Custer State Park’s Must See Destinations

Being the top state park in South Dakota, you know Custer has to have endless adventure! Check out the must-see places in Custer and add on to your South Dakota trip this summer. sou

Being the top state park in South Dakota, you know Custer has to have endless adventure! Check out the must-see places in Custer and add on to your South Dakota trip this summer.

Needles Highway

Drive through these marvels of nature stabbing up into the sky! Stop along the road at overlooks and take in this unique, one of a kind highway.

Travel Tip: If you’re traveling with a large trailer or an RV, avoid this road in Custer. The narrow passages and tunnels could cause problems along your journey. Tunnels just wide enough for one vehicle.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake has to be the most peaceful locations in the park. Arrive early to avoid crowds and to catch the lake at it’s most serene time. This lake is in it’s own section of park at the northwestern portion of the park. Taking the Needles Highway to the lake will give the illusion of driving through a portal to a different land.

Black Elk Peak

We didn’t have time to complete the Black Elk Peak trail, it’s still on my bucket list. Which means we get to go back, yay! This trail can be accessed by multiple locations, but the simplest is likely the trail head at Sylvan Lake. The trail is 7 miles round trip with, what I hear, is an amazing overlook at the top of the peak. The difficulty level of the trail is considered easy with areas of steep terrain.


Sundown doesn’t have to be goodbye when you’re staying the night. Camping at Custer gives adventurers the chance to see the park at it’s most beautiful times. Catch a calming sunset or a refreshing sunrise. One of my favorite parts of our Camping Trip at Custer was the sunrise though the needles at Sylvan Lake.

Wildlife Loop Road

I highly suggest driving the Wildlife Loop Road. It goes around the whole southern section of the park with areas for overlooks and short trails to explore.

After a time, Scott and I were being asked where all the animals were. It is true that we didn’t see any right away, with the exception of the rodents back at camp, but there had to be more critters than that! At long last, when we were on the southwestern portion of the loop we came around the bend and BOOM! Bison! We only saw 3 bison on our whole trip, but it was truly something to see them right next to the car. We also got a glimpse of the little prairie dogs and some pronghorn. There are other animals in this ecosystem that we didn’t see, be on the lookout for elk, deer and big horn sheep. All of the critters we saw were found in areas we weren’t expecting them. Stay ALERT!

Buffalo Round up

Interested in watching Park Rangers and wranglers round up the bison, plan your visit to include the last Friday in September. This way, you’ll be guarantied to see more than three bison, more like 1,300! The bison are rounded up annually for the management of the herd.


Some of the best views that we had were at random unplanned stops along the way Wildlife Loop. Some had unique rock stacking, signs for kids to read, and some small areas with ruins, each stop had a little something different to explore. These were my favorite areas to explore.


This is a MUST for a western South Dakota trip, it is in the town of Custer, just west of Custer State Park. The Purple Pie Place is complete with a purple pig! I usually order my basic chocolate or French silk pie when in the mood for pie, always afraid of being disappointed. But I went out on a limb and ordered Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. It was probably the best pie that I have ever had, Chocolate or otherwise. I highly recommend this slice ala mode. The rich creamy ice cream is a perfect accent!

Camping at Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Camp at Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota for breath taking views, unique hikes and the stunning Sylvan Lake to explore.

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

Level: Easy

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!