Rapid City winters always seem to have a bad reputation when it comes to visitors. While yes, we occasionally get snow, lower temps, and ice, there are also beautiful days during this season that you could be outside hiking in a short sleeve shirt. For that reason, and fewer people out exploring, outdoor adventures during the winter season rank pretty high on my list. And there are few places I’d rather explore (all 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. In the winter, however, this spectacular road is not maintained so they close it to vehicles. You can still walk it, bike it or snowshoe it 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 go out to the park often during winter weekends with our two dogs for outdoor adventures that never disappoint. We typically start off our day with a drive along Wildlife Loop Road hoping to spot some critters. Within minutes you'll usually spot something whether it's buffalo, burros or elk. 

Bison in Custer State Park licking car

If you don’t know, winter adds a little extra fun when encountering buffalo 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). It’s a pretty thrilling experience to look out your window and stare straight into the eyes of a buffalo who is licking your car. Know that mature buffalo with longer horns do bring the risk of scratching your vehicle while licking it. While it's not extremely common, it is a risk of the experience. 

We always end our winter days in Custer State Park with a hike. A great one that offers easy terrain with great views is called Bear Gulch Trail. This trail is 5.6 miles out and back. The surrounding rock formations are perfect for entertaining mountain goats, so keep an eye out as you explore!

Dogs hiking in Custer State Park during the winter

Custer State Park is a great location for year-round outdoor fun, and it's close proximity to Rapid City makes it a perfect place to play only minutes away from the city action.