A Drive Through Custer State Park – South Dakota

Hermosa, SD

On Friday we left Keyhole State Park in eastern Wyoming and drove east on I-90 into South Dakota for a visit to the Black Hills.  We’ve been here a couple of times but it is the first time the motorhome has been in South Dakota.  We were surprised when it showed no emotion as we crossed the state line!

We drove to the little community of Hermosa, on the east side of the Black Hills and about 15 miles south of Rapid City to Southern Hills RV Park.  The park is not very nice but the sites are level, the power is good, the location is good, and the price is right.

That evening we met three other RV couples we have met during our travels at a nearby pizza shop to share stories and enjoy a great meal.  We failed to take any photos of the group but are meeting them on Sunday at the Crazy Horse Monument, so we’ll get some photos then.

Today (Saturday) the temperatures were in the 90s, a bit warm for hiking, so we decided to take a long drive through the Black Hills.  We drove about 10 miles east to the entrance to Custer State Park, paid our $20 entry fee, and headed for what is called the Wildlife Loop Trail, a two lane paved road meandering through the rolling grasslands of the park.  We drove a few miles before sighting some wildlife, a large buffalo grazing near the road.

As we approached, the big guy decided to take a stroll down the road in front of us, so we sat awhile as he slowly made his way across a small bridge.

Finally he turned and headed into the field next to the road.

He must have had an itch on his back as he suddenly flopped over and began rolling in the dirt.

This rolling, also called wallowing, deters biting flies and removes tufts of molted fur.

“Aah, that felt good!”

Buffalo are herd animals, so we knew this guy’s buddies must be somewhere nearby.  About a mile further along we found them.  It seems that they decided the vast grassy fields were not as inviting as the road.  So the herd decided to take up residence on both sides of the road and walk slowly back and forth, blocking traffic.

It appeared they had a plan to keep blocking the road, as a couple of the larger buffalo would take turns walking out to the middle and just stand there.

Cars slowly weaved their way through the crowd and finally, 45 minutes later, it was our turn to pass through the gauntlet.

One large bull was assigned to stand in the road and stare at each passing car.

As we slowly passed by he continued to give us the “evil eye.”

A few miles past the buffalo jam we passed a small herd of wild burros.

A nearby parking area provided a nice spot for the burros to receive a snack from the many tourists who aren’t suppose to be feeding them.

We continued along the loop, passing a cow and her calf walking along the road near another large herd of buffalo.

After completing the 13 mile long loop road we drove a short distance up Rte. 87 for a visit to the Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower.  The tower was one of the last projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s.  Built of local stone, the tower rests atop a 6,023′ peak and is still used today as a fire lookout and dispatch center. As the highest point in central Custer State Park, it offers breathtaking 360-degree views from the top of the fire tower.

Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower

Looking east, see the white area below the arrow?

It’s the Crazy Horse Monument – 10 miles away

Looking north, see the white area under the arrow?

It’s Mount Rushmore, also 10 miles away

We left the tower and continued north on Rte. 87.  After splitting from US 16A, the route is known as the Needles Highway.  This 14 mile long segment was finished in 1922 and is named after the high granite “needles” it winds among.

Lunch with a view

Needles Eye Tunnel

Inside the Needles Eye Tunnel

Leaving the Needles Highway we made a loop to the east on Rte. 244, which goes right by Mount Rushmore National Monument.  As we approached the monument from the west there is a cut in the rock where you can see the face of George Washington.

We continued around a bend and drove right in front of the monument.

While the faces in the stone are quite impressive, the site holds no historical significance and none of the four Presidents depicted ever visited the area.  But we are looking forward to tomorrow when we visit a monument to a leader who did spend time in the area, the Crazy Horse Monument.

More on that later . . .

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21 Responses to A Drive Through Custer State Park – South Dakota

  1. Judy Blinkenberg says:

    Love your pictures and information! I look forward to your posts! Thanks so much!!

  2. Jim and Barb says:

    Love, love, love that area!

  3. Colleen says:

    We were there many years ago. Love that area. We went to some western dinner and show that was a lot of fun. At the end we were talking to the performers and the father was from Baltimore. If I think of the name of it I will send it to you. Have a great time.

  4. explorvistas says:

    That bison was sizing up the Jeep to install a couple new vents in the door! 🙂

  5. Jeff says:

    That’s one big bison acting as the road guard. We’re looking forward to our chance to visit the area, there’s a lot to see. I noticed you have traded your boots for hiking sandals.

  6. Larry says:

    Great shots – we really enjoyed our two trips to the Black Hills.

  7. Ingrid says:

    We love the Black Hills and Badlands. I think it’s actually ok to feed the Burros…. the only place I know of where it’s acceptable. We brought carrots opting to go the healthy route. We couldn’t believe how close the pronghorn were making for great photo-ops. They’re usually a lot more skittish unlike the Bison. Be sure and eat at that restaurant in Custer that Mona Liza wrote about…. delicious (sorry I can’t remember the name)

  8. Sue says:

    That Buffalo was in superb condition, just beautiful! You certainly got a lot of bang for your buck on the wildlife loop!

    Cool to see the head of Crazy Horse from that far away! We just drove through the area and didn’t stop. We’d visited Mt. Rushmore many years ago and had decided to wait til Crazy Horse Monument was finished to see it….. We’re still waiting!

  9. Maxxtrails says:

    Well I am also surprised at the motor home showing no emotion, that was a great line and gave me a good laugh! Pretty cool pictures of the buffalo 😊

  10. MQ says:

    Loved your pictures of the buffalo and your descriptions of their road ownership.

  11. LuAnn says:

    We have such fond memories of our time in the Black Hills and the Badlands. Hope the temps subside so you can do some hiking.

  12. Thanks for the tour and the fabulous pictures! I’ve never been there before. It’s definitely on my bucket list now.

  13. pmbweaver says:

    I am with Jim and Barb. We love that area. Do not pass up going to Mount Rushmore at night. It is such a moving experience.

  14. Oh the memories you are bringing back to me! Such a beautiful area and all the amazing wildlife!

  15. Laurel says:

    Haha, the buffalo guard! We’ve had exactly that same experience in Yellowstone—it’s obvious who really owns the road, isn’t it? It always makes me laugh to see those huge critters rolling around in a dust bath. You’re making South Dakota look mighty appealing. I haven’t seen Mt. Rushmore since I was about 7 years old and I really, really want to visit the Crazy Horse monument. Glad you guys are always so enthusiastic even if your motorhome is becoming a bit jaded about your travels. :-))

  16. Sherry says:

    Wow I was shocked at a $20 fee at Custer State Park but you sure got your animal viewing. That’was some buffalo jam. I have the same feeling about Mt. Rushmore. For me it was too expensive, too many people, no real significance but then I don’t like carving up mountains so that probably affects my attitude. It doesn’t seem patriotic to me.. That said, if we are going to do carving to honor folks it makes more sense to honor someone who pretty much gave his life to try to protect his land for his people. Looking forward to your Crazy Horse visit.

  17. Oh we love the Black Hills area and Im smiling as you took me back to the Wildlife Scenic Drive. And grinned again when you said something about giving Burros a snack, I seem to remember I did that, slap!
    Now the Bison did give you the evil eye.

  18. Jodee Gravel says:

    Leave it to a motorhome to just keep it all inside…… Hard to believe that cute little calf grows up to be one of those huge, serious buffalo! Love the wallowing, how fun to watch from beginning to end. Can’t wait to see this area in a couple weeks, hope we bring our cool weather with us!

  19. Debbie L says:

    What a hoot the buffalo were! Great performances and pictures! We so had hoped to ride our motor cycle here, but alas, now we’ll be happy if we can drive our motor home to SD.
    More similarities between there and Eastern Kentucky. Yesterday we drove through a similar tunnel, although ours was all tunnel. My pics inside it didn’t turn out. And we have crevices here….I can’t wait to write our posts about our time here in Daniel Boone National Park. Gotta finish with London.

  20. geogypsy2u says:

    How delightful to be in our cages surrounded by wildlife. Too bad some tourists don’t get that. A marvelous CCC example of a masonry skill almost lost to us. Plus awesome views. Assume no motorhomes allowed through the tunnels.

    • placestheygo says:

      Actually, Gaelyn, I saw photos of commercial buses coming through the Needle Tunnel. I don’t know how they did it. We saw a class C come though and they barely made it.

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