Custer State Park: Lots and Lots of Wild(ish) Life

Begging burro

One of the "friendly" members of the band of Custer State Park burros pokes its head in to say "hello." (Photo by Hillary Dobbs-Davis)

With 71,000 acres, it’s a pretty good bet you’re likely to encounter an animal or two in Custer State Park.

In fact, the park boasts 1,300 head of bison, so it’s likely to be a fairly large animal you encounter.

In addition to bison, a variety of other animals – including pronghorn antelope, elk, prairie dogs, deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and wild turkeys – also live in the park, and many of those animals hang out along the Wildlife Loop.

But for me, it’s what the website describes as “a band of friendly burros” that always makes a trip to the park worthwhile.

However, I take issue with the “friendly” descriptor; “hungry” or maybe just “begging” would be a better word choice. It’s not that the burros are mean, far from it. But they don’t approach your car and stick their head in your window – or cover your vehicle with burro spit as they give it a bath – because they’re friendly. They’re looking for you to feed them. But there are signs all over the Wildlife Loop warning you not to indulge them … no matter how sadly they look at you with their big, liquid-brown eyes.

Trail ride in Custer State Park

Riders take a leisurely ride along a trail through Custer State Park on a recent weekend. (Photo by Hillary Dobbs-Davis)

Many years ago, friends and I decided to ignore the signs when a big group of burros surrounded our car. We fed them the only thing we had: Funions. Yes, I realize this was really irresponsible, and I still feel bad about it, but we were much younger and dumber then. Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a whiff of a burro who’s been enjoying some Funions, but it’s not a pleasant odor. And to make matters worse, one of the burros stuck his head in the window, ripped the empty Funion bag from my friend’s hand and dashed off down the road with it, victoriously swallowing it as he ran. So yes, don’t feed the animals.

You can also enjoy some even tamer wildlife – all while taking in scenic views of the park you can’t view from the road – by taking advantage of a trail ride. You can bring your own horse, if you happen to have one handy, or you can reserve one. Blue Bell Stables, located in the park, can hook you up with a one-hour, two-hour, half-day or full-day ride.

Keep in mind that this is leisurely (read: “slow”) ride through the park, not the Kentucky Derby. So, if it’s speed you’re after, stick to watching the burros make a beeline for your vehicle in the event you decide to stop and roll down the windows.

If you go:
Call Blue Bell Stables at 605-255-4700 for trail ride reservations

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