With 71,000 acres of rugged terrain, miles of trails, tall spires to climb, and plenty of wildlife to watch, Custer State park is an excellent place to enjoy the wild outdoors.
- Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills National Forest, 8 miles east of Custer along US-16.
- Explore 71,000 acres of Black Hills land on foot, bike, or horseback or drive along one of the scenic highways.
- Watch one of the largest free-roaming buffalo herds, numbering 1,500 head, and the famous Begging Burros.
- Climb at Needles, one of America’s classic climbing destinations.
- Numerous campsites throughout the park provide perfect places to spend a few nights.
South Dakota’s largest state park, Custer State Park is the perfect place to stage your stay in the Black Hills. Miles of trails explore the 71,000 acres of rolling hills, forests and plains, perfect for hiking, biking and horseback riding; the Needles attract climbers from all over; a number of campgrounds are perfect for pitching a tent or parking an RV; the Needles Highway and other roads make for idyllic scenic drives; and special events like the Annual Buffalo Roundup and Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, the seasonal Volksmarch and the Buffalo Wallow Chili Cookoff add a bit of extra spice to an already exciting vacation.
The wildlife at Custer State Park is the highlight of many people’s visit – in addition to the herd of 1,500 buffalo the roam the park, the Begging Burros have become famous for their shameless attempts to obtain food from visitors on foot and in car, at times blocking traffic with their antics.
Besides these two famous celebrity groups, Custer State Park is a great place to see antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, turkeys and, if you’re especially lucky, mountain lions.
The miles of trails and roads exploring Custer State Park are perfect for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Unless otherwise posted, all trails are open for biking and horseback riding. A few of the extensive trails are listed below.
- The Badger Clark Historic Trail is a moderate one-mile forested loop that runs behind the home of poet Charles Badger Clark. Trailhead is located along Custer State Park Road #8, half-a-mile south of US-16A.
- The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is an easy one-mile loop running around Sylvan Lake providing beautiful views of the lake and surrounding geological formations. Numerous trailheads are located around Sylvan Lake.
- The Lovers Leap Trail is a strenuous three-mile loop that leads up to a rocky overlook where, according to lore, two Native American lovers ended their star-crossed lives. Other notable points along the trail include vistas of Harney Peak and the Cathedral Spires, remains of the 1988 Galena Fire and Galena Creek. Trailhead is located across from the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center.
- The French Creek to Wind Cave National Park out-and-back is 20-miles roundtrip, perfect for an all-day, moderately difficult bike ride, complete with a few creek crossings, rolling hill climbs and winding trail through grassland. Trailhead is located three miles from the Blue Bell Stable along Custer State Park Road #4.
- Twenty-two miles of the Centennial Trail run through Custer State Park, featuring views of many of Custer’s unique and most beautiful aspects. Trailheads located at Iron Creek, Badger Hole and French Creek.
Throughout summer and early fall, Custer State Park offers a variety of naturalist programs – including guided nature walks, evening programs, gold panning demonstration and kid-specific activities – in efforts to increase natural and cultural awareness. Check in at one of the Visitor Centers for information about current programs.
Annual Buffalo Roundup
If you can make your visit to Custer State Park in September, be sure to come for the Annual Buffalo Roundup, when the 1,500 wild buffalos are driven in and corralled. Before and after the Roundup, the Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival features old fashioned pancake breakfasts, Western and Native American arts and performances and more.
Buffalo Wallow Chili Cookoff
Think you can handle the heat? Come test your taste buds (or your chili) while perusing arts and crafts and enjoy live music. Held during the Buffalo Roundup.
It may not be a race or competition, but the Custer State Park Volksmarch is still a good time – join other walkers for this 6.2-mile seasonal walk.
The rock climbing in Custer State Park is some of the best in the area. With the famous Needles and Cathedral Spires, climbers from all over the U.S. travel here to spend time climbing the tall, granite and quartz spires. While there are some bolted routes, most climbs in this area are traditional, and many follow the classic style of long runouts and gut-checking route finding. That said, this area is a staple of American climbing history and should be visited at least once by all serious climbers.
Custer State Park is located in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest, 8 miles east of Custer along US-16, just past the junction of US-16 and South Dakota-87.
Hours and Seasons
The park is open year-round, but visitor centers as well as some trails and campgrounds close for the winter months.
- Visitor Centers: Peter Norbeck Visitor Center is open from May through October (hours vary in May, September, and October, but it is open 8am-8pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day). The Wildlife Station Visitor Center is open from late May through September.
- Camping and Lodging: Creekside Lodge (located on the grounds of the State Game Lodge) is open year-round. Game Lodge and French Creek Campgrounds are open year-round. Blue Bell is open from May through October. Center Lake from May through September. All remaining campgrounds are open from mid-May through September.
- Roads: Most roads remain open (weather permitting) but the Needles Highway is closed from November through March.
The Custer State Park entrance fee is $15/vehicle for a seven day pass. An Annual Park Entrance License ($28) also covers entrance fees.
Camping fees for Custer State Park are $10-24/night, depending on site. Cabins are also available.
Contact Custer State Park at 605-255-4515 or Visit their Website. Camping reservations can be made by calling 800-710-2267.