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Driving the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Driving the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

When we were doing our South Dakota Road Trip, a highlight for us was the beautiful Custer State Park Wildlife Loop! Now given the density of National Parks in South Dakota, you may overlook this State park! I’m here to tell you don’t! I certainly don’t think we allocated enough time for Custer State Park and I would personally recommend doing two days in the park if you have time! However if you can only do one thing in the park I would say it has to be driving the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop! In this guide we will round up our top tips for driving the Custer State park Wildlife loop! 

The Custer State Park Wildlife Loop is about 18 miles round trip! There are several roads that are worth taking in the Custer State Park such as the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and the Needles Highway but the wildlife loop was definitely my favourite!

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Here are some tips for making the most out of your drive

Tips for Driving the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

Be sure to drive the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop very early – or very late

I seem to be a bit of a broken record when I talk about the US National or State Parks however trust me, you will want to get to the Wildlife Loop early or very late. Animals are at their most active during these periods and the whole purpose of this drive is to see animals. We prefer getting there for sun up because we have a set bedtime routine but you will see lots at either time!

Self Drive versus a Custer State Park Safari

The great thing about Custer State Park is that you can do a wildlife drive on your own or join a jeep safari! Now which is best? We only did a self drive and I recommend doing that but if we had had another day I would have definitely have joined one of the organised safari tours! These tours can go on roads not accessible by normal cars and also have knowledge of where certain animals are known to be!

You can book your Custer State Park safari here

Get off the beaten path

Now while the wildlife loop road is 18 miles, there are however overshoot dirt roads along the way! I would certainly recommend taking these. I find that you can escape the crowds and are more likely to see something rare here!

Be sure to visit the Custer State Park Wildlife Station Visitor Centre

The wildlife Station visitor station should be an earlier port of call when you get too Custer. They have an up to date map of where the large bison herds are so you can head out to find them. In my opinion the bison at Custer and Badlands can rival Yellowstone!

Allow Plenty of Time

This again is a do what I say not what I do! We greatly under allocated time at Custer state park trying to cramp in as many South Dakota sites as we could! But taking your time on the loop and taking some of the off shoot roads will definitely reward you!

I would say if you wanted to rush the loop and do in one go it would take about an hour but I would recommend allocating way more time than that!

Stay Safe

Be sure to follow all wildlife viewing rules and safety precautions. Animals get close to cars and people but remember these are wild animals!

Get Out and See Things on Foot

We definitely didn’t do enough of this! We got out occasionally at Vistas and did one short walk in the park!

There are also a couple of nice hikes that can be undertaken off the route

  • The Prairie Trail – 3 mile loop hike.
  • The Centennial Trail

I am afraid I didn’t have time to do either of these but are on my list for our return visit!

What can you See on the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop

We saw so many animals while we were driving the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop Road. We saw plenty of bison,  lots of prairie dogs, some deer and of course the famous and very tame burros (donkeys to the rest of us). Others however are known to have seen coyotes’, a greater variety of deer and birds of prey.

Top Tip: Be sure to pack your binoculars for the trip.

Looking for a South Dakota Packing List – check out this post! 

Further South Dakota Reading

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