When I think of South Dakota, I think of prairie dog holes and parched grass. On the drive out to Custer, that’s about what we saw. But once you’ve reached the west side of South Dakota, it’s a whole different story. The landscape drastically changes from a parched land desperate for water to a glorious ecosystem where life flourishes.
Sylvan Lake Campground
Even with nine campgrounds to choose from at Custer State Park, it was easy to choose Sylvan Lake. This section of the park is almost like a subsection of the park, closed off a bit from the rest of it. Sylvan Lake Campground is at the northwestern tip of Custer. It’s basically it’s own section of state park, it’s clear in the map. Campers can make reservations on the South Dakota reservations website. Many of the sites are close together and do not allow room for long trailers or large tents. We seek seclusion anyhow when searching for a campsite.
Travel Tip: If you are traveling with a tow behind or RV, avoid the Needles Highway, take Hwy 89 N from US Hwy 16A in Custer.
We stayed at lot 16. I was thoroughly impressed with this campsite. It was a walk-in campsite, offering seclusion but close enough to the parking area for quick access to the truck. We were not in view of any other campers.
Camp set up was quite simple, and we really didn’t need much in the way of prep. In fact, there was already a space cleared and leveled for our 4-person tent. It fit perfectly, such luxury!
The surroundings of our campsite took us into another world. We didn’t have to go far to feel like we were in the wilderness. We climbed, with our newly 7 year-old, way up on top of the giant rock next to our camp. For Sandy, this was quite impressive. The view was stunning.
Rising early in the morning granted such peace in this oasis. the fog rolled off of the needles sticking high into the sky revealing a glorious sunrise. The perfect place to enjoy a warm beverage in the morning.
Hike around sylvan Lake
Distance: 1 Mile
Best Time to go: May-October is the best time of year, arrive early to avoid crowds. Camping at Sylvan Lake gave us the advantage of hiking without others.
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash.
The hike around Sylvan Lake was unreal, like we were in some kind of fairytale. We passed an area being set up for a wedding, that will be a very memorable destination wedding for that couple. So many nooks and crannies to check out and climbable places to get a better vantage point.
This hike is quite short, but with all of the things to see and explore, it took a while to make the loop. Going at a normal speed, it would have taken about 25 minutes, but with all of the exploring it was well over an hour. At the end of this little route, there is a little gift shop where Scott was able get his coffee fix for the morning.
Hiking Tip: Watch out for squirrels, I’m convinced they are the most aggressive animal in the park. I’ve never witnessed squirrels so whipped up. We had them barking at us and one even tossed pine cones at us! There are also thieving chipmunks in the campground, they are hilarious!
Silvan Lake is a must when visiting Custer State Park. Even if you’re not camping there, take some time to drive the needles highway and pause to hike Sylvan Lake. You won’t regret it!