General Information

When we visited the Black Hills, we stayed at Custer State Park Custer State Park is a 73,000 acre park in the 1.2 million acre Black Hills National Forest. These are located in the southwest region of South Dakota, and only a one or two hour drive from the airport in Rapid City. We visited the Black Hills for the unique climbing at the Needles and in the Mount Rushmore area.

There are plenty of other activities as well, including the 7200 foot Harney Peak, the scenic highway SD 87, and lots of wildlife. The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and surrounding areas are home to bison (which we learned aren't really buffalo; buffalo live in Africa), mountain goats bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, deer, turkeys, and burros. It was worth out time to drive the wildlife loop in Custer State Park and see the bison.

Bison View of needles

The climbing out in the park is fantastic! The rock formations in this area are the remains of an ancient mountain range, possibly the oldest on the continent. Extensive erosion has left pinnacles and spires of granite, and a very dark green pine forest has grown, giving the Black Hills their name.

The Sioux call this place Paha Sapa, which literally means 'hills that are black', but it was also a very spiritual place for them, and it remains so today.

Paha Sapa can also be translated as 'the heart of everything that is', which gives some idea of what this region means to the Indians. (More history can be obtained in the Black Hills link below.) Being in this dark forest among these standing stones is somewhat spooky, especially when few people are around, and it is easy to see how this area acquired its spiritual reputation.

crazy horse with drawing of horse face the explosion shaping the horse face

While we were there, we saw the Crazy Horse Monument night time dynamite carving of the horse's head. The blowing up of the rock to make the Crazy Horse Monument was pretty interesting, but hopefully this marks the end of carving mountains. At least the mountain in this particular spot was not previously a rock climbing area!

There are other places to visit in the area, including Jewel Cave and Wind Cave. If you visit Wind Cave, you should stop by the Mammoth Graveyard, which was a highlight of our trip.

The Weather

Monthly Historical Averages

High (F)343846586878868574624736
Low (F)111522324252585646352313
Precipitation (in).39.521.031.892.683.062.041.671.

Phone Numbers

Custer State Park Headquarters605 255-4515
Custer State Park Visitor's Center605 255-4464
Camp Reservations800 710-CAMP
Granite Sports605-574-2121
Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service605-484-7585

Places to Eat

While staying in Custer State Park, we were able to get a cheap lunch at the cafe and gift shop by Sylvan Lake. We had a nice large buffet breakfast at the Sylvan Lake Resort. The State Game Lodge & Resort has excellent, though expensive food. The town of Hill City has several small restaurants, bars and diners, though nothing seemed to stand out to us.

Other Area Attractions

Custer State Park This is where we camped while climbing in the Black Hills
Black Hills National Forest This web page link lists information about attractions in the park
Wind Cave National Park This is a nice day trip outside of the Black Hills
Jewel Cave National Park This is a nice day trip outside of the Black Hills
Mammoth Grave Yard This visit can be paired with Wind Cave. An amazing place to visit!