Winter Fun In Custer State Park

Raised in Rapid City and lucky to call it home, this outdoor enthusiast loves to explore the Black Hills with her husband and two dogs. When she’s not at work you’ll find her out hiking, at a local ice cream shop, or perhaps home taking a nap.

January 16, 2020

While still maintaining my rather unhealthy relationship with Netflix, I always make time in the winter for some great outdoor activities. And there are few places I’d rather explore (year-round) than Custer State Park.

Bison on the road in Custer State Park


Custer State Park is known for many things, one of the most popular being Needles Highway. But in the winter, this spectacular road is not maintained so they close it to vehicles. You can still walk it or bike in the winter to enjoy the views, just know driving it isn’t going to happen. With that being said, the park has other magnificent features that really shine in the off season.

My husband and I went up to the park last weekend with our two dogs for some fun in the snowy sun and it didn’t disappoint. We started off our day with a drive along Wildlife Loop Road hoping to spot some critters. Within minutes we came across three large bison chilling on a hillside. We parked along the side of the road and enjoyed just watching these big boys hangout. Moving on over the hill we spotted a whole herd of elk, this was my first time ever seeing elk in the Black Hills and I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life.

Bison in Custer State Park licking car


The best part of our wildlife safari took place towards the end of the loop when we came across a small herd of bison blocking the road. The excitement was real since this was the main reason we drove the loop. If you don’t know, winter adds a little extra fun when encountering these animals because of road salt. They love it. And if it’s on your car, they will give you a good ol’ bison car wash (but the kind where your car doesn’t come out clean). Most of the ones who approached our vehicle were young so we didn’t have to worry about their horns scratching against the car as much, but know it is a risk with the larger ones. It’s a pretty thrilling experience to look out your window and stare straight into the eyes of a bison who is licking your car.

To end our Custer State Park day of fun we hit up a hike called Bear Gulch Trail. This trail is 5.6 miles out and back, however we only ended up doing about two miles of it due to time restraints but it had some beautiful views to take in. The surrounding rock formations were perfect for entertaining mountain goats, although we didn’t see any this time make sure you keep an eye out!

Dogs hiking in Custer State Park during the winter


Moral of the story – don’t let Netflix judge you with the “Are you (seriously) still watching?” message. Turn it off and head to Rapid City for a winter weekend getaway! When there are snow dusted places like Custer State Park to be discovered Netflix can wait.

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