Two Amazing Drives to Take at Custer State Park, South Dakota

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Are you heading to South Dakota? Don’t miss Needles Highway or Custer State Park Wildlife Loop if you want to see spectacular wildlife and scenery. Here’s more about these two amazing drives you have to make.

Custer State Park, South Dakota Welcome Sign

*This post is sponsored by Custer State Park and the South Dakota Department of Tourism, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.*

Two Amazing Drives to Take at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota is a must stop on your visit through the state. We came through on day three of our family’s road trip from Eastern Iowa to Seattle (#MarinesGoWest17 on Instagram) and loved every minute. Sadly, our time at Custer State Park was too brief. Hopefully, we’ll be able to go back soon!

Needles Highway at Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre state park located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was one of the first state parks ever designated and has a long history of conservation. In fact, conservation efforts with bison at Custer State Park really helped save the majestic animal from the brink of extinction. Not only does the park boast gorgeous wildlife and amazing scenery, but it SMELLS good too! Oh I love the pine tree scent and it abounds at Custer State Park. 

We drove to Custer from the Badlands via I-90 and entered at the East Entrance off State Highway 36.  Honestly, we chose that entrance because of the direction we were coming from (Badlands National Park), but it did make good sense to enter the park there because of the proximity to the Visitor Center. At only $20 for a carload for a 1-7 day pass, it’s not expensive at all to visit this park.

Custer State Park, South Dakota Visitor Center

We made sure to stop at the Visitor Center first and ask where the buffalo herds might be because we really wanted to see them. While we were at the Visitor’s Center we also watched the quick movie which gave us a nice overview of the park and got us really excited! Then we headed out for our drives which we HIGHLY recommend you take if you head to Custer State Park – especially if you have limited time for exploring!

Herd of buffalo at Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop 

The Wildlife Loop Road is 18 miles with a speed limit of 25. The reason for the slow speed limit? Animals abound. This loop is a great place to find the massive herds of buffalo, pronghorns, deer, prairie dogs, and burros. Do take caution with the animals if you drive this road.

kids with the burros at Custer State Park

Remember that they’re wild animals – even the calm burros who beg for food are still wild animals. But that didn’t stop my kids from giving them a big hug.

buffalo herd on the wildlife loop

Tips for Driving the Wildlife Loop Road –

  • Animals are most active in the morning and evening
  • Don’t feed the animals!
  • Use caution around the animals
  • Expect to spend at least 45 minutes on the road. We spent about 2 hours.
  • Stop at the Wildlife Station Visitor Center for more info on the animals, if you have time.
  • Don’t forget out the side roads – like North Lame Johnny Road. They’re hard gravel, but that’s where we found the buffalo and lots of cute prairie dogs.

Needles Eye Tunnel on Needles Highway in the Black Hills

Needles Highway

This 14-mile road was carefully planned by Governor Peter Norbeck and finished in 1922. It was called the Needless Highway by South Dakota residents who were frustrated with the cost to construct this road, but it is simply breathtaking – a drive not to be missed!

  Iron Creek Tunnel on Hwy 87 in South Dakota

Meander through not just one, but three! stone, one-lane tunnels

switchbacks on needles highway south dakota

Cut up and down the mountain switch-backs

14 miles drive on Needles Highway

And oooh and ahhh over the needle-like granite formations that tower into the sky.

Tips for Driving Needles Highway

  • Honk as you go through the one-lane stone tunnels to notify cars on the other side
  • Stop on the side of the road for scrambling up rocks and taking beautiful pictures
  • Drive slowly – this road has many hair-pin turns you will need to take VERY slowly
  • Watch for animals – we found mountain goats on the road!

In all, we spent about six hours at Custer State Park and we could have spent DAYS there. If you only have limited time, do the two drives I recommend. But if you have a few days, stay longer and enjoy more of the beauty the park has to offer. It really is amazing! For more information on Custer State Park, be sure to head over to their website! From drives, to hiking, to rock climbing, paddle boarding, camping and more, Custer State Park is really a majestic US treasure.

Have you been to Custer State Park, South Dakota? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most!

If you're heading to Custer State Park, South Dakota, here are two amazing drives to take through the park to see amazing scenery and tons of wildlife!


About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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  1. Just returned from the most majestic trip to South Dakota! Seeing the Bison, burros and the amazing view from Needles Highway was not to be missed. So much so I went back again to see one more time before we left. Sylvan Lake, the waterfalls, there are so many things to see it’s incredible.