Those traveling through the Black Hills in South Dakota ought to take a trip to Custer State Park and enjoy some of the scenic drives. The Wildlife Loop is an 18-mile drive that could take up to an hour or so if you took your time to enjoy the scenery and the many animals.
I packed up my Jeep, threw in a few snacks, and got my dog Indiana settled in the back for the drive to Custer State Park from Rapid City. It took about a half an hour to get there and because it was earlier in the morning, the roads were empty. There were so many places to stop and take in the view while on the road. Even Indiana was entertained by the wildlife, to include the burro that stuck his head in my car.
The long and winding road goes through rolling prairies and hills covered in pine trees. Even without the many animals, the drive itself is incredibly scenic and beautiful. However, if you want to see the animals in action, you have a higher chance of seeing them on a morning drive. I was in awe of the endless beauty of the hills, the stark contrast of the browning grass and the dark green trees.
The park is a wildlife refuge and all of the animals roam freely. They do what they want and it’s wise to stay on the established road for your safety. Most notably, the park is home to over 1,300 buffalo. They can be seen from a distance but some wander pretty close to the road. Buffalo seem friendly, but they are large, fast, and dangerous creatures, therefore caution must be taken around them. However, they are quite beautiful to watch.
Other wildlife include whitetail and mule deer, antelope, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, burros, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys and prairie dogs. The animals blended into their surroundings and it took some slow driving careful watching to find them. The animals I encountered were pretty comfortable around vehicles and continued on their way as if I wasn’t even there.
The burros were my favorite. Although wild, they’re used to walking up to passing vehicles and begging for food. They’re very gentle and friendly and one of them decided to say hello by peeking into my car. Many visitors bring apples and carrots for the burros but it’s discouraged to feed them per the park rules.
The prairie dogs had their little communities. They protected their turf and hid when you got too close. Many of them were communicating with each other, their squeaks and chirps filling the air.
There are two hiking trails located along the loop. They include the Prairie Trail, which is about three miles, and the Centennial Trail, where 22 of its 111 miles are located within the park. I have yet to hike either of them, but there will be a future post or two on them!