Custer State Park
Keystone is a great home base for your Black Hills vacation. It’s centrally located, and there is a wide variety of lodging and dining options. We’ve outlined a few easy, eventful day trips. Begin and end each day in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. You can do the day trips in any order.
Just south of Keystone you’ll find Custer State Park, 71,000 acres of rolling meadows, granite spires, forested hillsides and babbling streams. One of the largest state parks in America, and a regular member of “Best State Parks” lists. Depending on your interest level, you could do the park in a day, but you might want to return for a second look.
Iron Mountain Road:
Head west from Keystone for just a mile, then turn left on Highway 16-A (Iron Mountain Road). This 17-mile scenic road features three pigtail bridges, a tunnel that frames Mount Rushmore and the Norbeck Overlook, a scenic picnic area.
The summit of Harney Peak, which stands 7,244 feet above sea level, is the highest point between the Rockies and the Pyrenees in Europe.
Have you ever seen photos of granite spires soaring above the pine trees? Those were probably taken on the Needles Highway. You’ll see Cathedral Spires, the Needle’s Eye, very cool tunnels and a breath-taking view around every corner. To reach the Needles Highway, turn right on Playhouse Road, then right on S.D. 87 (Needles Highway).
It might be time to stretch your legs, and Sylvan Lake is an excellent stop. There are a number of trails that start at the lake, from the challenging 3-mile trek to the top of Harney Peak to the easy Sunday Gulch Trail below the lake.
Wildlife Loop Road:
This is one of the best spots to see roaming bison, prairie dogs, antelope — and the park’s famous begging burros.
Each fall, Custer State Park’s 1,300 bison are rounded up in corrals along the Wildlife Loop Road.
(What do they eat? A better question would be what DON’T they eat.) To get there, travel south from Sylvan on S.D. 89, then turn left on U.S 16-A past Stockade Lake, turning right on S.D. 87. A few miles down the road, you’ll see the turnoff for the Wildlife Loop Road.
State Game Lodge:
The Wildlife Loop meets Highway 16-A, and it’s a worthy side trip to visit the State Game Lodge less than half a mile to the west. This stately, rustic hotel, Calvin Coolidge’s summer White House in 1927. To get back to Keystone, backtrack east on U.S. 16-A, then turn right on Playhouse Road (you haven’t seen this part yet) to Rockerville, then west to Keystone.