Custer State Park
Some of the most beautiful locations in all of the Black Hills can be found in Custer State Park (13329 U.S. 16A, headquarters 605/255-4515, resort reservations 888/875-0001, campground reservations 800/710-2267, www.custerstatepark.info). Encompassing 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is one of the largest state parks in the United States and offers much in the way of scenic diversity and outdoor activities.
In the southernmost areas of the park, the landscape is all soft rolling hills, with fields of prairie grasses and small stands of ponderosa pine scattered throughout. Vast views and big skies dominate. It is here where grassland wildlife abounds. Bison, pronghorn, deer, and prairie dog populations are common sights.
Traveling north, the elevation rises and small stands of ponderosa pine turn into forest. The rolling low hills turn into craggy peaks with steep canyon walls and sheer granite outcroppings. The deer remain, but the bison are scarce in the northern sections of the park. Instead, look for Rocky Mountain sheep and mountain goats.
Custer State Park is accessible year-round although most of the park facilities are closed mid-October through May. Several state and U.S. highways run through the park boundaries and there are no gates to entry. Fees are collected on the honor system, with envelopes and deposit boxes located at several park entrances. One-time admission fees (good for seven days in any South Dakota state park) are $6 per person or $15 per vehicle, whichever is less; children under five are admitted free; an annual pass is $28.
There are access roads to the park from every direction. Highway 87 runs north–south through the park from Wind Cave just north of Hot Springs to just south of Hill City. Scenic Route 16A circles through the park and has exit/entry points near the city of Custer and in the most northeastern corner of the park. Highway 36 enters the park from the east, as well. Highway 79 runs north–south along the front range of the Black Hills and many of the gravel county roads and Forest Service roads, including Forest Service Road 16 and County Roads 14 and 12 headed west, will bring you into the park.
Custer State Park provides some of the best lodging, dining, and outdoor recreation opportunities (including hiking, biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing and boating) in the Black Hills. Add to that exceptional wildlife-viewing opportunities, a summer playhouse, a chuckwagon dinner, and many scenic drives and its understandable why Custer State Park is a must-see for any visitor to the Black Hills.
There are four major lodging and campground areas within the confines of the park boundaries, each with a distinctly different feel. If you are planning to stay at the park, one of the four regions is likely to suit your personal preferences: the Western feel of the Blue Bell Resort with its hayrides, horseback riding, and chuckwagon dinners; the elegant State Game Lodge, the center of many of the parks activities; the casual fishing-, boating-, and swimming-centered Legion Lake area; or the majestic beauty and high peaks near Sylvan Lake Lodge. There is a perfect spot for everyone.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition