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Custer State Park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park, named for Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, of the infamous ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ in the American Indian War. The park protects 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. The Black Hills name is translated from the Lakota Pahá Sápa, who called them that because the dense pine tree forests make them appear dark when seen from a distance.
We were staying at Custer’s Chief Motel (a clean, no-frills family run motel with the advantage of family suites with separate bedrooms and a big indoor pool for the kids) and they offered us a free pass to visit Custer State Park. It had been on our itinerary anyway, but we appreciated the perk.
We entered the park from highway 16 and pulled over in a few places to walk around and admire the views of the Black Hills.
Next we headed to the State Game Lodge for a snack and the gift shop. This was Calvin Coolidge’s Summer White House in 1927. President Eisenhower also spent some time here in 1953.
Then we drove the park’s Wildlife Loop. The park is home to a large herd of bison, pronghorn, deer, elk and most thrilling for the kids: the Begging Burros.
Please note, we did NOT feed the burros, though it obvious these feral donkeys are comfortable around cars and humans and used to being fed by them. Once these fellas realized we had no food, they moved on to the next group.
The wildlife loop is 18 miles long and took us almost two hours to drive because of the frequent stops and wildlife crossings, but we enjoyed every minute of it, keeping our eyes peeled for bison (who hid from us until the very end of the loop.)
Location: 13329 US Hwy 16A, Custer, SD 57730
Designation: State Park
Date designated or established: 1912
Date of my visit: 7/31/2009