Black Hills of South Dakota – Day Three


→Note: this post is the third in a series as we cover a week long vacation itinerary. Our trip starts at Rapid City, South Dakota. 

Day Three

Destination: Custer State Parkimg_1266-e1534024838736.jpg

  • Website link: Custer State Park
  • Cost: $20.00 per car for one week pass (as of August, 2018).
  • For the best wildlife sightings, arrive early in the morning or early in the evening.
  • This park has everything from biking to hiking to horseback riding to swimming.

Travel tip: this will be a full day trip. Pack road snacks and plenty of water, along with a fully charged camera battery/phone and a picnic lunch. Or, drive (15 minutes) in to the city of Custer and have lunch.

*Recommended restaurant in the city of Custer: Black Hills Burger and Bun Co – 441 Mt Rushmore Rd. Their burgers rank in our top three best ever, and their cheese curds… All we can say is you’ve gotta try ’em!

View from Custer State Park

From Rapid City take Highway 79 south to Highway 36 west. Continue west on Highway 16A to the park entrance. Drive time: 45 minutes.

Travel tip: Custer State Park is a place where you could spend an entire week and never have to leave the park. Great vacation destination by itself, and one of our very favorite state parks.

Lodges, cabins, tent and RV camping available in the park. Hotels available in the city of Custer.

*Recommended hotel in the city of Custer: Holiday Inn Express.

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Pronghorn herd

After entering the park, turn south on to Wildlife Loop Road for potential wildlife sightings of all kinds, including herds of bison and pronghorn. Look for prairie dogs, turkeys, and other wildlife along the way, too. Take your time while driving this road, and stop at the visitor centers for information about the park. Check out the lodges or campgrounds while you’re here so you can plan a trip back in the future!

Along Needles Highway

At Highway 16A turn left to go to the city of Custer or turn right to go east to Highway 87, then turn north on to Highway 87 (Needles Highway).

Travel tip: Needles Highway has low, narrow tunnels. Check with the park before attempting to navigate this road in/with a large vehicle or RV.

Continue on Highway 87 northwest to Sylvan Lake. Drive slowly, and take advantage of the pull outs for the many photo ops along this road. Sylvan Lake is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch and then a hike or walk around the lake. Nice visitor center/store here, too.

Sylvan Lake
Panorama along Needles Highway
Center Lake – good place to fish
Narrow tunnel

Backtrack south on Needles Highway to US Highway 16A. Turn left (east) and take US Highway 16A to Highway 36, and then Highway 79 north to Rapid City. Drive time: 1.5+ hours.

Alternate route: From Sylvan Lake, continue north on Highway 87 to US 385 toward Hill City. Stay on 385 north then take Highway 44 east to Rapid City. Drive time: 1 hour.


That’s our wrap up of Custer State Park. We hope your trip there is as amazing as we think it will be. Check our site next week for Day Four of our Black Hills itinerary. Until then…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye


As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.


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