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Custer State Park, South Dakota
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Custer State Park

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

Custer State Park may not be a national park yet it has nothing to envy. This 71,000-acre (28,700 hectare) stretch of land is home to craggy peaks and one of America's last grasslands. It boats scenic drives and hiking trails; clear blue lakes and charming lodges. Pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, prairie dogs and burros all call this park home. As do 1,500 American buffalo. But what make's this South Dakota state park a great family destination is its proximity to Black Hills attractions. Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial are all within 15 miles.
Getting There
 
Custer State Park is situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The park is located 20 miles (32 km) north of Hot Springs, 3 miles (5 km) east of Custer, and 9 miles (14.5 km) south of Mount Rushmore. Park roads are open year-round weather permitting. Needles Highway is closed from November through March.
Getting Around
 
Custer State Park boasts two scenic drives, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, and one game-viewing route, Wildlife Loop Drive. What's more, this South Dakota state park boasts 22 miles (35 km) of hiking trails, 2 wilderness areas and 5 swimmable lakes. Of the many trails 3 stand out. Cathedral Spires Trail, part of the South Dakota Centennial Trail, is one of the most beautiful trails in Custer State Park. This strenuous trail, 1.5 miles one way, features granite formations unique to the Black Hills. The trail has some steep climbs. Sunday Gulch Trail, a 2.8-mile loop, traverses a gully, stream and hardwood forest. This trail has one steep climb (down), requires some scrambling, and has more than one rock river crossing. Stockade Lake Trail is a moderate 1.5-mile loop. This trek through a ponderosa pine forest offers exceptional views of Stockade Lake and Harney Peak.
When to Travel
 
While there are is no right or wrong time of year to visit the Black Hills there are a few things to consider when traveling with kids. July is the warmest month (75°F or 24°C); January is the coldest (25°F or -4°C). Summer storms can be severe but tornados are a rarity. A katabatic wind called the Chinook can move the mercury 40°F in just 2 minutes. The western plains are semi-arid but the forests are not. The hills are the coolest spot in summer. The northern Black Hills receives more snow than elsewhere.
Health & Safety
 
Wildlife encounters are the main health risk at Custer State Park. Maintain a safe distance from all wildlife. Watch for wildlife on all park roads.
Hours & Seasons
 
Custer State Park is open daily throughout the year. The Peter Norbeck Visitor Center is open 8:00 - 20:00 Memorial Day to Labor Day, 8:00 - 18:00 Labor Day to September 30, and 9:00 - 17:00 April 1 to Memorial Day and October 1 to November 30. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center is open 8:00 - 20:00 Memorial Day to Labor Day and 10:00 - 16:00 Labor Day to September 30. The Badger Hole Historical Site is open summers 10:00 - 17:00. Summer programs are offered from June to mid-August and special events are held from mid-May through September. The Buffalo Roundup, a 3-day event, is held annually in late September.
Admission & Fees
 
A single entry fee, valid for 7 consecutive days, is charged per person or per vehicle. Children aged 5 and under are free of charge. Annual passes offer value for repeat and multiple South Dakota state park visits.
Things to Keep in Mind
 
Junior Naturalist Guidebooks (similar to the Junior Ranger Program offered at U.S. national parks) are available at park visitor centers.
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