Recently, we visited Custer State Park located in Custer, South Dakota. The park is the largest and first state park in South Dakota. This past year the park turned 100 years old. It encompasses 71,000 acres with a variety of wildlife to see along trails, campgrounds, and beside the road. It also has 3 scenic drives that are a MUST do. All of these drives are best done in a car or van. Some of the tunnels are too small for RV’s or trailers to get through.
The Wildlife Loop: 18 miles/45 min.
Iron Mountain Road: 18 Miles/45-60 min.
Needles Highway: 14 miles/45-60 min.
Expect to take 3-5 hours to complete these loops, depending on how many stops you make.
We visited the park in late September and not only enjoyed the wildlife, but the changing of the seasons. With the T tops off the Jeep on a beautiful day, we set off on a half day excursion. We started at the west entrance and hit the wildlife loop first. Pronghorn, turkey’s, prairie dogs, wild burros, and bison are the highlight of this loop. The bison come up right alongside the road. During September, there were a lot of calves as well. The annual bison round-up takes place during the fall each year, where you get to watch cowboys and cowgirls’ round-up about 1300 bison as a management tool for the park.
We then made our way over to the Iron Mountain Loop. It is not for the faint of heart. With all of its curves, switchbacks, and pigtails; its best to not eat a big meal before this loop. Each of its 3 tunnels highlights Mt Rushmore upon coming out of them. Such a spectacular view and you know that I was crying again seeing that magnificent monument over and over.
After the Iron Mountain Loop, we drove over to Hill City to grab some lunch at the Local Firehouse Brewery. Yum!
Back to the park, we entered and started the Needles Hwy. It is known for its needle-like granite formations which reach for the sky. A very different experience than the other scenic drives.
Once we reached the bottom, we connected back to the main road and made our way out of the park.
There is lodging and camping within the park, but due to the time of year and Covid-19, those options were not available to us. We stayed at a resort nearby in the town of Custer. I highly recommend visiting this park when you are in the area. The entrance fee is $20 per vehicle and worth every penny of it!