Custer State Park is a 71,000 acre facility located adjacent to both Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monuments. In fact, there are several places inside of the park that you can see Mount Rushmore. We spent the whole day in the park, and it was fantastic.
We started the morning by driving the park’s 18-mile wildlife loop in our own vehicle. This paved loop is in the southern end of the park, which happens to be where the herd of approximately 1,300 bison prefer to hang out in the summer time. We took hundreds of pictures of rocks in the Badlands yesterday. Today, it was bison. Hundreds of pictures, hundreds of bison. We were able to view several from our car on the wildlife loop.
We ended that portion of our day at the new visitor’s center where the park offers some great exhibits as well as a short movie in a state-of-the-art theater that gives a brief history of the park. The guides there answered a lot of questions regarding the rest of the park and gave us details on where to find the trailhead for our hike.
After leaving the visitor’s center we headed to the Coolidge General Store to pick up some lunch, which we ate in the picnic area just outside. The general store had a lot of nice souvenirs to offer, and it’s one of the more interesting buildings in the park. It’s not far from the game lodge, which was actually a Presidential summer home for Calvin Coolidge, who made what was supposed to be a two week visit to the park for the dedication of Mount Rushmore and ended up staying for 3 months. What is now the general store was originally built in just three weeks to be used as housing for the Coolidge staff.
Leaving there, we spent the afternoon hiking a three mile loop called Lover’s Leap. The hike was labeled moderate to strenuous, and for novice hikers like us it might have been better labeled strenuous to strenuous-er. The climb was difficult to say the least, but the views at the top were spectacular.
For the evening, we went on a Jeep Safari with our guide Randy, and it was awesome. He found the bison herd and drove us, literally, right through it. We also saw prong-horned antelope, whitetail deer, mule deer, prairie dogs and an owl. It was an amazing experience and one we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, the second half of the ride was completed in a thunderstorm, so we arrived to our chuck wagon dinner a little wet and cold. The dinner was delicious, however, and the live band playing all sorts of country music and old cowboy songs was a lot of fun.
Another great day in the books!