The Great West is a vast and expansive home to majestic mountains and prairies that seem to go on forever. A great way to step into South Dakota’s big adventure is by car, and there are several scenic highways and byways, plus a wildlife loop which is like a South Dakotan safari.
These routes lead you through evergreen covered canyons, alpine climbs, or through great plains where it’s easy to spot buffalo.
I’m not talking about Arya Stark’s sword, but the drive from Hill City to Custer State Park. Following a hike at Sylvan Lake, we climbed up a mountain where there is a naturally occurring needle (shaped like a needle and eye) in nature.
Custer State Park Wildlife Loop
The Wildlife Loop Road through Custer State Park (map here) leads travelers on a 45-minute loop moving at about 35 mph in an up-close and personal journey among buffalos, donkeys, and prairie dogs… to name a few.
Public Service Announcement — do not approach wildlife, especially buffalo. While they appear to care the least bit about your presence as they graze to no end, if you do encroach their space or piss them off, they will gore and they will win. Don’t be that tourist.
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 folks and their treats.
If you would like to spend more time with the wild animals, we came across several 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 one of the most famous motorcycle rallies in the world).
Entering the Spearfish scenic byway is like entering an alpine canyon, nestled low in narrow valleys through tall cliffs of evergreens and Aspen, with a creek which winds alongside the road, and some impressive real estate to boot.