Custer State Park – South Dakota

June 9 – 15

Our journey takes us to Wyoming and South Dakota.  This week long trip started as we headed North and spent a night at Glendo State Park in Wyoming.  Ross was looking for a halfway stop on our way to Custer State Park and so we ended up camping at Glendo which was a really nice surprise.  The campgrounds were fairly empty and on our evening walk we were treated to a beautiful sunset over Lake Glendo.  What was a really nice surprise was that there were lots of mountain biking trails of all different levels through out the park.  Ross and I are not technically mountain bikers but would like to do a bit more of it.  So it is on our list of places to return for short getaways.

We moved on to Custer State Park in South Dakota.  We weren’t sure what to expect but were told that it was great.  It is one of the largest State Parks in the US and feels like a National Park. It has a lot to offer.  It is reasonably close to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and has lots of wildlife and hiking and amazing rock formations.

After setting up the Airstream we decided to go for an afternoon hike.  Sadly, what we found were that the with hiking trail map was very inaccurate and the trails were not well marked or maintained.  So we ended up making our own trail the first evening.

On our second day in the morning we drove up to a beautiful lookout point to get our bearings.  We attempted to go for a hike but once again found it frustrating.  We drove to the trailhead, started our hike and got to an impassable (for us) river crossing.  So what was supposed to be a big hike turned into a short hike along the French Creek.  The weather was turning a little iffy so we decided to drive out to see The Crazy Horse Memorial (the world’s largest stone carving).  It is a massive undertaking and hard to imagine that it will ever be finished. The face of the Indian Chief has been completed but there is much much more to go and watching the video of them jack hammering the stone makes one realize how tedious this project is.  I can’t even imagine how they go about something of that scale.

From Crazy Horse we drove over to Mount Rushmore.  It is spectacular and something worth seeing.

After making the long drive and having dinner we took advantage of the long days and went for an evening hike.  Again, we were challenged to find the trailhead and felt that the hike was not well marked but beautiful.  We started off at lake level where the sun was out and the lake was still which made for a stunning view.  We climbed up to summit one of the hills nearby and had gorgeous views of the Needles (rock formations) in the park.  It was a prefect way to end the day.

Day three we decided to drive Iron Mountain Road which was written up as a must see. It is an amazing road with narrow tunnels blasted out of the rocks with views that focus your eyes on Mount Rushmore. 

With Buddy in tow we stopped along the way to do a hike but once again were stopped by a river crossing that seemed a bit too much for us. The hike was cut short and we continued the drive.  After passing by Mount Rushmore again we dropped down to Sylvan Lake and had a picnic lunch and a hike around that area.  Sylvan Lake was a beautiful area with rock formations but the area itself did seem to be a little bit too commercialized and busy for our liking.  Continuing on the drive down the Needles Highway was breathtaking.  Needle spire rock formations and more blasted out tunnels amazed us.

The Needles Highway

On our last full day at Custer State Park we did two amazing hikes.  The first was to the Catherdral Spires which are amazing granite rock formations that rise straight up and really are ethereal.  They are famous for rock climbing and we watched with awe as several people climbed these formations.  From there we continued on to the Devils Tower which climbed above the Catherdral Spires to the top of a granite rock that we needed to scramble/climb up which was challenging but exciting. These two hikes were both of our favorites from this trip.  If you get to Custer State Park we would highly recommend it.

Video from the Top of Devils Tower

After a trip back to the Airstream and a relaxing BBQ dinner we headed out at dusk on the Wildlife Loop Road.  This state park has one of the largest Bison heard in the US as well as lots of other wildlife.  The drive was beautiful and we did see a fair amount of wildlife including Bison, Pronghorns, White tailed deer and burros.  The highlight though was seeing a new born deer.  Neither of us have ever seen one this small that were guessing that it wa most likely just born since it could barely walk.  Unfortunately it moved into the high grasses near its mother before we could get a photo.

On the way back to Boulder we decided to stay at Guernsey State Park in Wyoming.  What we are finding is that the State Park campgrounds are amazing in their own right.  We have been so impressed that we bought a book on all the best state parks in the US and are hoping to incorporate those into our travels.  But back to Guernsey….we found a magical campspot on a spit of land overlooking the lake and had the spot to ourselves for the time that we were there. It was the first time that we set up our awning on the Airstream which was fantastic and gave us a beautiful outdoor living room to enjoy the view and be in the shade.  The day ended with a magical sunset.

One of my biggest challenges continues to be getting enough time to paint.  Each day I set out with all my supplies but with sightseeing, hiking and daily activities there never seems to be enough time.  Somehow I’m going to have to figure out how to squeeze more time out of the day.  I did paint two paintings, one of the Cathedral Spires and the other at Guernsey Lake.

The painting of Guernsey wasn’t too successful in my eyes but  the Cathedral Spires I think captures the feeling for the hike so here it is.

Watercolor of Cathedral Spires

Our next adventure will be in mid July….stay tuned.

4 Comments on “Custer State Park – South Dakota

  1. You and Ross are such a great example to all of us, the route becomes challenging and you don’t give up, you take another route always finding a way. Love your pictures, amazing campsite the last day, I think ALL your paintings are beautiful and I can’t wait to see what July brings.


  2. Wow, looks like you’re all having fun, even with inaccurate trail maps and high water! I’m sure Buddy’s enjoying all the time with his parents!


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