Custer State Park is a natural wonder. One drive through the Wild Life Loop will give you a look at what you’ve been missing out on. Tall trees, beautiful prairie land and lakes, scenic overlooks and of course a the wildlife. With a park as big as it is, you wont want to miss these things at Custer State Parks Wildlife Loop.
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The Drive at Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
Some of the best ways to spot the wildlife are often just to follow the rest of the cars. If someone’s pulled over, start looking around because you’re bound to find out why. But you can’t rely completely on others. So make sure that everyone in the car has their eyes peeled. It might also be worth it to stash a few pairs of binoculars in the car too!
The biggest attraction to the Park is always the Bison. Let’s face it, it’s probably the main reason you wanted to go too. They are the easiest to spot and can be found in herds. However, you may see a lone bull roaming around. Bison are the most active during the morning hours and around sunset. They like to graze in herds of 50-100.
If you do find Bison, please under no circumstances get out of your car. I’m always amazed at how many people do this. They are wild animals with horns. If provoked, if you look intimidating or if they are just having a bad day, you never know what might happen. Ok, I’ve done my due diligence to keep you safe. By all means, roll down the windows and snap a few pictures.
Prairie Dogs are so much fun to spot. Unlike the ones at Devils Tower, this variety tends to be a little more skittish around cars approaching. Not to worry. If you sit there for a few minutes, they’ll relax and come to the surface again.
The easiest way to spot the Prairie Dogs is by the mounds of dirt on the ground. They are on both sides of the road and tend to be located South West of the Wildlife Station.
Take a horseback ride through the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop. The companies that do the rides, have a guide with you at all the time and know that most people are beginners. Taking things at a walking pace, you get to go through area’s of the park that you wouldn’t see by the road.
The guides that run the tours take the guess work out of finding all the animals. They know all the back roads to try and where their favorite hiding spots may be. According to one guest, they found the herd up a mountain side near a watering hole. A lot of times you don’t need a tour to find the animals. But if you are one that wants a guarantee and likes to sit back and relax go with Custer State Park Safari Jeep Tours.
If you don’t want to take a special tour, you can see a lot of the animals from the road. But an insider tip is to dive on a few of the dirt roads. You might get to see a few more things that don’t like the much busier Wild Life Loop Road.
Hiking in Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
Within the wildlife loop there are the two main trails. French Creek Nature Area is a 12-mile hike along the granite gorge. This is the best place to spot some of the big horned sheep that roam the area. The French Creek is where gold was first discovered in the area.
Lover Leap Hiking Trail is a 3-mile trail through the forest. It starts off with a steep incline, but at the end, you’ll get a great view of Black Elk Peak, Cathedral Spires, and Mount Coolidge.
Within the Wildlife Loop, there are a few designated hiking location, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore on your own. During your roadside stop, don’t be afraid to get out and stretch your legs. They do have a few other animals in the area, including Mountain Lions. As rare as it is to see one, if you do come across it, don’t run. Make eye contact, make yourself as big as possible and throw things at it to scare it away.
At on roadside parking spot, I took the time to climb to the top of a hill and got some fantastic view of the vast valleys that fill the park. It is truly amazing what they have preserved.
Mount Coolidge Fire Tower
The Fire Tower is located on the West side of the loop. Like Needles Highway, no trailers or campers are allowed up here. There is a very steep incline to the top of the mountain on a narrow road with steep drop-offs on either side. If you are afraid of heights, DO NOT DRIVE UP. I didn’t realize I had a fear of heights until I was driving on this road and my husband yells at my son, “WOW! Look down there.” But the reward of getting to the top is worth it for some of the most amazing views of the black hills. Off in the distance, you’ll be able to spot Rushmore and Crazy Horse. There are also some hiking trails that lead up to this point that my friends at Dang Travelers did.
To get into the park, you’ll need to buy a week-long pass for $20. They also sell an annual pass for $30. But don’t fret, it’s totally worth it. The biggest thing to remember is to drive slow, open the windows and Custer State Park Wildlife Loop.
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