Photo Diary of Custer: The Most Beautiful US State Park

What is the most beautiful US State Park?

Of course, the answer to what is the most beautiful state park is wholly subjective and couldn’t possibly be objective. Although, I’m sure others have attempted it to be.

So why have I chosen Custer State Park in South Dakota as the most beautiful state park? Good question!

Why Custer State Park in South Dakota Wins Most Beautiful State Park

Well, for a few reasons. Again, all completely subjective. But hey, this is my blog, so I can make the rules 😉

#1 A truly beautiful state park must make you feel completely engrossed in the scenery.

And we certainly were.

We traveled back to Custer State Park 5 days out of our short 7 days in South Dakota.

#2 A beautiful state park must have a plethora of wildlife to admire.

And Custer State Park has no shortage of both big and tiny animals to observe.

You’ll see below a sampling of the wildlife we saw!

What’s not pictured were the foxes, prairie dogs, birds, coyotes, big horned sheep, elk, and more we also witnessed.

In fact, one of the most magical moments of our South Dakota experience was when we finally saw a male elk in all its glory. It was far too distant to be able to capture its beauty in a photo, but that’s okay. Sometimes, a memory is powerful enough even without a photo to remind us.

This photo of a pronghorn was one of two photos we chose to put on our travel photo wall back home. We enjoyed multiple sunrises in Custer State Park and on one glorious one we were able to capture this grazing pronghorn.

#3 A beautiful state park must inspire return trips.

While we love to visit new places each year, Custer State Park has repeatedly come up as a potential place to re-visit.

I can’t even explain in words why we love this area so much. But whatever the reason, we know we’ll be back.

#4 As a bonus, it’s wonderful when a state park has a plethora of nearby attractions.

And Custer State Park is no exception. Within 2 hours you’ll find, Wind Cave National Park, Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Read More: One Thrilling Week in South Dakota

A Few Tips for Visiting Custer State Park

  • August was a great time to visit and had virtually no crowds.
  • Arrive to the park at different times of the day throughout your trip so you can enjoy different animals and scenery. We loved arriving for sunrise, going back to our campground, then coming back for sunset.
  • Take your time. Leave plenty of time to drive along the Wildlife Loop.
  • Don’t forget about the hiking trails in Custer State Park.
  • Be patient as you look for wildlife. It took us a good 30 minutes of driving through the park the first time before we saw a massive bison herd.
As I mentioned above, there are so many things to do near Custer State Park like Mount Rushmore! As a bonus tip, try to catch sunrise at Mount Rushmore! Such a magical setting and no one was there!
There are tons of hiking trails within Custer State Park. This view is near the trailhead of the Cathedral Spires Trail that we attempted and then promptly kept driving because it was insanely busy.

With that said, I hope you enjoy the following photos of Custer State Park in South Dakota, the Most Beautiful US State Park (in my opinion).

Read More: 14 Photos to Make You Fall in Love with South Dakota

I was so excited to see donkeys in Custer State Park. Just a reminder to not feed the donkeys! It was obvious that previous park visitors have done this a lot, and the donkeys now expect it because they would walk right up to your car window.

Read More: How to Travel with Limited Time Off

For some reason, this is one of my favorite photos of Custer State Park. It may be because of the simplicity of the photo, just one bison walking down the road. But I also think it shows the way humans and the animals of the park have learned to live with each other as shown by the paved road alongside the beautiful rolling hills.
A definite must visit while exploring Custer State Park is a stop at the Bison Center. Here you’ll learn about the lives of the 1300 roaming buffalo within the park and facts about the stages of their life.

For example, did you know adult buffalo consumes on average 30 lbs of vegetation a day!

Custer State Park is way bigger than you imagine, over 71,000 acres! For reference, we own just 4 acres in Maine;) We were surprised at how spread-out buffalo herds can be. And surprisingly enough, there were times when we could only see herds far off.

So, lesson learned, arrive to the hiking trails early!

Traffic jam! This is the first buffalo herd we encountered in South Dakota and it is a wonderful memory today.

We were losing patience driving along the Wildlife Loop within Custer State Park and finally came upon this MASSIVE herd! It’s amazing to see the shear indifference the buffalo feel towards vehicles. They clearly own the road, and we were oh-so-happy to let them have it.

The donkeys or “burros” within Custer State Park are often referred to as “begging burros”.
This is the second of two photos we chose from our South Dakota trip to hang on our Travel Wall back at home.

The rainbow is real and was the best gift after a rainstorm in Custer State Park.

We truly enjoyed our stay at the Heartland RV Park and Cabins Campground located in Hermosa, South Dakota. It was only 30 minutes from the entrance of Custer State Park which is why we visited the park multiple times.

We stayed in our RV but they also have adorable cabins to rent!

There are also options to camp within Custer State Park.

Bull bison like this guy here were intimidating. We learned they can weigh up to 2000 lbs!!! So just a friendly reminder to not pet these furry cows. They don’t like it! Keep your distance and remember, you’re a guest in their home.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Custer State Park is a beautiful place to enjoy on a solo trip or with loved ones. We can’t wait to visit this region again. And we hope these photos inspired you to make your first visit to South Dakota!

Happy Traveling!