I asked a good friend of mine who grew up in South Dakota what I needed to hit on my way through. Custer State Park was one of his top five recommendations.
During our day trip out of Rapid City we headed down to Custer State Park. We had just finished Iron Mountain Road en route to the park before taking a short jaunt west on 36 to get to Wildlife Loop Road.
We went through the gate of the park and it wasn’t even one half of a mile before we saw a herd of buffalo grazing 50 yards from our car. We watched them for about 20 minutes until they started wandering up a hill.
2014 is the 100-year anniversary of the reintroduction of buffalo to Custer State Park. Today the herd is over 1,300 head. These animals are the largest native animal to North America and can grow to six feet tall and weigh 2,000 pounds. If you don’t see buffalo, there is plenty of other wildlife in the pak including white tail deer, mule deer, elk, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain goats, or prairie dogs, If you are lucky (or unlucky) you might even see a mountain lion.
Moving past the herd of buffalo further into the park, there was a plant that was in full bloom so half of the prairie was painted a golden yellow while building scattered thunder storms painted the sky.
As we turned the corner on the loop at the southern tip of the park, we stumbled upon a herd of wild donkey. They were very friendly. When we arrived, we saw about a dozen other cars parked there petting and feeding them. Donkey are not native to the Black Hills. These are decedents of a herd once used to haul people to the top of Harney Peak.
Heading northwest again, we were facing backlit golden fields and building storms in the sky. Finally, Wildlife Loop Road came to a “T” and we took 87 north through another part of Custer State Park. This part of the drive was full of Staghorns and Prairie Dogs.
If driving yourself through Custer State Park isn’t your thing, you can take a guided jeep tour as well. There are also guided nature walks that will bring you through grassland, forest and towering rock.
After leaving, we had ice cream at a resort on Legion Lake on our way to Needles Highway.