If you seek close encounters of the wildlife kind, then you need to plan a visit to Custer State Park in South Dakota. Custer State Park not only will give you lots and lots of Buffalo close up, but they will probably come and visit your RV. Not only Buffalo, but Long Horned Sheep, Prolonged Deer, and wild Donkeys all roam around freely and the Park.
We went during the very popular Buffalo Round Up, where Cowboys from all over the Country come out to “round up” a thousand Buffalo and corale them to check on their health. This has been a long tradition at Custer State Park and brings thousands to the Park. In fact, we got stuck right in the middle of an evening graze with almost a thousand Buffalo surrounding us on the “wildlife loop” drive. It was really cool and it happened right at Sunset which made the experience even better. FULL VIDEO BELOW.
Of course with any popular even such as the Buffalo Round Up, you had better make your reservations early. Almost a year in advance. This is the only event that lets you book reservations that early.
Custer State Park is huge! It encompasses 9 different campgrounds that all have special features. Let’s break down which one’s are the best. All these campgrounds have one thing in common. NO Dump Station. There is a single Dump Station in the Park. Most are Electric Only.
BEST INTERNET: The BEST campgrounds are as follows:
Game Lodge Campground – Close to the Visitors Center. Full Hook Ups. Bath and Showers, Cabins to rent, Close to the South Wildlife Loop entrance. Grocery Store near by. Good Cell Coverage
Legion Lake Campground – In the middle of everything. One mile away from Needles Hwy. Full Hook Ups. Bath and Showers. Nice Indoor/Outdoor restaurant on Legion Lake. Wildlife. Good Cell Coverage
Sylvan Lake Campground We loved Sylvan Lake. It was the scene of the movie National Treasure and it does NOT disappoint. Hiking Trails, Picnic Area and lots to do. It does have Cell coverage. There will be lot’s of people heading up from Rapid City, so something to think about. Hook Ups, Bath and Showers, and and epic place to stay.
BEST BOONDOCKING If you like to get away from the crowds, we recomend Center Lake as a great alternative. It’s off of Needles Hwy and it’s the largest campground in Custer. No Hook Ups. Vault Toilets. Hot Showers. Kayak Oppertunities in the Lake. Hiking Trails. Wildlife. Upper Camp area might have cell with a Booster. Lower Camp area has very limited cell.
Calvin Cooledge – Calvin Coolege is smaller and closer to the Visitor Center. You for sure see Wildlife here. But there is NO Internet. Nice Bath and Showers. Hiking Trail in the back. Electric Hook Ups, Water near by. No Dump Station
Other amenities include small grocery stores located near each campground. You can also rent Kayaks and hit lots of trails. Ice, Beer, and Food all sold in the Park.
The key to staying in Custer State Park is creating a long stay to create a base camp where you can drive to Mt Rushmore, go to the Buffalo Round Up. You will be driving A LOT! The roads are windy and at DUSK, BEWARE of Deer, lot’s of Deer.
BEST TIIME TO GO: The best time to visit Custer State Park is in the Fall. We were there during peak Fall Colors and it was to beautiful to explain in the post. The weather was great with warm day’s and cool nights.
RESERVATION TIP Each Campground has a phone that dials right into the reservation system. Center Lake is the key to late arrivals. Center Lake is the only campground that let’s you reserve on a daily basis. So get up early if you want to extend your stay like we did. 7:00 AM sharp you had better be on that phone. Otherwise plan to stay awhile and book 6 months in advance. It’s a very popular place.