Custer State Park

This is the sixth and final guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam, Anna, Cyndi and I toured the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. There are previous posts for an Introduction to our tripJasper National Park, Columbia Icefield & Lake Louise, Banff and Waterton National Parks, and Glacier National Park..

That’s Why It’s Called “Big Sky Country”!

We spent most of Thursday in our 12+ hour and 792 mile drive from Glacier National Park through Montana and a corner of Wyoming to our next destination at Custer State Park in South Dakota. As you drive back East and see the miles of acreage and big blue sky ahead, you realize why they call Montana “Big Sky Country.”


We encountered some construction along the way in South Dakota, which lead us down some dusty roads and the thinking we were lost. We finally arrived at Custer S.P. at approximately 10:30pm. Thankfully the folks at our campground, Rafter J Bar Ranch in Hill City, SD, gave us a close-in site that was easy to find.  It helps to call ahead!

Happy Birthday Adam! 

During this part of the trip, we actually got to spend Adam’s birthday with him for the first time in several years. Last year, he was in La Paz, Bolivia on his birthday. In many of the previous years he was in Mexico on mission trips with our church.

The Largest State Park in the U.S. 

Custer State Park is in the Black Elk Wilderness area of the Black Hills National Forest of southwestern South Dakota. This park is just south of Rapid City and near other attractions like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park (about an hour away). The park covers over 71,000 acres and is home to many wild animals like it’s herd of 1,300 free-roaming bison, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and wild burros. It is famous for its scenic drives, stone cathedral spires and unique rock structures.



The park is named after U.S. Calvary commander, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876), who died during the Battle of the Little Big Horn fighting against a coalition of Native American tribes in a battle that has come to be popularly known in American history as “Custer’s Last Stand.”  

Harney Peak Look-Out

We started our day with a hike to Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. The peak was named in the late 1850s in honor of General William S. Harney, a Black Hills Military commander. The 7,242 ft. summit of Harney Peak Look-Out is where a Lakota Indian medicine man, Black Elk, had his powerful vision of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Massacre at Wounded Knee.


The Black Elk Wilderness is a 13,426 acre region considered sacred to Native Americans, especially the Sioux Indians.  Mount Rushmore National Memorial is immediately to the north and much of the rest of the wilderness is bordered by other protected land under jurisdiction of state and federal agencies.

We took Harney Peak Trail #9 up to Haney Peak Look-Out Tower, which is 3.3 miles one way and considered moderately difficult.


We returned taking Trail #4, which seemed much easier and shorter….maybe because we were heading down most of the way! After a trunk-lunch, Adam & Anna hiked another 1-mile loop around Sylvan Lake while Cyndi & I recuperated by the concession area.

The Wildlife Drive

When everyone was relaxed, we traveled the scenic 18-mile wildlife roadway that winds through pine covered hills and rolling prairies. On this road, you should see many types of wildlife like deer, pronghorn antelope, and wild burros. The highlight of the drive though is encountering the 1,300 head herd of bison.


We became part of the “bison-jam” since many cars pulled over to take pictures (from the car of course!).


The funniest part of that the bison come right over to your vehicle and lick the bugs from the grill of your car and scratch themselves on the car mirrors and bumpers.  We could actually feel the SUV rocking as 2 bison worked over the back bumper. The noisy snorting of the massive bull-bisons was intimidating, but fun while the windows were down to take pictures.

After the drive, we went back to camp to begin the process of packing for a very early departure to head home.

The Long-Drive Home

We left Custer State Park, SD bright and early at 6:30am for our 16-hour drive through South Dakota, southern Minnesota, and southwestern Wisconsin to get home.  We finally arrived home about 10:30pm that night and lamented the end of our vacation.

That said, a trip to see the the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list.  In total, we traveled 4,586 miles over the 15 days; had no vehicle breakdowns and had a really great time. We were thrilled to see the glaciers before they melt, gained a better understanding of the differences between a glacier and summer snow-pack, and learned how the Canadian Rockies are different than the U.S. Rockies.


Most importantly, we were honored to be part of another of Adam and Anna’s great adventures around the world.

2 Replies to “Custer State Park”

  1. Uncle Jim

    Wow…4500 frickin miles! Unbelievable that still love each other after that. Nicely done on the pictures and comments. I read every post.
    Makes our 2400 miles to Colorado and back look like a Sunday afternoon drive.


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