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2 Day Custer State Park Itinerary

2 Day Custer State Park Itinerary

A highlight on our South Dakota Road Trip was Custer State Park. When we were visiting we only allocated one day to Custer State Park and it definitely warranted two full days! In this itinerary we round up our perfect 2 day Custer State Park itinerary! 

Visiting Custer State Park

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Custer State Park is located a short 35 minute drive from Rapid City! For a car to enter the park it costs 20USD per vehicle. An annual pass is 30 USD so it depends on whether you will be spending more than one week in the park and repeat visits as to whether this would be good value!

The Park is located year round but check that all facilities are open during winter. Summer is certainly the best time to visit!

Custer State park Itinerary including the Best Things to Do in Custer State Park

Day 1 (Driving Needles Highway, Safari and Star gazing)

Arrive at Custer State Park from Rapid City. Your first stop for today should be the Needles Highway!

The Needles Highway is consistently voted as one of the best drives in America. It is essential that you make the Needles Highway your first stop of the day. The traffic at Needles Highway can become very congested as much of the drive is one way through the tunnels.

The drive is called the Needles due to the granite peaks it cuts through which have been nicknamed the Needles since it opened in 1922!

The Needles Highway is 14 miles long and is one of the most interesting and one of the trickier drives I have ever done!

Note: If you are a driver that isn’t good with tight spaces this might not be the drive for you!

The highway is not open during Winter! While it is open in Summer it is worthwhile checking opening as there can be some unusually cold weather during South Dakota summer months, and especially in the shoulder season!

The most famous section of the drive is the aptly named Needle Eye Tunnel (be sure to look up before or after your drive to make sure you see the interesting rock formation)!

Tips for driving through: Check the width of your car before entering and be sure no one else is entering the tunnel!

Check out our video of the drive!

Lunch – When we visit National and State Parks we always take a pack up with us! We recommend doing the same here!

However also be sure to utilise your lunch break and head to  the general store which is on of the best national or state park souvenir shops I have ever been too!

Evening – Wildlife Safari

Now tomorrow, I recommend getting up early and doing a self drive of the Wildlife Loop! However today, you are doing a guide safari which will get your further off the beaten path and will guarantee you see some special sightings.

You can book your Custer State Park safari here

Day 2 

Today you have a really early start as you need to be up and out on the Wildlife Loop before sunrise! Early starts and sunset are the best time to see wildlife anywhere but Custer State Park has some beauties.

For a full guide on driving the Wildlife Loop check out this post!


The afternoon is going to be allocated to exploring some of the beautiful lakes in and around Custer State park. The best lake, in my opinion is the Sylvan Lake! This afternoon is your chance to rent some boats and spend some time of the lake!

If lakes aren’t your thing though I would recommend doing a guided horse trail that can be picked up from the Bluebell Lodge!


One of things that is famous to do a Custer State Park is the Chuck Wagon Cookout! Reservations need to be made at Bluebell lodge by 2pm on the day but as always the earlier the better to avoid disappointment!

The night includes a ride in a hay truck and then a traditional cowboy dinner! Cost at time of writing is 58USD!

Custer State Park Lodging

In order to follow this itinerary and have easy access to the park  we recommend staying inside the park!

There are several lodgings in the park to choose from

There are also plenty of campgrounds within the state park for those that enjoying camping!

If you decide to stay out of park (though this itinerary would be easier for those staying in the park though not impossible to do from outside)

Places to consider nearby include the quirky

Mount Rushmore Under Canvas – a quirky glamping site near Rushmore!

And if you are with a 35 minute drive each day then Rapid City has a variety of options. We recommend:

What to Pack for Custer State Park

Looking for the perfect packing list for Custer State Park in Summer? Check out this post! 

Attractions near to Custer State Park

Custer is in really close proximity to

  • Mount Rushmore – for a full guide to visiting Mount Rushmore click here! 
  • Crazy Horse State Park
  • Reptile Gardens
  • Bear Country

If you would like to find an itinerary for South Dakota then click here or otherwise find out our favourite things to do nearby here! 


Best Custer State Park 2 day itinerary - needles highway - Custer State Park wildlife loop and Peter Norbeck scenic byway included! #custerstatepark #stateprk #ustravel #southdakota #rapidcity #wildlifeloop #scenicdrive

Tanya Raedeke

Wednesday 22nd of May 2019

I've heard great things about Custer State Park! Thanks for sharing these great tips. Our family needs to add this to our list!