Exploring the Park by Car

For a first-class excursion, pick any of the park's three scenic drives: the Needles Highway, the Wildlife Loop Road, or the Iron Mountain Road. When driving, it's important to keep an eye on the road and not your watch. Winding roads generally keep travel at 25 mph or less.

Be aware: Tunnels on Iron Mountain Road (U.S. 16A) are as low as 12 feet, 2 inches high and as narrow as 13 feet, 2 inches wide. Tunnels on the Needles Highway/Sylvan Lake Road (S. Dak. 87) are as low as 10 feet, 7 inches and as narrow as 8 feet, 4 inches.

Needles Highway -- This is a mesmerizing 14-mile journey through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and quaking aspen, and giant granite spires that reach to the sky. Visitors pass the picturesque waters of Sylvan Lake, through tunnels, and near a unique rock formation called the Needle's Eye.

Wildlife Loop Road -- This 18-mile drive takes you through open grasslands and pine-clad hills -- an area that is home to most of the park's wildlife, including pronghorn, bison, white-tailed and mule deer, elk, coyote, begging wild burros, prairie dogs, eagles, hawks, and other birds. Stop by the Wildlife Station Visitor Center on the southeast part of the loop for information and exhibits. There are unpaved side roads off the Wildlife Loop Road that offer a quiet outdoor experience, in contrast to the main road in the summer. For example, one circle drive starts near the Wildlife Station Visitor Center. Take Park Road #3 (Oak Draw Rd.), then right on Park Road #4 (North Lame Johnny Rd.), right again on Park Road #5 (Swint Rd.), and one more right on Park Road #2 (Fisherman Flats Rd.), which will take you back to the Wildlife Loop Road and the Wildlife Station.

Iron Mountain Road -- Although only a portion of this scenic roadway rests in Custer State Park, it ranks as a must-see. The winding road runs between Mount Rushmore and the junction of U.S. 16A and S. Dak. 36. Along the route are wildfire exhibits, wooden "pig-tail" bridges, pullouts with wonderful views, and tunnels that frame the four presidents at Mount Rushmore.

Day Hikes

Custer State Park is home to a wide variety of hiking experiences, ranging from short nature walks to backcountry treks. A 22-mile segment of the South Dakota Centennial Trail, the Harney Peak Summit Trail, extends through the park. The Cathedral Spires Trail is also a popular choice. Be aware that some trails are also open to mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.