Parks and Monuments near Custer, South Dakota
Written by Dolsee Davenport
July 27, 2020

Flanked by roaming buffalo of Custer State Park, granite mountain carvings, 1.2 million acres of national forest, and some of the world's largest underground caves, the city of Custer is a welcoming hub in the center of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Read on for information about the parks and monuments near Custer that you’ll want to add to your Black Hills itinerary.

Badlands National Park
The Lakota Sioux call an area of land in southwestern South Dakota “Mako Sica” or “bad land.” Early French fur traders and trappers also called the land bad because it was difficult to travel. Today, that 244,000 acres of spires, plateaus and eroding buttes is called Badlands National Park. Its striking moon-like surfaces, colorful sediment and abundant wildlife creates a place like no other.

The Badlands loop road is a 30-mile scenic drive on South Dakota Highway 240 that takes you through the heart of the park. Scenic overlooks along the road offer you photo opportunities and interpretative signs with park history.  The blend of long and short grasses helps sustain the abundance of wildlife that lives inside the park. Antelope, deer and prairie dogs are the most commonly seen animals, but Bighorn Sheep and the endangered Black Footed Ferret also reside inside the boundaries of the Badlands.

Hiking, backpacking and wilderness camping are also popular activities in the Badlands. There are miles of designated trails and hikes range in intensity from moderate to difficult. Changing and eroding landscapes create unstable footing at time so visitors are encouraged to only hike with strong, sturdy shoes. Backcountry hiking and camping is by permit only and not recommended for casual visitors.

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. The Foundation demonstrates its commitment to this endeavor by continuing the progress on the world’s largest sculptural undertaking by carving a memorial of Lakota leader Crazy Horse; by providing educational and cultural programming; by acting as a repository for American Indian artifacts, arts and crafts through the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center; and by establishing and operating the Indian University of North America and, when practical, a medical training center for American Indians.

The Museums of Crazy Horse Memorial® feature exhibits and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages in the discovery of Native history and contemporary life, the art and science of Mountain Carving, and the lives of the Ziolkowski family.  The Museums include THE INDIAN MUSEUM OF NORTH AMERICA® (including THE NATIVE AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL CENTER®), the Mountain Carving Gallery, and the Ziolkowski Family Life Collection.  The Museums and Galleries of Crazy Horse Memorial® are excellent resources for students, educators, and visitors, allowing the opportunity to study and learn from the displays and many other cultural resources at Crazy Horse Memorial®.

“Legends in Light” the Crazy Horse Memorial® multimedia laser-light show is presented nightly, at dark, from Memorial Day weekend through September 27th. The laser-light show effectively turns the mountainside into a giant 500-foot “screen” for the spectacular display.

Custer State Park
The granite peaks and rolling plains are calling.  The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered.  Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild. 

Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to abundant wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.



There are many scenic drives through Custer State Park. The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through ponderosa pine and Black Hills spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.  The road's name comes from the needle-like granite formations, which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.  The Iron Mountain Road is a work of art in itself. The highway connects Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial and passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Black Hills, including three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance. The road is famous for the "Pigtail Bridges" that allow travelers to drop or gain altitude quickly.  Wildlife Loop Road twists and turns its way through the prairie and ponderosa pine-studded hills that harbor many of the park's wildlife species. On most days, guests will come face to face with the number one inhabitant of the park, 1,350 free roaming buffalo. White-tailed deer, mule deer, and elk are most visible early in the morning and late in the afternoon; if you're lucky, you may see big horn sheep, burrowing owls, coyotes, or even a mountain lion. Two of the most colorful characters along the way are the prairie dogs and a band of the park’s feral burros.

Custer State Park's early pioneers, ranchers and loggers have left behind miles of trails and backcountry roads to explore. Several of these trails are shared by hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers. 

Feeding and disturbing park wildlife is against park regulations. While the animals within the park are used to visitors and vehicles, they are still wild animals.  Please remain in your vehicle or stay at least 100 yards from bison, elk, and other animals. 

Jewel Cave National Monument
This beautiful national monument preserves and protects the third longest cave in the world. The passageways offer a maze of exploration opportunities, and the cave formations are often considered one-of-a-kind for visitors.  With over 208 miles of mapped and surveyed passages, this underground wilderness appeals to human curiosity. Its splendor is revealed through fragile formations and glimpses of brilliant color. Its maze of passages lure explorers, and its scientific wealth remains a mystery. This resource is truly a jewel in the National Park Service.




There are two self-guided trails at Jewel Cave National Monument, and one U.S. Forest Service trail, which begins approximately 1 mile west of the Jewel Cave visitor center. Printed information on all three trails is available at the visitor center.  The trails are diverse: from a ¼ mile (.4 km) to over 5.5 miles (8.9 km), from level to steep and rugged, and everything in between. There is bound to be at least one trail just right for you.

All cave access is temporarily suspended; however, in a typical summer, tours sell out by mid-morning. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Blasting of the granite began in October of 1927. Over 400 men worked on the mountain setting dynamite charges and chiseling the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. These laborers climbed 100 stairs every morning and made only eight dollars a day. They endured extreme danger and volatile weather conditions, but miraculously not a single person died during the 14 years it took to carve the faces.  In 1941, Borglum suddenly died and the monument was officially dedicated, even though it was never fully completed.

While the memorial carving wasn’t completed, the vision of increasing tourism to the Black Hills was realized. Mount Rushmore National Memorial hosts over three million visitors a year. If you want a closer view, walk the half-mile Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain.

Mount Rushmore offers a variety of guided Ranger tours, interpretative programs and an award-winning audio tour. During the summer months, a moving and patriotic evening program ends with the lighting of the faces. A gift shop, café, museum and Sculptor’s Studio are also onsite.




Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave is the third longest cave in the United States and the seventh longest in the world. The park has a large surface area and is home to bison, prairie dogs, antelope, elk, coyote, mule and white tailed-deer.



Below the remnant island of intact prairie sits Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. Named for barometric winds at its entrance, this maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere.

Over 30 miles of hiking trails meander through mixed-grass prairie and ponderosa pine forest, ranging from easy to strenuous. 

Wind Cave is home to over a hundred species of birds, with many more stopping at the park during spring and fall migration. Although you can bird watch anywhere in the park, the best spots are easy to access and close to the visitor center.  The area surrounding the visitor center is the best place to spot a large variety of bird species. The mix of different habitats attracts many smaller birds during the growing season.  The Prairie Vista Trail begins and ends at the picnic area 1/4 mile north of the visitor center and provides the opportunity to view a variety of prairie birds along a one-mile loop.  If you are camping at Wind Cave, you can bird watch without even leaving the campground! The ponderosa stands attract many forest-dwelling species. 

All cave access is cancelled until further notice due to major elevator repairs. Updated information will be posted on the park website as it becomes available.



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