Bison on the Prairie

What to see on the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop in 2024

Custer State Park is a natural wonder. One scenic drive through the Wildlife 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 the wildlife. With a park as big as it is, you won’t want to miss these things at Custer State Park Wildlife Loop.

DayTripper is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small commission. I never promote things I haven’t vetted myself.

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!

Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
Big Horn at Custer State Park

Bison Herd

The biggest attraction to Custer State 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.

Bull on the Prairie at Custer State Park
Photographing Custer State Park

Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog is 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 Dog 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.

Horseback Riding

Take a horseback ride through the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop. The companies that do the rides, have a guide with you all the time and know that most people are beginners.

Taking things at a walking pace, you get to go through areas of the park that you wouldn’t see by the road.

Love DIY Adventures? You gotta get the GyPSy Guide audio tour. This is the only way to travel through South Dakota. With over 20 stops, guiding you with stories and tips on some of the best things to do in the Black Hills and Badlands. Get it by clicking here.

Jeep Tours

The guides that run the tours take the guesswork 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 mountainside 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 on 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 on the much busier Wildlife Loop Road.

On the road
Driving Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Hiking in Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Within the wildlife loop, there are 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 locations, 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 Lion, whitetail deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and burros.

As rare as it is to see a mountain lion, 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 a fantastic view of the vast valleys that fill the park. It is truly amazing what they have preserved.

Take the stress out of planning a trip to Custer State Park and hire a private tour. My XO Adventures offers a great combination tour of the big three; Custer State Park, Needles Highway, and Mount Rushmore. Schelde it before you leave because they will sell out!

The wildlife loop at custer state park
The Prairie

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 Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

There are also some hiking trails that lead up to this point that my friends at Dang Travelers did. The best black hill view is seen from up here.

Enjoying the drive
The Wildlife Loop

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 worry about the price, it’s totally worth it.

The biggest thing to remember is to drive slowly, open the windows, and Custer State Park Wildlife Loop. If you have time, also make sure to drive through the needle’s highway.

Pin it for later

The Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park. South Dakota | Outdoors | Camping | Epic Drives | State Parks

Similar Posts