Custer State Park: Here a Donkey, There a Donkey

Custer State Park is a treasure of a place full of wild animals, lakes, and beautiful scenery. Massive bison, majestic pronghorn deer, friendly donkeys, and oh my goodness, the chirpy little prairie dogs. The Custer State Park Visitor Center is one of the best I’ve seen. The entire place is interactive and when you’re done, you head to an auditorium to watch a movie about the park. Bonus points for Custer State Park: The movie is narrated by Kevin Costner.

This also includes a road called the Pigtail Bridge – it completely wraps around itself.

And of course, this road wouldn’t be complete without lots of tiny tunnels.

Custer starts out with a road they call the Wildlife Loop and there are so many animals around this area. We’ve done this loop at all times of day from sunrise to sunset and midday as well. Right in the middle of this loop is the area where the donkeys have claimed as their home. These donkeys are so friendly and are very comfortable with humans. So comfortable in fact, that one tried to stick his nose in mom’s pocket looking for more food while another put his nose all the way down the brown paper bag trying to find crumbs. Another sneezed all over mom and she had donkey snot all over her. 🙂

We also encountered a herd of bison in the road. They are huge! Another car came around the corner and scared them so they started running towards our truck. It was crazy!

The lakes are crazy beautiful. We have awesome inflatable Bote Paddleboards thanks to Hagan Coastal Outfitters back in Jacksonville. They’ve been way underused in the year we’ve had them since the water in Florida is pretty gross and full of snakes and gators. The water here is quite chilly, but there aren’t any gators so we can board all day without worrying about going in the water. Plus, there are so many beautiful locations to park your board and take a hike. We’ve boarded Legion Lake and Sylvan Lake and loved them both. Legion Lake was so peaceful and serene. There were a few people around hiking, fishing, and kayaking, but the people were pretty sparse. Sylvan Lake was a lot more crowded, but it is a lot larger as well. They have huge rental areas, an eatery, and tons of rocks you can hike up and jump off.

Sylvan Lake was THE BEST EVER. It was gorgeous and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And again for the National Treasure fans – part of the second movie was filmed on the rocks at Sylvan Lake. They pretended this lake was directly behind Mount Rushmore (close but not quite). This includes this great scene:

Custer State Park is also home to the Needles Highway, a long, scenic drive with needle like spires and tunnels with a clearance width of only 8 ft. 4in. In case you were wondering, a Ford F-350 Truck is 7 ft. 8 in. with the mirrors pulled in – giving you a whopping 3 inches of clearance on each side of the truck.

I also went horseback riding in Custer State Park at Blue Bell Lodge. It had been at least 10 years since I last rode a horse (maybe more) and it seemed like a perfect place to go. *Side note: Last time I rode a horse, a snake scared my horse and I almost got bucked off, so it isn’t something I have great feelings about.* So, I booked a ride and set out on the trail with about 20 other people and 2 guides. Guess what? Horseback riding is still not my thing. I want to like it. I just can’t. Not only did they give me a horse who had just come back from another trail ride (he was exhausted – the ride requires some mountainous terrain), but they didn’t even give him a chance to eat before the next ride so he was starving. He wouldn’t quit stopping to eat. The guides kept getting mad at him. Then they decided to tell me that he was hungry and tired. The poor horse was HANGRY and he kept biting the next horse’s butt. It wasn’t so great. I wasn’t super happy with the experience and I wouldn’t recommend the place I went either. They seem to work the horses too much, not feed them as much as they should, and they’re seriously racking in the money at $50 for an hour ride with about 20 people on it happening multiple times an hour. It wasn’t the best experience so I would recommend finding a different trail ride if you’re ever in the area.

Random fact about Custer State Park: The State Game Lodge is a place with historic hotel rooms and cabins for rent. The Lodge was home to President Coolidge during the summer and acted as the Summer White House for a period of time during his presidency. We ate dinner there and it was so delicious and fresh (but I didn’t get any pictures). My parents tried Rabbit Rattlesnake Sausage – I just couldn’t try it. :p

The town of Custer is a cute little place with original buildings that have been refurbished and converted into restaurants, stores, and more. My favorite was a coffee shop called The Bank. It used to be a bank and even has the giant safe in it still. I loved how they stuck with the theme of the bank and you even make a deposit (pay for coffee) and get a withdrawal (receive your coffee). Such a fantastic little place!

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