We visited Custer State Park and the Custer area in August 2018 and were super impressed with everything there was in the Black Hills area.

Custer State Park is situated in the Black Hills of Southwestern South Dakota, It is over 71,000 acres of varied terrain, from grasslands to mountains.

This means that there are a lot of different things to see and do. Here’s a snapshot of some of the activities we did at Custer State Park.

Things to See and Do in Custer State Park

Custer State Park is obviously a highlight of any visit to the Custer area.

We spent several days in the park.

We drove the Wildlife Loop Road, saw the begging burros, drove Needles Highway, hiked the Cathedral Spires Trail, and hiked around Sylvan Lake.

While not technically in Custer State Park (but nearby!), we also biked the George S. Mickelson Trail and visited Mount Rushmore. See below for more details.

Wildlife Loop Road

When driving the wildlife loop road, we saw herds of bison which are easily viewable as there are roads that go right through their grazing areas.

bison in Custer state park
Bison in Custer State Park

Begging Burros

We also saw the “begging burros” which are feral donkeys that live in the park that beg for food from passing cars.

We went into a field to feed them carrots and they were adorable and relatively tame for their “wild” status.

Begging burros in Custer State Park
Begging burros in Custer State Park

Needles Highway

We brought an off-road motorcycle and scooter with us on our trip.

We rode the famous Needles Highway which is simply beautiful for any car or motorcycle rider.

It is aptly named for the needle type rock spires and the views they form.

Tunnel on Needles Highway
Tunnel carved through rock on Needles Highway

Needles Highway is fabulous and definitely worth the drive. Vehicles pass through several very narrow tunnels carved right through the rock.

A new outfitter opened in Custer that will rent you 49cc scooters (hence no motorcycle license is required) to drive around Custer. We saw several groups of people on scooters ride Needles Highway, along with many motorcycles, cars, pickup trucks, and even some buses that barely fit through the tunnels.

We were lucky to see mountain goats climbing some of the rocks at the top of Needles Highway by one of the tunnels.

This was a cute mother and baby goat.

Mountain goats in Custer State Park
Mountain goats in Custer State Park

Cathedral Spires Trail

Near the top of the Needles Highway, Cathedral Spires trail is an easy hike that takes you through some beautiful scenery along the rock formations.

It’s beautiful and highly recommended.

There is parking available at the trailhead.

Cathedral Spires trailhead
Cathedral Spires trailhead
Cathedral Spires trail
Cathedral Spires trail

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park is gorgeous.

You can hike an easy trail around the lake, climb the rock faces with an outfitter, rent kayaks or paddleboards, swim, and just enjoy the scenery.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Water activities in Sylvan Lake
Water activities in Sylvan Lake

Other Attractions in the Area

George S. Mickelson Trail

While not technically a part of Custer State Park, the George S. Mickelson Trail includes a 3.2 mile paved connection to Custer State Park called the Custer State Park Spur.

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a rails-to-trails trail that extends for 109 miles through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

George S. Mickelson Trail sign
George S. Mickelson Trail sign

It is open to hikers, bikers, and horse riders. It is really a great way to get out and see the Hills area.

I rode about 15 miles on the trails and meandered through the woods, fields, and in tunnels under the roads in the area.

It is really a cool way to see the Black Hills and has a very easy slope due to it originally being a railroad track.

Biking the Mickelson Trail
Biking the Mickelson Trail

Just make sure that when you’re biking or hiking on the Mickelson Trail that you’ve brought plenty of water with you.

There are open areas without much shade and it can get hot quickly. With the dry air of South Dakota, you may not realize just how hot you’ve become.

I didn’t see any water fountain on the section I rode, but I believe there are some place where you can fill up your water bottle along the trail.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore (Credit: National Park Service)

Also not a part of the park, but close-by! Mount Rushmore is located about 20 miles from the town of Custer.

It’s a big tourist draw.

We went for the night program in which a ranger gives a talk, they show a short film, and then light up the carvings.

It was hazy from wildfires in several states when we visited, so our photos are a little hazy. (If you’re looking to stay in an RV park or campground near Mount Rushmore, check out this list of options within 10 miles of the National Monument.)

Final Thoughts on Custer State Park

We had wanted to camp in Custer State Park, but it can be really difficult to get a reservation. Thee are nine campgrounds within Custer State Park for an RV, but we were not able to snag one.

South Dakota opens up reservations a year in advance, and they fill up very quickly.

Plan ahead for where to stay.

Instead we stayed at the Custer Mountain Cabins and Campground a few miles outside the park and enjoyed our time there with full hookups.

The Custer area of South Dakota in the Black Hills offers RV’ers and others with plenty of things to see and do.

We spent a week in the area and weren’t able to do everything we wanted to do. We will plan another trip there soon!