Highways, Byways and Wildlife Loops

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View from the road

The West is a vast and expansive host of a series of mountains and endless prairies. It’s big. And so, one of the best ways to get a taste of the big adventure through South Dakota is by car. There are a number of scenic highways and byways, plus a wildlife loop which are gorgeous. They take you through narrow evergreen covered canyons reminiscent of the alps and through the great plains where it’s easy to spot buffalo.


I’m not talking about Arya Stark’s sword, but the route from Hill City down to Custer State Park. Following a hike at Sylvan Lake, we climbed up a mountain where there is a naturally occurring needle—as in a sewing needle—in nature.

The Needle                                                                                  Watch for rocks

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The lake 

custer state park wildlife loop

The Wildlife Loop Road through Custer State Park, map here, takes you on a 45 minute loop at about 35 mph in an up-close and personal journey through buffalo, donkeys and prairie dogs to name a few.

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Among the donkeys. #Montauk sweatshirt to represent.

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Buick or donkey scratching post

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Chief buffalo of the realm

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Herds crossing the road

Remember: do not approach wildlife, especially the buffalo. While they appear to care the least bit about your presence as they graze to no end, if you do encroach their space, piss them off, they will gore and they will win. Don’t be that tourist.

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Donkey wants a ride

Actually, donkey wants a carrot. But we didn’t have any. Pretty sure you’re not supposed to feed wild donkeys either but there were many panhandling donkeys on the road greeting folk and their treats.

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Lone deer

If you would like to spend more time among the wild animals, we came across quite a few campgrounds and cabins in the area. One that particularly struck our interest and I think would we be our abode for the night when we make it back to Custer State Park is Blue Bell Campground.

spearfish scenic byway

Our next destination after Custer County as we made our way west to Wyoming included a stop in Spearfish, South Dakota. It’s amid a series of cool towns and sights to see including Deadwood—a city of the Old West known for its outlaws , Lead—home to the great search for dark matter, and Sturgis—home to the one of the most famous motorcycle rallies in the world.

Entering the Spearfish scenic byway is like entering an alpine canyon, nestled low and narrowly between tall cliffs of evergreens and Aspen, along a creek which winds alongside the road and some impressive real estate to boot.