July 13 – 15, 2016: We arrived at Center Lake Campground, in Custer State Park in South Dakota, in the early evening after driving the Spearfish Canyon State and National Forest Scenic Byway on the way from Devils Tower, Wyoming. The scenic drive was pretty, with stops for a few waterfalls, but nothing spectacular.
TIP: The 10+ campgrounds at Custer State Park fill quickly. All campgrounds can be booked in advance except Center Lake Campground which can only be booked for same day reservations. Get up early!
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Once within Custer State Park there are a number of scenic drives that are worth taking. Over the course of three days in the park we covered three scenic drives:
- Iron Mountain Road. A twisty, turny road with tunnels and pigtail bridges (designed to change elevation quickly) that connects Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. One of the tunnels was designed to frame Mount Rushmore.
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- Needles Highway. This route showcases large granite rock formations, reminding us of Chiricahua National Monument and Joshua Tree National Park, as well as small, narrow tunnels blasted through the granite.
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- Wildlife Loop. Here we saw bison and feral burros (donkeys provided rides in the park until they were let free and now roam about begging for food!).
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We also visited other Black Hills area attractions:
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial. We attended the free evening program which included a brief ranger-led introduction, the film Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy, a ceremony honoring the military men and women, and the lighting of the memorial. I realize this is controversial and perhaps missing the point but I found the production to be maximum ’Merica and was offended as a world citizen. Yet, despite my protests, we visited the national memorial again the next day in order to walk the Presidential Path which provides a closer view of the memorial.
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TIP: Although there is no admission fee to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, there is a $11 parking fee!Advertisement - continue reading below
- Crazy Horse Mountain. We also visited the incomplete carving of Chief Crazy Horse. This memorial honors the Native American people but who knows when it might be finished given the current rate of progress. It is planned to be significantly larger than Mount Rushmore but, as of our visit, only the face is complete and work has begun on the arm. The foundation is still run by the family of the original sculpture and they are quite proud of not accepting any federal or state funds (admission is $11 per person and there are also a number of other concessions on the premises).
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- Rapid City. We enjoyed a beer at Independent Ale House and Hay Camp Brewing Company.
- Custer. We enjoyed burgers at Black Hills Burger & Bun Co.
- Center Lake Campground, Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota, United States
- Blue Bell Campground, Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota, United States
TIP: If you’d prefer to book in advance or don’t want to camp, check out these accommodation options in Rapid City, South Dakota.