Custer State Park, South Dakota, is an outdoor lover’s paradise, a fantastic family destination, a road trip just waiting for discovery. It’s where kids rediscover nature and families reconnect. And it’s where our family spent ten adventure filled days.
So channel your inner cowboy and come along on this family’s adventures in Custer State Park. Discover our nine favorite things to do while there and see why Custer State Park should be on your “must visit” list.
Read more about our travels to fun-filled South Dakota in these blogs:
- Stop the Car! Three Fun and Funky Roadside Stops In South Dakota
- 5 Amazing Experiences That Make Hot Springs SD A “Must Visit”
- 7 Tips to Maximize Your Day at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Bear Country USA Wildlife Park – Another Fun South Dakota Adventure
- Your South Dakota Road Trip Round Up
1. Hit the Trails On Foot
Whether you enjoy a strenuous hike or a casual stroll through nature, Custer State Park has a trail for you. So lace up those shoes, get outdoors, and hit the trails. Hiking a park trail is the best way to thoroughly appreciate the sublime natural beauty of Custer State Park. You might even spot some wildlife along the way, like this sleepy bison. Just don’t get too close. No matter how serene he appears, he’s still a very wild animal.
Our favorite hike was the three mile Cathedral Spires Trail. Most people view this National Natural Landmark from the side of the road. It’s a lovely view from the road, but it’s even more impressive from high up on the trail.
2. Saddle Up and Explore On Horseback
Saddle up for a fun and scenic adventure into tranquil meadows, past forests carpeted with pine trees, sloshing through creeks as you ride. Want a little more adventure? Book an all-day horseback ride, complete with cowboy guides. Novices and experts alike will enjoy an afternoon getting off the beaten path on a trail ride through Custer.
No experience required for this adventure! Guided horseback tours can be booked through Blue Bell Lodge.
3. Catch A Presidential View Along Iron Mountain Road
No adventure in Custer State Park is complete without driving the Iron Mountain Road. Enjoy the sites along this iconic stretch of road that runs between between Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. Marvel upon the surrounding beauty as you make your way across pigtail bridges and through tunnels carved into the rock. Look closely when approaching those tunnels. You should see Mount Rushmore framed right between the tunnel’s stone walls. Amazing!
Though Iron Mountain Road was our favorite scenic drive, Custer State Park has other equally scenic drives, including the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, Needles Highway, and Wildlife Loop Road.
4. Become a Junior Naturalist
Send the kids on their own adventures! Kids between the ages of 7 and 12 will have a blast exploring Custer State Park with the Junior Naturalist program. Upon completion of the program, they’ll even receive a certificate and embroidered patch. Who knows what adventures await them? Your kids might just find themselves panning for gold!
The Junior Naturalist Program is free to park pass holders. Note: Kids younger than 7 can participate in the Pups program and have a similar experience.
5. Enjoy an Evening Hayride & Chuckwagon Cookout
Wagons ho! Climb aboard a hay-filled wagon for an old-fashioned, fun-filled ride along park back roads to your very own cowboy cookout. Soak in the scenery as the wagon meanders past grassy meadows. Keep a keen eye open for herds of bison, maybe even a pronghorn prancing across the field. Did you bring your appetite? Great, because at the end of the trail you’ll sup on yummy grub to the tunes of local cowboys.
It’s fun entertainment for all ages, complete with cowboy hat and bandana. It’s also an entertaining way to end a day exploring Custer State Park. Wagons departing nightly from Blue Bell Lodge.
6. Spend an Afternoon at Legion Lake
Cool down after the morning’s adventure with an afternoon swim in Legion Lake. Explore along nearby hiking trails, then return to the beach for some more lakeside fun. Go fishing off the rocks. Or just relax! After a calming afternoon at Legion Lake, the whole gang should be well refreshed and ready to go for the evening activities.
Swimming is allowed at Custer State Park’s five lakes, though no lifeguard is on duty. All anglers must have a South Dakota fishing license.
7. Go On A Geocaching Scavenger Hunt Challenge
Take on the Custer State Park geocache scavenger hunt challenge! Eight geocaches are scattered throughout the park, just waiting for you to discover them. Answer all the treasure hunt questions correctly and you’ll be entered into a drawing for prizes. Best of all, follow the geocache trail, and you’ll discover areas of the park that are definitely off the beaten path.
You don’t have to participate in the scavenger hunt to enjoy these geocaches. Learn more about Geocaching in South Dakota State Parks.
8. Explore A Piece of Black Hills History
Stop by the Badger Clark cabin, once home to Charles Badger Clark, and read about South Dakota’s first poet laureate. Take a drive to the Gordon Stockade and learn how, in the summer of 1874, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, leading to the building of the Gordon Stockade. Read how this one discovery transformed the Black Hills.
Though both the Gordon Party and Charles Badger Clark are long gone, these buildings remain, providing a glimpse into the history of the Black Hills.
9. End The Day With A Campfire Dinner and S’Mores
Dinner and s’mores around a cozy campfire. Yep, the perfect end to an adventurous day at Custer State Park. Let the kids meander and explore while the adults get the campfire roaring and the hot dogs ready to grill. Don’t forget the S’mores! The evening just isn’t complete without a tasty round of campfire-cooked s’mores.
Now that’s how this family ended our days at Custer State Park!
Custer State Park – Here We Come!
Hands down, our ten day adventure in South Dakota remains one of our most favorite road trips to date. So much to do. So much fun to be had. And an overall great place for a family adventure.
Who knew so much fun could be had in southwestern South Dakota? Are you ready to plan your own adventures in Custer State Park? Here’s a few links to get you on the road to your own adventures.
- South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks – Custer State Park
- Tatanka 2014 Guide to Custer State Park
- Custer State Park Resort
Have you been to Custer State Park? What was your favorite activity? Will you be planning your own adventures here? Let us know in the Comments section below.
Good bye Custer State Park and South Dakota. Until we come again!
All images from C.Biederman.