Custer State Park
Category: South Dakota
Custer State Park is named for Lt. Colonel George Custer, famous for Custer’s Last Stand. It was the gold discovered during his 1874 expedition to the area that led to long term settlement by Europeans as well as conflicts with local tribes.
The nearby town was initially named Stonewall after southern general Stonewall Jackson but was renamed to Custer later.
Custer State Park Geography
Custer State Park contains Harney Peak, the highest location in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. It is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is close to Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
Statistics about Custer State Park
Custer State Park covers 71,000 acres. It is one of the largest state parks (but not national parks) in the United States. Nearby Custer, South Dakota is home to around 2000 people.
History of Custer State Park
The area was part of the wild grasslands that once spread from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. It still hosts a herd of 1,500 buffalo, prairie dogs, elks and deer for a glimpse of what life was like back then. There are also wild burros called Begging Burros in the area, descendants of escaped pack animals. The buffalo herd is rounded up every year in September.
Custer’s expedition found gold along French Creek in 1874. This led to the development of the area, including the nearby town of Custer, South Dakota and 25 miles from Rapid City. The town was almost abandoned after other gold strikes in nearby Deadwood Gulch, but Custer hung on and became an established town you can visit today. Mining (and tourism) remain the main economic activity of the town of Custer. A state treatment center is the other major employer in the area, and the facility is actually partially located in Custer State Park.
Custer State Park was the first state park in South Dakota. It is still the largest state park in South Dakota.
Custer State Park came into the public’s awareness when President Calvin Coolidge stayed there for the summer of 1927. It was from there that he announced he wouldn’t run for a second term in 1928.
The park received many improvements during the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps was sent out to do things like build campgrounds, install bridges and create lakes. They installed the dams that created three of the lakes in the park. (The fourth lake was natural.) The park added land slowly over time, with one of the largest additions in 1964.
A Civilian Conservation Corps bunkhouse has been restored for tourists to view, and they can see a gold prospecting display there.
A nearby novelty is the home of Charles Badger Clark, the first Poet Laureate of South Dakota.
This state park features hiking, horseback riding and even a wildlife viewing loop around the park.
The state park is open year-round, but a park entrance fee is required.
The city of Custer houses Bedrock City, a campground that resembles the town of Bedrock from the show “The Flintstones”.