Visiting Custer State Park
Custer State Park is one of the best state parks in the United States because of its natural beauty and the amazing abundance of wildlife that you'll see there. Lodged in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park provides a quiet retreat from which to tour other nearby Black Hills attractions. The bonus is that you get to see exciting wildlife and gorgeous scenery right within the boundaries of the 71,000 acre park.
Where To Stay
Custer State Park offers four lodges throughout the park, all with beautiful settings and accommodations ranging from rustic cabins to modern motel rooms. All of the lodges are climate controlled, fully furnished, have flat screened TVs, daily housekeeping service and allow pets for an additional $10.00 a night.
State Game Lodge
Built in 1920, this lovely stone and wood lodge was visited by two presidents. It was Calvin Coolidge's “Summer White House” in 1927, and Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed there in 1953. The State Game Lodge is the largest resort in Custer State Park, and offers 101 rooms including 77 lodge and motel rooms, and 24 cabins. 2012 prices range from $115 a night for a twin room at the lodge all the way up to $315 dollars a night to rent the room that Coolidge stayed in. Motel rooms are $145 - $190 nightly. The more modern Creekside Lodge has lodge rooms for $200-220 a night in season, and sleeping cabins ranging from $145 - $230 a night. There are larger specialty cabins for groups, ranging from $155 a night for a bunkhouse cabin to $995 nightly for the enormous “Reunion Cabin”. This 4200 foot luxury cabin has a back deck overlooking Coolidge Creek, a great room with a fireplace, a loft with bunk beds and four bedrooms – two of which have fireplaces.
Sylvan Lake Lodge
This beautiful lodge is considered the jewel of the park because of its lovely architecture and perfect setting (suggested by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright) right on Sylvan Lake. It's has 35 renovated lodge rooms ranging from $140.00 - $215 per night and 32 cabins ranging from $145 - $380 per night. Sylvan Lake offers fishing and swimming and has watercraft rentals. This lodge is a popular place for weddings, and in fact, when my husband and I were hiking around Sylvan Lake, one was taking place. It's a breathtaking setting!
Blue Bell Lodge
Blue Bell Lodge offers more rustic accommodations. It features 29 cabins, some with fireplaces. There is a guest laundry service on the property. Prices of the cabins range from $150 - $275 per night. This lodge is not far from the Blue Bell horse stables, so you can take a trail ride and then return to this western-style lodge for a Buffalo Burger. The Hayride Chuck Wagon Cookout,a popular feature of the park, leaves from here. The cookout includes a hayride through the back country, a chuck wagon dinner, and some good old-fashioned Western entertainment. One advantage that this lodge has is its proximity to the Wildlife Loop Road. If you want to take an early morning or evening drive to see some wildlife, you're right there!
Legion Lake Resort
This resort offers has 26 family-sized cabins located within walking distance of Legion Lake. The lake has fishing, boating and swimming. There are no telephones in these cabins, and no guest laundry facility is available on the property. 2012 rates are $140 - $350 a night. The lodge is right on the lake, and offers homestyle cooking.
Custer State Park has 7 campgrounds throughout the park, offering modern to primitive campsites. One room camping cabins with heating, air conditioning, electricity and a porch can be found at Blue Bell, Game Lodge, Stockade South and French Horse Creek Campgrounds for $47 a night. All campgrounds except Center Lake offer electrical hookups and flush toilets. Campsites can be reserved on-line at http://www.campsd.com except for those at Center Lake, which has a first-come first-served policy. Fees range from $10 - $24 per night, and reservations can be made 90 days prior to arrival. In addition to campsite fees, you are required to pay park entrance fees of $15.00 per vehicle for 1-7 consecutive days, or $28 annually.
Our Stay in Blue Bell Campground
The only campground that I can personally vouch for Is Blue Bell. My husband and I stayed there for five nights In 2010, and we really loved it. It is very close to the wildlife loop, which made it perfect for us. We drove along the loop every day, and saw pronghorn antelope, deer, the begging burros, and many large herds of bison. We also got to see wildlife right in the campground. After looking for big horn sheep for days, we pulled into the campground, and there was a female big horn sheep crossing the road right in front of us. Every evening we saw wild turkeys running around. We even woke up one morning to find a very large bison cruising through the campground.
Attractions In The Park
The Needles Highway is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. This narrow, winding 14 mile road takes you through pine and spruce forests, towering needle-like granite structures and tunnels. The scenery is amazing, and there are some very beautiful panoramas of the Black Hills.
Iron Mountain Road
This road connects the park to the Mount Rushmore Memorial, and is famous for its “Pigtail Bridges” and tunnels. It's 17 miles long, and it's best to take your time and drive about 20 miles per hour while on it.
Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower
This tower sits on a 6,023 foot peak, and gives you a great view of the entire surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see the Badlands. The Civilian Conservation Corps built it in 1940 for communications and spotting fires.
The Amazing Wildlife Loop Road
The Wildlife Loop Road is an 18 mile drive through the park where you are almost guaranteed to see plenty of wildlife. There is a herd of 1,300 bison roaming through Custer State Park, and often times they block this road. Below is a video of one of our adventures along the Wildlife Loop where we got to see bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, and the famous “begging burros”. These “wild” burros are so tame that they will come right up to your car and take treats out of your hand.
One of our drives along the loop
Wind Cave National Park
Crazy Horse Monument
Badlands National Park
The quaint old gambling town of Deadwood
My husband and I have been to state parks all over the country, and Custer State Park is our very favorite. We hope to return again soon - I miss the burros!
© 2012 Margaret Perrottet