15 Best Things to Do in Custer, SD

Custer, SD
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What does the oldest community in Black Hills, South Dakota, have to offer?

The city of Custer in the state of South Dakota is the seat of the county with the same name.

The city’s economy relies mainly on tourism.

It’s no wonder because Custer is home to some of the world's largest subterranean labyrinths and enormous monuments.

Custer is a wonderful starting point for visiting the Black Hills National Forest.

Some of the greatest attractions and activities to do in the state may be found in this picture-perfect forestland.

Whether you're looking for a way to cool down on a hot summer day, spend a weekend hiking, climbing, or whitewater kayaking, Custer has so much to offer.

Aside from these exciting outdoor adventures, amazing wildlife makes Custer an ideal getaway destination.

Check out these 15 best things you can do in Custer, South Dakota:

Explore the Wilderness at Custer State Park

The Pinnacles at Custer State Park,
Bonnie Fink / Shutterstock.com

The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is jam-packed with a variety of species and stunning views.

Many types of animals may be seen in the area, including bison, elk, donkeys, birds, and more!

Aside from its rich wildlife, you can enjoy camping and hiking as well as swimming and fishing.

Families of all ages will enjoy this location.

Harney Peak Fire Lookout Tower in Custer State Park
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In late September each year, the Park also holds the Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival.

There is a variety of food, performances, and art stalls that will keep you entertained.

This festival highlights the roundup where cowboys and cowgirls gather and drive the herd of over 1,300 buffaloes.

In addition to being an impressive spectacle, the roundup is a vital management tool for keeping a healthy herd.

Enjoy Local Performances at Black Hills Playhouse

If you are looking for high-quality local entertainment in Custer, check out Black Hills Playhouse.

Here you may witness a variety of drama, comedy, romance, and musical performances.

In addition to air conditioning, the playhouse has a casual atmosphere, a pleasant picnic area, and concessions for visitors.

The Black Hills Playhouse was founded to celebrate local artistry and provide entertainment for the people of the Black Hills rural region and visitors to the area.

It also aims to provide employment and training opportunities for theatre professionals and students in the Black Hills region.

Pay Tribute to Native American Heroes at Crazy Horse Memorial

View of Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota
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Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain sculpture following the style of Mount Rushmore, is located a few miles north of Custer.

As of today, this is the biggest mountain sculpture in the world.

To remind people that Native Americans had also produced great heroes like Crazy Horse in the fight on the Little Bighorn River, a Lakota chief named Standing Bear took the initiative to create this 606-foot-long rock sculpture.

Construction on the memorial began in 1947 under the direction of Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor of Polish descent, and was finished by members of Ziolkowski's family following his death.

The head and upper body are still incomplete, but the memorial was officially dedicated in 1998 when the head and upper body were completed.

Crazy Horse presents a variety of exciting events throughout the year, such as the Legends in Light Laser Show, Night Blasts, Volksmarch, and more.

The site also houses three museums, including the Indian Museum of North America.

Enjoy Disc Golf at Big Rock Park

If you want to try disc golf, a unique twist to the common golf game, Big Rock Park offers a course here in Custer, South Dakota.

Disc golf is also the perfect way to break the monotony of a lengthy hike in the mountains.

This 18-hole disc golf course in Big Rock Park winds its way through a forested region and overlooks the city.

What makes this course challenging is that not all of it is flat.

The terrain has moderate and not-so-subtle inclines.

Toward the bottom of each basket, an arrow indicates which way to go to get to the next set of holes.

Despite its difficulty, this adventure is one of the come-ons of this park as many visitors try to complete the course and win the game.

If you need information about this course, scorecards, and maps, you can drop by at the Custer Visitor Center at 615 Washington Street.

Admire the Lush Views of Needles Highway

Needle's Highway in South Dakota
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Among the most prominent attractions in Custer State Park, we recommend you drive by Needles Highway.

More than a 14-mile route, the Needles Highway offers a breathtaking journey through pine and spruce woods, meadows dotted with aspen and maple trees, and craggy granite peaks.

Stone spires on the Needles Highway,
Barnes Ian / Shutterstock.com

There are needle-like granite outcrops that seem to puncture the horizon along the route, where it derives its name from.

A remarkable rock formation known as the Needle's Eye is visible to motorists passing along the highway.

The Needle's Eye was named because of the aperture produced by the elements.

You can also drive through Needle’s Eye Tunnel, a narrow tunnel that only fits smaller vehicles.

Enjoy the Views Along Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway has been dubbed one of America’s 10 Most Outstanding Byways.

The Byway is a brainchild of the late Peter Norbeck, who was a visionary politician.

After being told it couldn't be done, he persevered in creating it.

This 70-mile stretch of road is a work of beauty in engineering, with spiraling bridges, hairpin bends, granite tunnels, and breathtaking views.

This route is a combination of Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87.

Along the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, you can witness the Mount Rushmore National Monument, the Needles, and a breathtaking vista of the Black Slopes' wooded hills and jagged peaks.

You may also spot deer and mountain goats along the trip.

Discover the Wonders of Jewel Cave National Monument

People inside Jewel Cave National Monument
Murray Foubister, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jewel Cave National Monument is located at a subterranean cave just 13 miles west of Custer.

The Michauds found it around 1900, and it instantly became a popular tourist destination.

In 1908, the government bought this property from the Michauds and declared it a National Monument.

Jewel Cave is one of the world's longest cave systems, with more than 195 miles of documented passageways.

Calcite crystals, gypsum, and other formations can be found here.

The place's highlight is its magnificent crystals that glitter like diamonds when lit by a lantern.

It's a vast area filled with rocks, tiny crawl spaces, and dark cracks that lead to a place where no one has ever been before.

The best way to explore this underground beauty is through a park ranger-led guided tour.

Aside from the tour, you will also learn valuable information about the cave that would make you appreciate it even more.

Take a Dip at Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
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Sylvan Lake may be located within Custer State Park, but it offers an adventure of its own.

Of the five Custer State Park lakes, Sylvan Lake is arguably the most well-known.

Whether you’re a photographer, a painter, or someone who has watched the film "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets," the lake offers a breathtaking landscape worthy of a memento.

Reflection in Sylvan Lake
Jacob Jones Outdoors / Shutterstock.com

Take a dip in Sylvan Lake, go fishing, or rent a boat to explore the lake's natural beauty.

The lake is also an ideal backdrop for weddings and any other special events.

If you wish to spend overnight or over a couple of days, you may stay at Sylvan Lake Lodge.

Located in a hillside grove of pine and spruce trees, the lodge is rich in history and natural beauty.

In the heart of Sylvan Lake, this stone-and-timber lodge overlooks the lake's undulating slopes.

Taste South Dakota’s Local Brews at Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company

Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company is the destination for beer lovers!

The brewery produces its own ales, porter, and other handcrafted beers in-house.

Local brewers from around the Black Hills and across the country are also featured.

From the tank, all its brews are accessible to drink on tap.

The brewery also offers many tastes from other local breweries around the Black Hills and across the country.

There's a brewery on the first floor, complete with a direct-draw tap system.

Meanwhile, The Pounding Father's Restaurant serves a full menu and has 24 rotating Black Hills craft beer tap handles on the second level.

You're sure to find something here that keeps you coming back.

Learn About Custer’s History at 1881 Courthouse Museum

Outside 1881 Courthouse Museum
Jllm06, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no better place to explore Custer City’s rich history but the 1881 Courthouse Museum.

This historical institution, located in the city's heart, has been running as a museum since 1976.

This museum, now operated by the Custer County Historical Society, used to be a courthouse.

The museum features a broad variety of exhibits that depict life in Custer from its earliest days to the present day.

Here, you'll find an ancient prison cell, a one-room schoolhouse, and a historic carriage house on the grounds, as well as a one-room schoolhouse within the structure.

For those who prefer to explore on their own, the museum offers guided tours.

Hike at Wind Cave National Park's Long Trail

Inside Wind Cave National Park
Mahmoud Ghazal / Shutterstock.com

Did you know that Wind Cave got its name from the atmospheric pressure shift that occurs at the cave's tiny entrance?

Wind Cave National Park, located about 20 minutes south of Custer, is another underground wonderland filled with spectacular formations.

Wind Cave National Park has a peaceful Black Hills prairie environment on the surface, but it has one of the most complex cave systems in the United States.

Wind Cave is one of the world's longest and most complicated caverns.

Inside Wind Cave National Park
Mahmoud Ghazal / Shutterstock.com

There are calcite structures in this cave that are called boxwork and frostwork.

Approximately 95 percent of the world's boxwork is owned by Wild Cave.

As the world's longest cave, Wind Cave has roughly 150 kilometers of tunnels.

Every day of the year, guided tours are provided to the cave's visitors.

There is a wide range of lengths of tours, as well as a number of rooms explored.

Most tours run 60 minutes and involve a reasonable number of steps and lit concrete paths.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane at Four Mile Old West Town

Experience being in a wild-west movie setting when you drop by Four Mile Old West Town.

It’s not difficult to spot this attraction because it is located just along Mt. Rushmore Road.

Four Mile Old West Town was once a stagecoach station that offered travelers where their horses rest for a few minutes and stock up on supplies.

Because of Black Hills’ unpredictable weather and the possibility of encountering highwaymen or robbers on the road, this site also offered travelers the latest information on circumstances on the route ahead of them.

At some point in the late 1800s, Four Mile developed into a little town of its own complete with economic and religious structures.

This roadside attraction offers a glimpse of the past as you wander through the 50 open-door structures at the historic site.

Four Mile's entrance fee includes a self-guided audio tour of the town's history.

On display in the Black Hills' historic buildings, hundreds of items let visitors envision life in the Black Hills before World War II.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Witness American History's Founding Fathers at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial

View of Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
JohnDSmith / Shutterstock.com

Roughly a 30-minute drive from Custer City, you will find one of America’s most popular tourist destinations.

While standing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, you will be greeted by the majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

This 60-ft-high granite sculpture is considered one of the largest in the world.

View of Mt. Rushmore National Memorial
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Depicting a story of the country's creation and growth, Mount Rushmore brings tourists face-to-face with the rich heritage we all share.

Aside from the picturesque statues, you will find here the Avenue of the Flags featuring the flags of the United States’ 50 states arranged in alphabetical order.

There are other attractions on this site, such as Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, which features free interactive exhibits and the family-friendly Presidential Trail.

Go on Extreme Snowmobiling in Black Hills Forest

Aerial View of Black Hills Forest
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During the winter months, you can also enjoy the glory there is in Custer and its neighboring areas.

Black Hills Forest in Spearfish, a 90-minute drive from Custer, offers 350 miles of designated and groomed snowmobile tracks.

Snowmobiling is permitted on the majority of the Black Hills National Forest's 1.2 million acres, but the trail system is what makes it famous across the country.

To reach summit lookouts or untracked meadows and recreational areas with excellent powder-floating, routes at 6,000 feet generate a five-foot snowpack each winter.

It's hard to find a better snowmobile support system than the one in South Dakota.

Try the Snowshoeing Trail at Spearfish Canyon

Falls in Spearfish Canyon
Kyle Swinicki / Shutterstock.com

Before leaving Spearfish Canyon, your winter adventure won’t be complete without trying snowshoe.

If you want a less extreme activity in this area but still want to enjoy the snow, you can go snowshoeing on any path that is covered in snow within a 10-mile radius.

You may borrow a pair of snowshoes from the South Dakota State Parks for free for a day or two.

However, if it’s your first time doing it, we advise you to start on level ground and work your way up to minor hills before moving on to more difficult terrain.

Final Thoughts

With its own attractions and its proximity to some of the best places in the world, the city of Custer is truly a gem in South Dakota.

Whether you’re new to the city or a regular vacationer, a new adventure awaits you every day, and there's always more to discover.