Black Hills + Custer State Park // South Dakota

I was excited about going to the Black Hills just to get out of the city for a while, actually surprising myself with how much I appreciated the park. South Dakota is so underrated.

We took a days’ detour through the Badlands (more on that coming soon!) and then set up camp in Custer State Park at Sylvan Lake. Camping at Sylvan Lake was one of the best camping experiences we’ve ever had – and if you ask my husband, the best camping bathrooms we’ve ever had (he gets really excited about that). Sylvan Lake Campground is about a half mile from the lake, and taking the walk there is so worth it. The lake is lined by giant rocks and isn’t really big enough to plan a big kayaking or canoe afternoon, but certainly worth relaxing by and walking around.

We planned plenty of short road trips around the Black Hills during our two and a half days there:

  • Spearfish Canyon – a short hour drive through the northern Black Hills, a lunch stop at Killian’s in Spearfish and a road trip down through the canyon to see Bridal Veil Falls. It wasn’t the best thing we saw all weekend, but it was really cool to see the greener side of the park.
  • Deadwood – a historic, charming town in the northern Black Hills, Deadwood will be the place I stay when I next visit. It was the CUTEST little tourist town with
  • Mount Rushmore – it was slightly overwhelming to think about paying for parking and navigating through the crowds just to see four heads of presidents I kinda know about. But my husband had never made the trip and I had only seen it once when I was little, so it was on our list. We weren’t disappointed – it’s a really neat thing to see, at least once in your lifetime. We skipped the Crazy Horse memorial to see Mount Rushmore, but both were highly recommended to us.
  • Legion Lake – since it was only a few miles from our campsite, we took our wallet and went to Legion Lake Lodge for souvenirs, ice cream and a good view of another lake. It’s not nearly as beautiful as Sylvan, but it was a nice change of scenery for the afternoon!
  • Needles Highway – what a cool, scary, scenic drive! I loved seeing all the rock formations on this drive and making it through the literal needle in the road with our car. For animals, you’ll have to check out Wildlife Loop Road, which is just past Needles Highway.

On our last day, we did a 7-mile hike up to Black Elk Peak, which is the tallest peak between the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and the Pyrenees Mountains in Europe. I haven’t done a hike this long in almost a year, so it was certainly one of the more challenging hikes on my 52 Hike Challenge. What I love about this hike is that it has beautiful views of the overlook almost all the way up. Sometimes it’s nice to not see around you until the very top, but this time around I was grateful for all the different sights at different elevations. It was so motivating to keep going knowing that the view was just going to get better!

My biggest recommendation? Don’t rent. Don’t hotel. Don’t Airbnb. If you’re up for it, try camping. After a long few weeks of work and life overwhelming me, it was so refreshing to spend nearly all my time outside, unplugged and unwinding. I felt the Black Hills and Custer State Park were the perfect places to do that – the air is refreshing and the weather is usually gorgeous. This Memorial Day weekend trip was the ideal way for me to get back into my busy lifestyle with my creativity and energy high.

Black Hills/Custer Recommendations

Don’t Miss: Driving through Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Sylvan Lake, Needles Highway

If You Have Time: Deadwood, SD, hiking, Spearfish Canyon, Crazy Horse

Skip: Trying to make it around the whole park, promising your husband that you’ll see a buffalo

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