In mid-May, the state of South Dakota waives admission fees to all their state parks, as well as having free fishing, so we took advantage of our day off and spent the day at Custer State Park for fishing and exploring. Custer Park covers 71,000 acres and is home to the largest free-roaming bison herd, estimated at 1300 (and growing). There are over 60 miles of hiking and horseback trails available, and four man-made lakes for fishing, swimming and boating. There are several campgrounds, and lodges for rent.
The State Game Lodge is one of the many lodges available for rent. This one is the most famous in the park, because President Calvin Coolidge came for a visit and ended up spending the entire summer in 1927. It became known as “the summer White House”. President Coolidge was impressed by how much fish he would catch every day, not knowing that the park rangers were stocking the lake each night!
We started out our day out driving on the 21 mile long Wildlife Loop Road, where we saw many buffalo.
Sometimes you just have to stop and wait for the big guys to pass.
We also saw many newborn buffalo, as this is certainly a growing population in the park.
Pronghorn are also present in the park, although this was the only one that we saw during our visit. We watched him or her stop and dig a hole, then poop in it….thought that was rather polite!
And there are lot’s of prairie dogs roaming around as well.
After the loop, we headed up to the Mt. Coolidge Firetower and Lookout, which is at an elevation of 6023 feet. You can drive your vehicle all the way to the top, but be cautioned it is a gravel, narrow road without shoulders. I was hanging on tight to the door handle all the way up, hoping no one was on the way down, when I started to wonder why we grip tightly to door handles. If we went over the edge, would this really save me?! The view at the top was spectacular, although it was obstructed by four cell towers surrounding the lookout (although we found we can get 5 full bars of 4G!)
We ventured on and headed over to Center Lake, to try our luck at fishing. We had a nice spot in the ‘day use’ picnic area.
I did not have any luck, but Dan managed to catch a few rainbow trout. They were too small to keep, but we will eventually get our fishing licenses and come back again. Looking forward to some tasty grilled trout this summer.
Dan tried a few areas to fish in, while I went off exploring (Dan’s on the right of the picture below)
NEEDLES HIGHWAY SCENIC DRIVE
Needles highway goes through Custer Park, and has three tunnels that our very narrow, including one that is supposed to be 8’4” in width. We have talked to several people with dual rear wheel trucks that had no problem going through, so we decided to head on this road, although Dan was a bit skeptical. It is a very pretty drive, and if you are in this area, it is a “must do” item.
We followed behind several antique cars that were driving through the park. I don’t know what these are, but there were about 12 of them driving together, and they were all having fun and stopping along the way.
The first tunnel has a width of 9 feet, so this wasn’t a problem getting though.
It was the second tunnel, by the Cathedral Spires (elevation 7050 feet), that was the one Dan was concerned about. Many of the tour buses go through these tunnels (and have the scrapes to prove it!), and I think they have actually widened the tunnels over time. I walked through the tunnel to make sure no traffic was coming, as this was a long tunnel, and not something you want to have to back up in. Dan slowly started in, and since there was no oncoming traffic, he just took his time going through. (Challenge accepted Phil!!)
We stopped at Sylvan Lake, another beautiful lake in the park, where they were setting up for a wedding that evening.
There are so many more things to see and do at the park. This would be an ideal place for camping for a week, something we will keep in mind for future visits to this area.
Quote for the day: “A pessimist sees a dark tunnel. An optimist sees light at the end of a tunnel. A realist sees a freight train. The train operator sees three idiots standing on the tracks.” – Unknown