Great America Road Trip Day 30: Custer State Park

As Daniel and I planned our route back to I-90, we decided to make our way through Custer State Park. I’d been hearing good things about the park so it seemed like a good time to check it out.

As it turns out, Custer State Park is enormous. Driving through the park took a bit longer than I anticipated. We probably should have set aside a whole day just to see it. But we only have so much time available to us.

Daniel photographs the bison herd at Custer State Park

Custer State Park

One of the nation’s largest state parks, Custer State Park is famous for its scenic drives and wildlife. The park is home to over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wild burros and more.

Many visitors drive through the Needles, which is a region of eroded Black Hills in the park’s northwest corner. The area is supposed to be spectacular.

Sadly, we ran out of time to see the Needles so it is on my list of things to see if we ever come back this way. The highway traverses several small tunnels that will be hard to in a motorhome. So if we do come back we may have to bring a car.

This family of bighorn sheep welcomes you to Custer State Park!
Driving the wildlife loop in Custer State Park

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

We decided to take the Wildlife Loop instead, an 18-mile scenic loop which winds through the southern half of the park. True to its name, we saw lots of animals along the drive – way more than in any of the National Parks that we’d recently driven through.

Before long, I realized that the wildlife is managed differently here than what I’m used to seeing in National Parks. Custer State Park used to be a game preserve and this legacy is still visible today. The bison are corralled and hunted, the wild burros are routinely fed by visitors, and the bighorn sheep are all tracked with radio collars. The animals aren’t truly wild here.

But it was still a fun experience to see so many native species in one afternoon.

Bighorn sheep near the entrance to Custer State Park
Bighorn sheep crossing! Photo by Daniel.
Bison chilling next to the road in Custer State Park
The bison herd in Custer State Park
Female pronghorn antelope
You gotta watch out for animals on this road!
Male pronghorn antelope

Dinosaur Park

We next headed to Rapid City to run some errands. While we were there, we drove to the top of a ridge overlooking the town. This is where we found Dinosaur Park, a slightly cheesy tourist attraction which features a collection of dinosaur sculptures overlooking the town. Did I mention that it’s free? You can’t beat free!

Welcome to Dinosaur Park
Hello dinosaur!
Daniel made a new friend
Dino fight!
That’s one big dinosaur
It’s dino time!

Welcome to the Badlands

From there we headed east along I-90 towards the Badlands KOA Campground. Daniel and I will spend the next few days in the Badlands so we didn’t plan to stop at the park just yet. But we actually had to drive through a corner of the National Park to get to our campsite and – wow! What a spectacularly beautiful place.

So of course we had to stop and take at least a *few* photos. I mean, we couldn’t help ourselves.

Here’s a taste of what’s coming up:

The Badlands
Pathway to a scenic overlook in the Badlands
More Badlands

Where are we now?

We are in Badlands National Park!

Date: August 4
Great American Road Trip Status: Day 30

Starting Location: Big Pine Campground, SD
Ending Location: Badlands KOA, SD
Miles Traveled: 148.8
Total Trip Mileage: 21091

For more details on our Great America (Socially Distanced) Road Trip, see my previous posts:


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