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One Full Day in Custer State Park

Oklahoma City...
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One Full Day in Custer State Park

I am having a hard time figuring out how much time is needed to do things. We only have one day to spend in Custer State Park. We are a family of 5, kids are 12,15,17. We will be staying in Keystone.

Our youngest, especially, would like to do a horse ride. I think the whole family would like the Chuck Wagon Dinner.

If we planned the earliest possible horse ride, and the Chuck Wagon dinner, would need to be to The Blue Bell Lodge at 5, would that give us enough time to see the rest of the park?

Ideally we would like to drive the Needles Highway, Wildlife Loop, and Iron Mountain Road. I realize we probably do not have time to do all of that...so what would you recommend we drop?

Thanks!

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: One Full Day in Custer State Park

Yes, it is possible to see the whole park, or at least get a feel of it, in a day providing you are early risers. You won't have much time to "explore" the park, though I do not think you will need to drop any of what you would like to do. If you were hikers or rock climbers, you could easily spend 3 or 4 days in Custer State Park.

The best time to drive the Wild Loop Road is in the early morning, before it gets hot and the animals are more active, or late afternoon to dusk. I normally advise people to drive Iron Mountain Road from the south to the north, towards Mt. Rushmore. However, since you are staying in Keystone and only have a day, you may have to opt driving Iron Mountain Road from the north to the south. Just make sure you do not drive this road after total darkness. Other than one, as you pass through the tunnels you will have to look behind you to see Mt. Rushmore framed by the tunnel.

I would start the day by driving Iron Mountain Road to the Peter Norebeck Visitor Center across from the State Game Lodge. It is about a 45 minute drive. Keep your eyes open for wildlife on this road as well as throughout the park. The Wild Loop Road is not the only area to see the buffalo or other wildlife. Often you will find a herd of buffalo and even the "begging burros" on this drive. (You might want to bring some cut-up apples or carrots to feed the burros. They love handouts and are always a big hit with the kids.)At the Visitor Center, ask where the buffalo herds were last spotted. Quite often the herds will be off the main loop road and can be found taking one of the side gravel roads. The Visitor Center or a ranger can usually provide some good information. Drive the Wild Loop Road from the north entrance at State Game Lodge. The road will exit just south of Blue Bell Lodge.

I would then suggest one of two things. You could stop at Blue Bell Lodge for a trail ride after your Wild Loop Road drive, or you could continue to the Needles Highway. You could also return to Blue Bell mid afternoon for a trail ride, followed by the Chuckwagon Dinner.I suggest you call ahead for reservations for your trail ride. You will defintely need reservations for Blue Bell's Chuckwagon Dinner. Whatever your decision, from Blue Bell Lodge you will want to drive the Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake. Sylvan Lake has a nice, clean beach for swimming. There are also paddleboats and bicycle boats you can rent. Legion Lake, at the base of the Needles just before you enter the highway, also has a nice little beach and boat rentals. Quite often Legion Lake is less crowded than Sylvan Lake. Both Legion Lake and Sylvan Lake have picnic areas or grills where you can purchase ready made food. Both areas have some nice hiking trails, but most will probably take longer than you have time for. We especially like the trails in the Sylvan Lake area. The trail around the lake is fairlly easy and takes an hour or less to hike. The hike to Little Devil's Tower takes about 2 to 21/2 hours and has fantastic views. The Sunday Gulch Trail, behind Sylvan Lake is another 2 to 2 1/2 hour hike that is absolutely gorgeous but quite strenous at the beginning. You will not have time for the hike to Harney Peak which I would highly recommend if you had more time.

After your time in the Needles/Sylvan Lake area, head back to Blue Bell Lodge for either a trail ride and the Chuckwagon Dinner, or just the dinner.

The dinner ends around 8 p.m. which should give you time to head back to Keystone via Iron Mountain Road. If you feel it is getting too dark then I would suggest driving one of two ways back to Keystone.

Route #1: Take State Highway 87 from Blue Bell north, than east on US Hwy. 16A to State Hwy. 36 onto State Hwy. 79. Go north on 79 to State Hwy. 40, turning west which will take you to Keystone.

Route #2: Take State Hwy. 87 north from Blue Bell to the Junction of Hwys. 87 and 16A, turning west, towards Custer, on 16A. In Custer you will pickup US Hwy. 385 going north towards Hill City. At the State Hwy. 244 turnoff to Mt. Rusmore, turn right and take all the way to Keystone.

Atlanta, Georgia
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for Road Trips
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2. Re: One Full Day in Custer State Park

Yes I think you can get a feel of the park in one day especially since you are heading to Yellowstone and will see lots and lots of wildlife there.

Pitman, New Jersey
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for Rapid City, South Dakota
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3. Re: One Full Day in Custer State Park

Fantastic info from Mt. Mama. I agree that you will have a busy day, but you can do everything you want to do as long as you are not avid hikers. The early start is essential to your plan.

Enjoy your trip!

Oklahoma City...
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4. Re: One Full Day in Custer State Park

Thanks so much! I think we might skip the Chuck Wagon dinner and do a little hiking. It sounds awesome! I appreciate your help!

5. Re: One Full Day in Custer State Park

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