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Custer State Park and Devil's Tower NM - Road Trip Day 7


Custer State Park 

The morning after we went to Wind Cave NP and Cold Brook lake we had some time to spare before our next destination on the road trip so we hit up Custer State Park on our drive to do the Wildlife Loop which was highly rated and suggested. Boy oh boy, is it aptly named. We saw wildlife for sure. You'll see why the dogs did not get of the car here! It cost $20 per car to enter the road, as you are then entering State Park Limits. That's a fairly steep price, but this is like a mega state park, so it makes sense. You could spend days just in this park.

Custer State Park is in the ever beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. It's a huge park. 70,000 acres of beauty! I see why but it's often rated one of the best STATE parks in the country! If you're in the area and have extra time to kill, you'd be silly not to go here, even just for the bison sightings.


Bison Lounging in the Mud at Custer
Bison / Buffalo lounging in the mud on a beautiful morning at Custer!

Custer State Park is best known for its amazing bison herds that roam freely across the land. There's countless other animals here, but lets be honest, we all come for the bison.

At the beginning of the wildlife loop road an SUV slowed down almost to a stop on the opposite side of the road of our car and rolled down their window. We're like oh great, what is this guy going to yell at us about. He didn't look super friendly at first. But then he spoke. He said "UP THERE. ACROSS THE BEND. THERE MUST BE HUNDREDS OF THEM. 300 AT LEAST". Thanks for the heads up dude. There were so many bison man. 


Bison squaring up for fight at custer state park
Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Actually I guess they're bison? Everyone uses it interchangeably which isn't correct. There's so many of them!!!


The Begging Burros

The 'begging burros' were in interesting and unexpected addition to our Custer drive. These friendly donkey dudes often come right up to cars, hoping for a snack. They're actually descendants of old pack animals that used to carry folks up to Black Elk Peak way back in the day. Once those trips stopped, the burros were let loose in the park and have since become a sort of unofficial mascot for the park.

We had no choice but to get out and see them since they blocked traffic for awhile! They were incredibly kind and docile. A bunch of kids got out of an SUV and had carrots in their hands. There was little begging to be had, they simply took what they wanted!

Begging Burros of Custer State Park
We met the Begging Burros on the side of the road. They were blocking traffic so we decided to get out and say hi! They were very nice.

Even though they're not originally from around here, they've made themselves at home and get along well with the local wildlife. While they're not the main focus of the park's conservation work, they are kept an eye on to make sure they don't cause any trouble.

There were so many other awesome places we wanted to hit up but didn't have time, like Sylvan Lake and the Needles. I would totally and completely come back to just this park alone. 


A Loner Bison at Custer
This dude needs his space.

There's almost 60 MILES of trail here. How is this place not a National Park? I guess maybe some people don't want the hands of the federal government involved. South Dakota seems to be doing a good job with it. 

Devil's Tower National Monument

From Custer State Park we continued on to Devils Tower National Monument. A bit out the way but completely worth it, I'd say, just for the visuals. Like most National Park Service managed sites, dogs are not allowed on the trails. Thankfully, the sights along the way are still incredible. Not to mention, the walk up to the tower from the parking lot was only 0.2 miles or something so we were able to do that by going one at a time and staying back with the dogs while the other person walked the trail. Not too bad!

Devil's Tower upon entering the area
Approaching Devil's Tower in the car.

This dude was formed by magma that surged upwards and then cooled beneath the Earth's crust. Over millennia, erosion revealed the tower's robust core, exposing its unique, columnar structure. This feature is not only a magnet for geologists and rock climbing enthusiasts but also holds significant sacred value for several Native American tribes. Pretty cool!

Up close and person with Devil's Tower
Boulder Field in front of Devil's Tower


The area surrounding Devils Tower National Monument was striking and showcases a striking color palette of red rocks. It was one of the first things we saw driving into the National Monument Area! 

These red rocks are sedimentary formations,mostly comprised of sandstone or red shale, and their vibrant hue comes from the presence of iron oxide, or rust, in the rock! The contrast between the dark, almost foreboding columns of Devils Tower and the warm, crimson red of the nearby rocks creates a visually stunning landscape that looks almost otherworldly. I couldn't believe it!


Devil's Tower National Monument
What a great festival of color

A Tree and Devils Tower striking a pose
Devil's Tower view from the beginning of the Joyner Ridge trail. (A national park ranger mentioned this was their favorite trail and favorite view of the tower!)

What is crazy to me is...the columnar structure of the tower offers a variety of routes suitable for climbers with varying levels of experience, but it's generally considered a destination for more seasoned climbers due to the technical demands of scaling its vertical fissures and columns. I suppose it makes sense, but I couldn't believe people climb that thing! Never in a million years would I...Looking at it far away is beautiful enough for me. I don't need to know what the rock smells like :). I'm also surprised they allow climbing. I feel like this could potentially damage the rock in a way that is doesn't represent the best for the Natives and the rocks cultural significance. But hey, what do I know.

Lodging for the Night 

Another KOA! A lot of experienced campers look down on KOAs. Bro, calm down, this is our first road trip and we weren't possibly thinking about camping in a tent after day 1. KOAs have readily available things we need for the trip. Like an air conditioned primitive cabin! 

Also, where else are you going to get the views that we had? Insanely cool views from our cabin! 

Spooky Devil's Tower Late Night Sunset Silhouette
Late sunset silhouette Devil's Tower at the Devil's Tower KOA. Spooky!

Propane Stove going at Devils Tower
Cooking with a view. Nothing fancy. I didn't have the energy.

Devils Tower Cabins
Here's the row of cabins at the Devil's Tower KOA. Heck of a red rock background!

Continue on with us to Theodore Roosevelt National Park on Day 8 of this road trip!


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