Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Trip Through the Hills

When I'm visiting family in South Dakota, there's one place I always put firmly on my agenda - Custer State Park.

Buffalo buddies

In my opinion, it's the best state park in the US.  Not only boasting wonderful scenery, there's also beautiful lakes, unique scenic drives, incredible hiking trails, and a plethora of wildlife.  But most of all, Custer State Park is known for the 1,300 buffalo that roam freely throughout the park - the largest publicly-owned herd.

Eyeing the photographer

My parents love touring "the Hills," (as the locals affectionately call the Black Hills) and happily offered to drive me to Custer State Park.  First stop, a trip down the Wildlife Loop road to look for the buffalo.  Although you never know where those shaggy beasts might be, we got lucky.  A short drive brought us face-to-face with the main herd. 

Just grazin'

These giant creatures were grazing right next to the road!  No need for a super zoom lens - I could get some great photos by merely shooting out the car window.  And, believe me, that's the only way to observe a large group of buffalo.  (Although I did see a couple of clueless tourists leave the safety of their vehicles to get a closer look.  Not smart!  That's how people get injured)

My folks make a cute couple!

After filling my memory card with way too many buffalo pics, my dad pointed the car towards Hwy 16A, that traverses the heart of Custer State Park.  We passed the Game Lodge and Peter Norbeck Visitor Center before deciding to stop at Legion Lake.  It was here I got my parents to pose for a photo.  Married over 55 years, aren't they a cute couple?

Late season asters

We took a short stroll along the lake.  Although not very large, the scenery was mighty pretty.  I spotted some late-blooming wildflowers decorating it's shoreline.

Wildflowers on the shore of Legion lake

Not sure what these yellow flowers are, but they combined nicely with the purple asters and darker purple thistles.


I kept trying to capture an image of a cute chipmunk dodging amongst the vegetation.  But the little guy (or gal?) was being shy and would scamper away the instant I got close enough.  I did finally catch the critter on the boat dock and was happy with this image.

Boats for rent

Legion Lake Resort offered many different types of watercraft for rent.  But on this cloudy, chilly gray day, all the boats sat idle at the dock.

Black Hills tunnel

Custer State Park has several scenic roadways that wind through the park.  Hands-down my favorite is the Needles Highway.  This spectacular drive passes through birch and aspen forests before threading through tall granite spires.  But best of all - you also get to pass through several tunnels!  And if you've followed my blog for any time, you know how I love these Black Hills tunnels.  It's a South Dakota tradition to honk your horn while driving through.

Needles Highway

The drive starts out passing through a few open meadows (where a lone buffalo was spotted), before climbing into the forest.

Granite spire

Tall granite pinnacles begin to rise above the trees.

Interesting sky

Some of them form a wall along the mountaintops.  At this overlook, the sky was starting to look ominous.

Another tall granite pinnacle

As one climbs higher, granite pillars become more numerous.  Some of them get so close to the pavement the highway has to curve around them.

Rock lined road

Or sometimes the rock just intrudes into the roadway.  No big deal, the windy nature of this road keeps vehicle speeds low.

Sylvan Lake

The Needles Highway ends at scenic Sylvan Lake, always a favorite stop on my Custer Stark Park tour.  Although the dark cloudy skies didn't make the greatest photographic conditions, it was still a beautiful place.  And the cloud formations were kind of interesting.

Wonderful spot for a wedding

Sylvan Lake is a popular place for weddings.  I've often spotted them set up along the lake's beautiful shoreline.  This time I came across a cute sign for Liz and Jake's wedding.  Awwwww!

"Love everywhere.."

My parents and I ended our Custer State Park loop with a drive-by of the famous Mt Rushmore, before heading back to Rapid City.  Buffalo, wildflowers, granite mountains, and two lovely lakes - just another great day in the Hills!

More information about Custer State Park can be found here.

Sharing with:  Saturday's Critters.


  1. Nice pictures of what seems like a fun trip

  2. You are so fortunate your parents live near this beautiful place! Cute pic of your parents, by the way.

    I like the moody, threatening clouds!

  3. Hello Linda,
    I always like to go by with you, your trips and tours are really great, also these pictures show a breathtaking landscape, as the fun is certainly huge
    Greetings Frank

  4. Love your buffalo shots Linda! I have never heard of this park, but will definitely keep in on my bucket list. One year my husband and I were cross country skiing up in Montana and visited a place on the reservation that had a buffalo heard. There were some amazing photo ops of the buffalo in a blizzard. Think these huge animals are so majestic! Thanks for sharing , oh, and also your parents look so sweet! Lucky you!

  5. Great post and I LUV the sign!

  6. Another beautiful series, Linda, the buffalo are beautiful! Your parents are a lovely looking couple! :)

  7. Love CSP. The two summers I worked there were so special.

  8. Hello, this looks like an awesome park to visit. I love the bison, awesome closeups. Cute photo of your parents. The wedding sign is cute. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week ahead!

  9. Love the pic of your parents. 55 years and counting. The twisty road, the granite pinnacles, and those lakes made for some beautiful scenery. Glad you didn't try to "pet" the bison!

  10. Great series! Many moons ago we got excited to see one lonely buffalo at Custer. They were nearly wiped out. So glad they've returned, and in numbers.
    Wonderful post!

  11. Great photos of the rock spires and the shaggy beasts. That looks a cracking park.

  12. That shot of your folks is beautiful. And so is the one titled "Interesting sky". Gorgeous!

  13. You show a great tour through "the Hills".

  14. I ink it's time I started keeping a list of all these neat places we could go and see on our travels!

  15. Awesome beauty! Lovely to see a photo of your parents.

  16. I would think that I'd fill a few memory cards here as well! Great shots.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  17. Imponentes aqueles búfalos, gostei de ver as fotografias com pormenores e paisagens fantásticas.
    Um abraço e boa semana.

  18. I love those dark moody skies, really sets off the park. I had an image in my head of what the Dakotas looked like but you are changing all that! :)

  19. What fabulous shots of bison and scenery.

  20. Great shot of your parents! I'd like to get out west to visit the parks like this one.

  21. I can see why you always stop by there! The scenery is so beautiful everywhere you look!

  22. Congratulations to your folks on 55 years of marriage! They are a cute couple! You got some great photos of the Buffalo:)

  23. I love it here did a great job of photographing the area and congratulations to your folks too.

  24. Wow Linda, these are wonderful shots of your trip to Custer State Park. The buffalo look very healthy and the terrain is gorgeous.

  25. I love both Custer State Park and the drive along Needles Highway! I blogged about it years ago when we visited both for the first time. I also took all the buffalo photos from my car --they are too big to tangle with!

    It was so nice to see your parents--happy 55th to them!

  26. Awesome trip. Your parents do make for a cute couple. Sweet little chipmunk and wow those rock formations are amazing.

  27. Phantasmagorical rock formations, they remind me a lot of Pinnacles National Park only the vegetation is more lush here.

    Your story about the tourists and buffalo remind me of one time I visited Crater Lake Park. A rather obese man in a tank top and cut-off shorts hopped over the parapet and scrambled down the slope just to give a peanut to a chipmunk despite the signs warning people to a) stay behind the rock wall and b) not to feed the animals. I'm glad to report he did not slide down to the lake and did not get bit but still...

  28. Gorgeous! The buffalos are magnificent animals and I love the rock formations.


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