bison Population

Custer State Park is home to one of the world’s largest publicly owned bison herds. The park’s approximately 1,300 bison roam freely, and each fall, the park hosts the annual Buffalo Roundup, where the bison are herded, vaccinated, and checked for health.


Black Elk Peak

Located within Custer State Park, Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) is the highest point in South Dakota and the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The hike to the peak offers stunning views of the Black Hills and surrounding areas.


Scenic Byways

The park features several scenic drives, including the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road. The Needles Highway is famous for its narrow tunnels and needle-like granite formations, while Iron Mountain Road is known for its “pigtail” bridges and views of Mount Rushmore.

Where to Sleep

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Mason Street Getaway

555 Mason St, Saugatuck, MI 49453, USA
Number of Guests 5
Bathrooms 2
Bedrooms 2
Sq Footage 1,165
Carbon monoxide detectors, Fire extinguisher, First aid kit, Generator, Smoke detectors
$475.00 / day
sparkles New

JP Rest House

V262+C5P, Manikganj, Bangladesh
Number of Guests 4
Bathrooms 2
Bedrooms 4
Sq Footage 2,400
Carbon monoxide detectors, Fire extinguisher, First aid kit, Generator, Smoke detectors
$300.00 / day
sparkles New

Juniper Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$198.00 / day

Hemlock Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$194.14 / day

Greenash Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$182.42 / day

Dogwood Cabin

3601 Monck Road,Kawartha Lakes,ON,CA,K0M 2L0
Bathrooms 1
Bedrooms 2
$182.42 / day

Camping and transportation in Custer State Park

info_iconBackcountry camping permits required for wilderness camping opportunities.

How to Get to Custer State Park

Getting to Custer State Park in South Dakota is straightforward, whether driving or flying from afar. Here’s how you can reach this beautiful destination:

  1. By Car:
    • From Rapid City: Custer State Park is approximately 30-40 minutes from Rapid City, South Dakota. Take US Highway 16 southwest towards Custer, then follow South Dakota Highway 87 south to the park.
    • From Mount Rushmore: The park is about a 20-30 minute drive from Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Take US Highway 16A southwest, join US Highway 16 west towards Custer, and finally take South Dakota Highway 87 south into the park.
  2. By Air:
    • The nearest major airport is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), which is about an hour’s drive from Custer State Park. Several major airlines operate flights to and from Rapid City, connecting it to various cities across the United States.

Places to Stay Near Custer State Park

  1. Lodges and Cabins Inside the Park:
    • State Game Lodge: Located within Custer State Park, this historic lodge offers comfortable rooms and cabins. It’s known for its rustic charm and proximity to wildlife viewing areas.
    • Sylvan Lake Lodge: Situated near the picturesque Sylvan Lake, this lodge offers cozy accommodations with stunning lake views. It’s an ideal spot for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.
  2. Campgrounds:
    • Custer State Park Campgrounds: The park offers several campgrounds with facilities ranging from basic tent sites to RV hookups. Legion Lake, Sylvan Lake, and Stockade Lake campgrounds are popular choices.
  3. Hotels and Motels:
    • Custer, South Dakota: The town of Custer, located near the park, offers a range of hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts. These options provide convenient access to the park’s entrances and nearby attractions.
    • Keystone, South Dakota: A short drive from Custer State Park, Keystone offers additional lodging options, including hotels and lodges with views of Mount Rushmore.
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Best Time to Go to Custer State Park



The park truly bustles with life in summer, when daily highs hit around 80°F. This offers warm yet pleasant conditions for a range of activities, making it prime time for scenic drives, like the famous Needles Highway, or enjoying the park’s clear waters.

  • Weather conditions: warm, occasional afternoon thunderstorms
  • Recommended activities: scenic drives, swimming, fishing
  • Seasonal events: check local listings for summer events in the park


Winter transforms the park into a wonderland with a quieter, serene atmosphere. Snowfall averages vary, but they typically create perfect conditions for winter sports like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. The average temperature drops, often ranging from 20°F to 30°F, so bundle up!

  • Weather conditions: cold, snowy
  • Recommended activities: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing
  • Accessibility: some facilities may be closed; check in advance


When the snow melts and the fresh green of spring begins to pop, you know it’s a delightful time to visit Custer State Park. With average temperatures ranging from mild 50°F to 70°F, it’s a comfortable time for exploring without the summer crowds. The park’s wildlife is particularly active, providing outstanding opportunities for wildlife photography.

  • Recommended activities: hiking, wildlife watching
  • Advantages: fewer visitors, active wildlife
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Feel the crisp air? See the leaves changing into a sea of red, orange, and yellow? Fall in Custer State Park is a vibrant and cooler time, with temperatures averaging between 45°F and 65°F. It’s a perfect season for witnessing the fall colors, and if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon a local fall festival!

  • Weather conditions: cooler, brisk
  • Advantages: fall colors, comfortable hiking weather
  • Seasonal events: autumn festivals

Must-See Attractions

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Wildlife Loop Road

This scenic 18-mile drive is one of the best ways to view wildlife in the park, including bison herds, pronghorn antelope, deer, and various bird species. Early morning and late afternoon are ideal times for wildlife sightings.

Needles Highway

Known for its narrow tunnels and towering granite spires (“needles”), this 14-mile scenic drive provides breathtaking views and access to hiking trails such as the Cathedral Spires Trail. Don’t miss the iconic Needle’s Eye tunnel.

Sylvan Lake

Often referred to as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is a picturesque spot surrounded by granite outcroppings. It offers opportunities for swimming, kayaking, hiking the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail, or simply relaxing by the water’s edge.

Helpful Tips: Making the Most of Your Adventure to Custer State Park

Plan Ahead

Plan Ahead

Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly, as the weather in the Black Hills can be variable.

Pack Appropriately

Pack Appropriately

Carry plenty of water and snacks, especially if you plan to go hiking or spend extended time outdoors.

Respect Wildlife

Respect Wildlife

Observe bison from a safe distance (at least 100 yards) and never approach or attempt to feed them. Bison are wild animals and can be dangerous.

Stay Informed

Leave No Trace

Practice Leave No Trace principles by disposing of waste properly, staying on designated trails, and respecting wildlife and other visitors.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Custer State Park

The best times to visit Custer State Park are late spring through early fall (May to September). The weather is pleasant, and wildlife activity is high. Avoid winter unless you enjoy snow sports.

Bison are commonly seen along Wildlife Loop Road and sometimes along other scenic drives like Iron Mountain Road. The annual Buffalo Roundup in September is a popular event for witnessing bison herding.

Yes, Custer State Park offers a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. Popular trails include the Harney Peak Trail (Black Elk Peak), Cathedral Spires Trail, and Sunday Gulch Trail.

Custer State Park has several campgrounds offering tent sites, RV hookups, and cabins. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak seasons.

Must-do scenic drives include Needles Highway (SD Highway 87) and Iron Mountain Road (US Highway 16A). These routes offer breathtaking views of granite spires, tunnels, and overlooks.

Yes, fishing is permitted in Custer State Park. Anglers can fish in lakes such as Sylvan Lake, Legion Lake, and Stockade Lake. A South Dakota fishing license is required.

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