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Custer State Park, South Dakota: An Awesome Experience 
by Mary M. Alward August 17, 2005

If you love the great outdoors, horseback riding, wildlife and are a history buff, then Custer State Park in South Dakota should be added to your destination list. The sights and fragrances of the Park will leave you in awe.

The Park

Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It consists of 73,000 acres of majestic scenery and abundant wildlife.  If you want a holiday filled with adventure, this is the place to go.  Activities include a jeep tour to view magnificent bison herds in their natural habitat, hiking up majestic Harney Peak which stretches 7,242 feet into the sky, horse back riding, rock climbing, chuckwagon suppers, fishing and mountain biking.

The Needles Highway

The Needles Highway (South Dakota 87) twists and curves its way through narrow tunnels and giant rock formations.  The Needles Eye stands at the end of one of the tunnels.  It is a giant granite spire that stretches approximately forty feet into the air with a slit that is about four feet wide.  This natural wonder is breathtaking.

French Creek

Custer State Park is full of history.  You can hike the banks of French Creek and see the area where Custer and his expedition discovered gold in 1874 or visit the log cabin that Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet laureate called home.

Moving the Buffalo

In Autumn, the park’s staff saddle their horses and move the 1500 buffalo that reside in the park to corrals.  This event is slated for October and is open to the public.  The roundup moves the entire buffalo population into corrals along the Wildlife Loop Road.  Then, park staff sorts the animals.  Most are released but some are kept in the corrals until November when they are sold at auction.  The animals that are kept to be sold are tested for tuberculosis and brucellosis.  Calves are branded and female calves are vaccinated. 

The Fall Roundup and Roundup Arts Festival

The Fall Roundup is part of the park’s resource management program.  The animals are sold on the third Sunday in November to ensure control of the buffalo population within the park.  The monies from the auction go into the park’s operating budget. 

Along with the Fall Roundup comes the Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival.  This is a three-day event that is held from September 30 to October 2.  All activities take place just off US Highway 16A, near the State Game Lodge.  Here, local crafters and artisans display their work.  The event begins with a pancake and sausage breakfast that will tickle your taste buds. 

The Custer County Chamber of Commerce takes the opportunity during the Arts Festival to have their annual Chili cook-off.  This is a unique event, as all chili entries must share on common ingredient – buffalo meat.  Chefs from around the region stew up their favorite chili recipe and visitors are able to taste each entry if they like.  Most chefs charge 10 cents a sample. 

Buffalo Hunts

Custer State Park also has two buffalo hunts per year.  The Traditional Bison Hunt is a vehicle based hung that lasts three days.  Hunters must report to park headquarters each day to meet their assigned guide.  A fee of $3,000 covers a guide, transportation to and from the field as well as the handling of the animal.  Hunters should expect to travel at least 100-off-road miles per day in search of the ten-year-old bulls. 

For a once in a lifetime experience, take in the Horseback Trophy Bison Bull Hunt.  Hunters stay in a fully equipped camp in the scenic back country of the Park.  Accommodations include two cots, a heating stove, a heated dining tent, a drying rack and a bathroom tent.  Three meals are provided each day, as is a quarter horse for transportation.  A Custer Park guide and wrangler is assigned to each hunter for the five-day hunt.  The fee for this unique experience is $10,000.  This includes the use of the horse, a bison permit, camp accommodation as well as the field handling and transport of the buffalo bull.

Custer State Park issues ten license permits for the hunts each year.  They are available only on a first come basis until September 5 of each year.  The horseback trophy hunt is available to only two hunters.  The remaining eight licenses are for the traditional hunt.

The week of buffalo hunting offers other opportunities also.  You are able to see and photograph majestic elk herds and magnificent bighorn sheep in their natural habitat.  Trout fishing is available in French Creek Canyon.  All of these activities are done in traditional western style.  It is an opportunity to take part in a memorable hunting experience.

The Black Hills Playhouse

The park offers other attractions.  Take the family to The Black Hills Playhouse.  There, you will enjoy a night of comedy, drama and music.  The show starts at 8PM. For ticket information call (605) 255-4141.

Badger Clark

The log cabin of Badger Clark is located in a scenic woodland glen and is very well preserved.  It has stone and wooden pillars and is a site to behold.  Take a tour of the cabin, hike the Badger Clark Historic Trail and read Clark’s poetry at rest stops along the way. Giant pines and tranquility make this a marvelous trek.  Clarks’ home and the Trail are found at The Badger’s Hole. 

Junior Naturalist Program

Custer State Park has the Junior Naturalist Program, which introduces children to the great outdoors.  Under supervision they can explore and learn about the park and the Black Hills. It is an awesome experience for kids of all ages.

Relive bygone days at Gordon Stockade that originated in 1874.  Here, interpreters perform the duties that would have been done in the early days.  It’s wonderful to watch life going on as it did in bygone days. The Gordon Stockade is located at the eastern edge of Custer State Park. 

Mount Coolidge

The most spectacular view of the Black Hills can be seen from Mount Coolidge.  The majestic panorama includes Mount Rushmore, The Needles, Crazy Horse Memorial and Harney Peak.  If the day is clear, the view also includes Badlands National Park which is sixty miles away.

Custer State Park has something for everyone.  Be sure to add it to your list of places to see.  The experience is unforgettable.


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