Custer State Park is arguably the third biggest draw to the Black Hills region and to those who’ve experienced it before, it’s no wonder why. This pride of the South Dakota parks system is over 71,000 acres of iconic vistas and lakes, a pristine area home to large amounts of wildlife; the access to which makes Custer State Park a world-class, wildlife-viewing destination. Almost all of the park traffic comes during the peak of the summer travel season but what most don’t know is that the winter is best time for wildlife viewing.
So for those planning on visiting the Black Hills during the winter, don't fret, Custer State Park is open and easily accessible year-round. In fact, there are definitely benefits to visiting during the winter:
• Wildlife Viewing – having the park almost to yourself, and with the animals concentrated by snow pack, that world-class access the park is known for is taken to whole new level. Craig Pugsley, Head of Visitor Services at Custer State Park, whose been at the park in some capacity or another for over thirty years, says winter is actually underrated.
“Winter is a wonderful time to view the Park’s abundant wildlife. Recently Custer State Park was recognized as one of the “top ten places in the world” to see wildlife which includes over 1,300 head of buffalo, whitetail and mule deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, prairie dogs and other critters,” Pugsley says. Pugsley also says that bald eagles are easy to find in Custer State Park during the winter and of course, the ice fishing is good too.
• Peace & Solitude – speaking of having the park to yourself, you quite literally may have the park to yourself (except the abundant wildlife of course). Custer State Park is never closed and only Needles Highway (SD 87) between Sylvan Lake and Legion Lake closes for the season depending on the snows (typically visitors can plan on it being closed from November till the very beginning of April). There is no better time to hit the Park’s trails than in the winter for those looking to avoid the crowds and if snow exists, no worries. Cross-Country skiing and snowshoeing are both popular activities and the park has snow shoes that one can check out.
• Most Offerings Still Available – The popular Jeep Safari Tours don’t shut down for the winter and in fact, are open by request all winter. As for accommodations, the specialty cabins, along with Creekside Lodge, are also open. The campground and some camping cabins at the State Game Lodge Campground are open with limited services on Dec. 1. Again, you’ll feel like you have (whichever) place all to yourself.
• Special Seasonal Events – Over the course of the winter, there are various seasonal events offered, everything from special snowshoe hikes, a romantic Valentine’s Dinner, an ice fishing program to Thanksgiving and Easter buffets. Each an excellent excuse to visit this amazing park during an often overlooked time of year.