There is no doubt why 2-3 million people visit the Black Hills every year: Mount Rushmore.  But a majority of those visitors quickly discover that the Black Hills is far more than a one-stop tourist trap in the middle of the plains.  It is truly a destination full of more natural beauty and fun activities than one vacation can hold.  One of the gems that rightfully garnishes so much time and attention is Custer State Park, South Dakota’s first and largest state park.  Here are a few reasons why it may be the reason to come to the Black Hills.

The Needles Highway and Sylvan Lake

This extremely scenic drive, full of so much aesthetic beauty and engineering feats, winds it way past countless awe-inspiring granite spires and through several tunnels.  It is a place rife with dizzying vistas of both prairie and rock domes.  The Needles Hwy starts in the west at Sylvan Lake, a man-made reservoir where granite ridges rise straight out of the water.  The lake is perfect for picnics, short strolls and general relaxation.


The park is home to a plethora of wildlife, some a bit more elusive than others.  Bison, antelope, deer, and prairie dogs are among the usual suspects.  The more observant, and perhaps luckier, individual may spot elk, mountain goats, big horn sheep and the rarely seen mountain lion.  The wildlife loop seems to be a great place to visually hunt for these animals, especially during dawn and dusk.

Hiking and Climbing

For those who want to truly experience what Custer State Park has to offer, there are literally hundreds of miles of trail to be explored by leg-power.  Harney Peak, which is the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees in France, is a great day hike offering amazing panoramic view of the surrounding area.  Sunday Gulch, Cathedral Spires, Little Devil’s Tower, and Lover’s Leap trails allow one to wander amidst giant rock towers, old-growth pine forests and overwhelming silence.  Regardless of what trail you choose, its hard to image being disappointed.

The list could, and probably should, go on.  Custer State Park is a testament to the natural beauty of this world and the wisdom and value of preserving the truly special places for generations to come.  So, if you are planning a trip to Mount Rushmore, take a moment (and a google search) to broaden your horizons on what the Black Hills have to offer.