Most Picturesque Places and Things in the Southern Black Hills
Written by Dolsee Davenport
April 12, 2021

We may be biased, but we think the Custer area is pretty darn beautiful!

It’s not hard to find the most picturesque spots in the Southern Black Hills. Whether you’re wanting to see the rich diversity of the area or trying to add some beauty to your Instagram feed, here’s where you can find some of the most picturesque places and things in and around Custer.

Crazy Horse Memorial - Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress, between Custer & Hill City on Hwy 16/385, The Crazy Horse Memorial Hwy. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski & Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial's mission is to honor the culture, tradition & living heritage of North American Indians.

Baby Buffalo on Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park - Custer State Park is home to one of the largest bison herds in the world with over 1,300 animals in its 71,000 acres.  Driving the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road is a great way to encounter Custer State Park's herd. Guests may also spot white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, prairie dogs and more. (Visitors are advised to leave buffalo calves alone. It can be dangerous to approach baby animals, particularly buffalo calves. If a mother buffalo feels she or her calf is threatened, she may charge.) 

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park - Sylvan Lake is considered the Crown Jewel of the Black Hills and is a favorite spot for photographers in the Black Hills.  It was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam (the Sylvan Lake Water Dam) across Sunday Gulch Creek. The lake area offers picnic places, rock climbing, small rental boats, swimming, and hiking trails.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial - Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich heritage we all share.

If you want a closer view, walk the half-mile Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain.  During the summer months, a moving and patriotic evening program ends with the lighting of the faces.  For a special view, take Iron Mountain Road from Custer State Park north towards Mount Rushmore.  From this direction, the final tunnel will perfectly frame Mount Rushmore.

Dr. Flick’s Cabin in Way Park - The 1875 log cabin in Way Park is the oldest building in the Black Hills.  The cabin’s construction was started by Dr. Flick and finished by Captain Polock’s men in 1875 as part of a U.S. Army Post.

The Painted Buffalo of Custer - The painted buffalo that can be seen throughout town were once part of the Custer Stampede Buffalo Art Auction which was a community public art event featuring one-of-a-kind buffalo artwork.  The Stampede Buffalo Art Auction is no longer happening, but visitors and locals alike can still enjoy the unique buffalo thanks to a generous local couple who purchased more than a dozen of them over the years.  Eight of their buffalo are placed on the downtown street corners from mid-May to the end of September.  There are also several others located at businesses throughout Custer that were purchased as well.

Black Elk Peak - Located near Sylvan Lake, Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) is the highest point in South Dakota and the highest summit in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The 7,242 summit is located in the Black Elk Wilderness of the Black Hills National Forest.  The historic fire lookout tower built to monitor the Black Hills for forest fires. The primary building material used by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the mid-1930’s construction was native stone manually hauled the nearly four miles to the summit.

The 1881 Courthouse Museum - Housed in the original Dakota Territory courthouse, the 1881 Courthouse Museum presents Southern Black Hills history from General George Armstrong Custer's 1874 Expedition to today's heritage.  The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Needles Eye on Needles Highway - This roadway was named for the needle-like rock formations that pierce the sky along the highway.  Peter Norbeck scouted and marked the entire course of the road on foot and by horseback.  Norbeck intended the road to be traveled slowly so that it would be relished.  Along your journey, you will pass the acclaimed Needles Eye, a unique rock formation created by rain, freezing, and thawing.

View from the top of Big Rock Park - Big Rock Park was also called Pyrotechnic Hill because local blacksmiths set off Fourth of July celebratory dynamite blasts from Big Rock overlooking the town.  The mountain side later became called Pageant Hills as the site of the Pageant of Paha Sapa, and subsequently the future site of the annual July 4th fireworks by the Custer City Volunteer Fire Department. Not for the faint of heart, Big Rock Lookout will take your breath away in more ways than one.  At the end of the Skywalk and Big Rock trails, you will find a wood and metal structure with 68 steps that will lead you to a stunning 360-degree view of the entire area.

Custer State Park Burros - Also known as “begging burros”, the Custer State Park burros’ lineage dates back to the 1930s when they were used to give pack tours to the Harney Peak (now known as Black Elk Peak) summit.  They often pander for food from park visitors in places like the Wildlife Loop Road, sometimes causing traffic jams.
If you want a unique picture for your Instagram, consider a view from above with a helicopter or hot air balloon ride!

Don’t forget to use #custersd when posting your pictures on social media so we can see them!

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