Custer State Park, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is the second largest state park in America, the most popular South Dakota park and is one of the most popular attractions in the state. The park’s 73,000 breathtaking acres are home to a variety of wildlife including bison, pronghorn antelope, sure-footed mountain goats, whitetail deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, wild turkeys, and elk.
History of Custer State Park
The history of Custer State Park, South Dakota’s first state park, dates back to 1897, a mere eight years after South Dakota joined the union. At this time, Congress granted sections sixteen and thirty-six of each South Dakota township to be used for schools and other public purposes. The parcels, scattered throughout the Black Hills timberlands, were difficult to manage and in 1906, the state began negotiations to exchange the scattered parcels for a solid block of land.
In 1910, South Dakota relinquished all rights to 60,000 acres of land within the Black Hills Forest Reserve in exchange for 50,000 acres in Custer County and 12,000 acres in Harding County. In 1912, these two parcels of land were designated as Custer State Forest, and later became Custer State Park. Throughout the 1920s, the park continued to grow and acquire more land. In the 1930s, picnic sites, campgrounds, roads, bridges, and a museum were added, and damming led to the formation of the lakes Legion, Center, and Stockade.
The vast, 73,000-acre terrain of Custer State Park encompasses prairies, pine trees, and unique geological formations called “Needles”, which are pillar-shaped, slender granite outcroppings. Rock climbing enthusiasts are drawn to the Needles, proclaiming the site to be one of the world’s premier granite-faced climbing formations.
Visiting the Park
Visitors to Custer State Park can enjoy guided nature walks, horseback riding, gold panning demonstrations, hiking, and historical presentations, and can attend nightly performances at the Black Hills Playhouse. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy fishing and boating in the park’s 182 acres of water comprised by lakes Center, Legion, Stockade, and Sylvan. Each year, fall visitors can witness the corralling of the park’s 1,500 bison at the “Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Round-Up.” The round-up, held each October, attracts more than 11,000 annual visitors to Custer State Park.
Custer State Park is home to nine campgrounds and four state-owned, privately operated resorts. The resorts of Custer State Park each have their own distinctive flair and unique amenities, including chuck wagon cookouts, mountain bike rentals, Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours, and watercraft rental.
Attractions within close proximity to Custer State Park include Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, and Wind Cave National Park.
Open: Year-round. Between Oct. 1 and April 30, showers, flush toilets and other water systems may be closed. Please contact the park directly for current status. Vault toilets usually remain open.
Park Size: 9 campgrounds, 1 horse camp and cabins in Blue Bell, Game Lodge, Stockade North and French Creek campgrounds.
GPS can be unreliable in the area. Please refer to a map or call the Park Office for directions.
Nearest Town: Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone