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.
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.
The drive starts out passing through a few open meadows (where a lone buffalo was spotted), before climbing into the forest.
Tall granite pinnacles begin to rise above the trees.
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.
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!
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.