Custer State Park in Southwest South Dakota is a hidden gem and highly recommended for everyone to visit. Custer State Park was never on my list of places to visit and a place I had never heard of until I started researching hikes and trails in the area.
If you are using Rapid City, South Dakota, as a home base for your adventures in SD, then you have no excuse to skip Custer State Park. The park is less than an hour’s drive from Rapid City and offers countless activities to fill an entire weekend for nature lovers. My main goal is visiting Custer State Park was to hike the tallest peak in South Dakota, Black Elk Peak. I will be covering Black Elk Peak in a separate post since it truly is a must-do hike in South Dakota and probably my favorite hike this summer.
The other selling point of Custer State Park is just the most amazing scenic drive that you must take to get to the park. Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road surrounding and driving through Custer State Park are just breathtaking. I will also be covering those scenic highways in a separate post to give my recommended route on how to do them. When you get to Custer State Park, there is a $20 fee covering you for seven days or $36 for an annual pass if you think you will be in the area for an extended period.
There is plenty of signs directing you to purchase the park pass, and even during COVID, it was straightforward and efficient to get a pass. My most important recommendation for anyone visiting the park, especially during high season in the summer, is to arrive early. The parking situation is rather atrocious for the number of people who visit. I made quite a few loops around the parking area, located right off the lake, and had to stalk people until I found a spot. If you are in a big truck, you will be in an even more challenging position since half the parking area is just dirt and makeshift spots.
Once you are at the park, there are numerous trails available right from the main parking lot to satisfy all hikers’ levels. There is a convenience store that also provides food for parkgoers, but due to COVID, I did not feel safe eating there.
Restrooms also seemed clean to my state park standards, and I think most people will find them usable. I have seen some parks with some less than clean restrooms, but CSP is pleasantly surprised. Lastly, if you are a water lover, there are also many water activities, including a lake beach you can swim in!
I cannot recommend Custer State Park enough to anyone visiting South Dakota, especially if you are near Badlands National Park, Mt. Rushmore, or Crazy Horse Memorial.
The state park offers something for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts and is accessible to all.
Let me know if you have been to CSP! Did you enjoy any specific hike?
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