Custer State Park

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Simply put, Custer State Park may be the nation's very best state park. It is 71,000 acres of forests, lakes, dramatic granite spires, hiking trails, historic lodges, fine dining, a professional theater company, and a bison herd. If this park doesn't trip your trigger, you should probably consider taking an entirely different kind of vacation next year. Like exploring the wonders of a shopping mall and enjoying the delights of franchise fast food.

The park's bison herd is historically significant, central to the successful effort last century to save the species from extinction. Today the herd numbers about 1500. An autumn bison roundup is a spectacle that draws thousands of visitors. Pronghorns, mountain goats, deer, bighorn sheep, elk, and mountain lions roam the park, too.

There's plenty that's new here in 2016. Look for a just-opened visitors center with a 100-seat theater, entirely rebuilt Legion Lake Lodge now offering lakeside dining, and renovated guest rooms at the State Game Lodge. There's just one thing some South Dakotans gripe about, although they're still a minority. Why, they ask, does the park's name honor a man who recklessly led 258 American soldiers to their deaths? There's no chance the name will change in the near future, although the idea's been kicked around. But a century from now? Probably.

Photos by Maggie Schneider, Paul Higby

For more info, visit: Custer State Park

Follow Paul Higbee:

Paul writes about the Black Hills for in-flight airline publications, academic magazines, South Dakota Magazine, public TV, newspapers and websites. He is the author of five books, all Black Hills themed. He lives in the Black Hills. He's obviously no Renaissance Man with varied interests, but if the Black Hills are your thing, he's your guy.

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