For anyone that has ever driven in mountainous terrain, you know what looks like a short drive on the map is not always so when you are actually driving it. Most of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is like this. As we were leaving the Black Hills this day and had the trailer behind us, we limited out excursions to the Needles Highway, and the Wildlife Loop. We entered the Needles Highway after driving through Hill City, and came in by Sylvan Lake. Sylvan Lake is a beautiful area with a visitor center that has a takeout counter, gift shop with a nice collection of local interest books, and several hiking trail options. There are cabins near by as well as Sylvan Lake Lodge for an extended stay. As we were on a short “drive by” we only stopped for lunch. Then we headed up the Needles Highway. When you get to the actual “Needle” there is very limited parking, and not much available for anyone pulling a trailer, but we got lucky and found a spot.
There is also some areas to climb around and explore a bit in this area. After we explored a little we headed through the tunnel, there was not much clearance on our trailer but we made it, then spent the next half an hour or so enjoying the incredible scenery. Our next goal was the wildlife loop in the south part of the park. We were coming in on the west side and at first didn’t see alot of wildlife aside from one lonely buffalo and a donkey at a pull off area. There was a ranger there with a display set up showing the guns they used to hunt buffalo with as well as some buffalo bones and such, the ranger didn’t seem to offer up much information and we couldn’t come up with any questions, so felt rather “disengaged” from this encounter. Jeff did ask her where we could find more buffalo and she directed us to a road off the main loop. There was a herd here with buffalo’s of all sizes, mom’s and their calves were crossing the road right in front of us.
We also saw some pronghorns
as well as the aforementioned donkey (usually there is alot more donkey’s near the road, they can be quite a nuisance). The donkey’s ancestors were used to bring gold miners into the hills way back when, they now run wild in the park.
So it’s definately worth the time even if you don’t have the time to do everything (just like at Disney right?), but take advantage of the park rangers to find where you can locate some of the wildlife. And if you plan on doing any hiking, they recommend you are prepared (ie water, proper footwear, clothing layers) and that you notify someone at the ranger station of your plans.