Custer State Park, just five miles from downtown Custer, SD is a beautiful natural area, abounding in wildlife and recreational possibilities. Do not confuse this lovely and tranquil area with Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. This is a place that celebrates life and tranquility, not memorializing death and war.
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Custer State Park was, indeed, named for Gen. George Armstrong Custer, and was the first, and the largest, of South Dakota’s state parks. Established in 1912, the park grew rapidly during the 1920’s. During the thirties, the Civilian Conservation Corps added roads, campgrounds, small parks, and even built three dams to create lakes suitable for swimming, canoeing, and fishing. The area offers a wide variety of hiking trails, ranging from novice to expert, as well as excellent rock climbing opportunities for the even more adventurous. The park currently consists of 71,000 acres of hilly terrain, having added an additional 22,900 acres in 1964.
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But, aside from the obvious active recreational activities, Custer State Park is even more famous for its wildlife. The park is home to a buffalo herd number about 1,500. Every Fall, this herd is rounded up and penned, drawing visitors from all over. But buffalo aren’t the only big game in the park. You will find pronghorn, mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, and elk. As with any natural area, prey animals mean predators, so keep an eye out for coyote and cougars, as well. The animals known as the “begging burros” accost tourist vehicles on the Wildlife Loop Road, an eighteen mile long stretch of road along the southern edge of the park, causing traffic jams almost as bad as those caused by buffalo taking their time to cross the road.
Custer State Park is located along US Highway 16A near Custer, SD. More info, and directions, can be found online. Whether you want an active adventure, or you prefer your adventure comfortably seated in your vehicle as you drive the scenic route, your family will surely enjoy a visit to one of the last unspoilt areas of the Great Plains. Just remember, if you’re walking, don’t trip over a prairie dog!