Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest mountain carving in progress, is just 5 miles north of Custer.

Black Hills gold was first discovered in 1874 where the city of Custer now resides.

Custer sits in the middle of 1.2 million acres of beautiful Black Hills National Forest.

Welcome to Custer!

Welcome: Miners, Gamblers & All Who Love to Explore

A barmaid told us that Wyatt Earp was among Custer’s first visitors. Calamity Jane, Wild Bill and all the usual suspects were also there.  She said Main street is extra wide because Calamity and other bull whackers needed space to do U-turns with their oxen teams. You’ll feel as welcome … maybe more so because you aren’t likely to leave an oxen pie. Upon Calamity’s death, poet George Hale wrote:

No more wild oaths, no pistol crack,
No games of death with mountain men …

Yes, Custer is calmer, cleaner and quieter today, but people walk the same streets, visiting some of the same stores and saloons and breath that same fresh pine air.

Dining Hints: (Purple, For Example)

It might take a month to experience all the culinary treats and sweets of Custer. Part of the fun is discovering them for yourself, but it won’t be cheating if we drop a few hints. Start by thinking strawberry-rhubarb if you see a purple pie shop (actually they bake a dozen homemade pies if you aren’t into rhubarb). A little place called Black Hills Burger and Bun won “Best Burger in the Nation” a few years ago and no one disagreed. Skogen Kitchen (fine evening dining) and Sage Creek Grille (featuring many locally grown foods) are both chef-owned. Those are just a sprinkling of the restaurants so come hungry and explore.

South Dakota’s Glamping Capital

Custer is within easy-driving of the highlights of western South Dakota — the Badlands, Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and so much more. All are day trips or less. That’s why the city has nearly as many hotel rooms as pine trees. Custer is also famous for cabins, campgrounds (look for the 20-foot “Dino” dinosaur) and RV hook-ups. For a truly memorable camping experience, move the gang into one of the luxury tents and glamping tipis at Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort in the hills west of town. Glamping has been described as “nature with luxury.”

Shopping for the Whole Family

You can buy (or sell) deer antlers by the pound at several shops on Main Street (or find the perfect fur hat for folks who buy and sell deer antlers). Try that in most American shopping malls. There’s a big spider (framed nicely in glass) at Good Karma Jewelry, along with rocks, fossils and real hot chocolate. Local clay artist Kaye Chard’s beautiful pottery and photographer Paul Horsted’s Black Hills then-and-now photography books are unexpected surprises at the Carson Drug. Plus there are buffalo robes, alligator-hide boots, Native American art, Black Hills gold jewelry, fresh-baked cookies. Don’t miss an opportunity to browse door-to-door. It’ll be fun and you might find a fur hat that suits you.

Custer’s Nightlife Ain’t No Willie Nelson Song

When the evening sun goes down, you will find me hanging ‘round,
The nightlife ain’t no good life but it’s my life …..

Custer’s nightlife is no Willie Nelson song. First of all, the fun begins well before the sun sets. Mount Rushmore Brewing Company (aka the Pounding Fathers) opens for lunch with their own craft brews; some, like Log Splitter, are inspired by the four faces. Gold Pan Saloon, the oldest drinking establishment in the Black Hills, is haunted by miners and drifters but the ghosts always respect today’s revelers. For a night view of Battle Mountain and the lighted “Custer” sign, grab a table on the Buglin’s Bull’s rooftop patio. Want a real blast? Mark the nights of June 26 and Sept. 6 on your calendar; on those dates the carvers at Crazy Horse Memorial stage a light show after dark that concludes with a dynamite blast. Willie wasn’t writing about Custer.

Every Town Needs a Park Like Custer

The 2,000 citizens of Custer aren’t the bragging type. Still, one can’t help but wonder what goes through their minds when they travel to other parks because no other town – not even New York or Paris — has anything like Custer State Park, which begins just east of the city limits. You don’t need much guidance because any one of the 73,000 acres is paradise. Still, a few tips are in order. Hike the easy path around rocky Sylvan Lake (take a fishing pole if you’re inclined). Drive or hike to the top of Coolidge Mountain, then climb the stone lookout tower for an eagle-eyed, 360-degree view. Enjoy the history, art and architecture of Custer Game Lodge and Blue Bell. Get tickets for an evening show at the Black Hills Playhouse. Drive slowly through the 20-mile Wildlife Loop and take snacks for the not-so-wild burros. DO NOT FEED THE BUFFALO.

Don’t Feed Them. Don’t Pet Them. Please Don’t.

Yes, they may be a big reason why you’re touring the Southern Hills. They look pre-historic. They look lazy and snuggly. They look slower than your grandmother. But remember what granny always says: looks are deceiving. They are wonderfully wild. They can outrun a horse. (Can you?) They pivot on a buffalo nickel. And some weigh a ton. Long ago, rancher Scotty Philip sent one to Mexico by train, betting that it could “whup” a Spanish fighting bull in the arena. Toro Bravo charged, bounced off the massive, shaggy head, and then cowered in a corner of the arena. Enjoy being in their presence. But remember Toro Bravo.

Day Trip — The Ins & Outs of Jewel Cave

Even many of South Dakota’s most avid travelers haven’t stumbled on Jewel Cave because, frankly, it’s the last stop going west on Highway 16 — and who wants to leave South Dakota? But drive just 13 miles west of Custer and you’ll experience a canyon and cave country like nothing else in the state. The National Park Service charges modest admission to the cave; the trails and facilities are free. There are three hikes — the short Roof Trail just for a taste of the scenery; the moderate 3.5 mile Canyon Trail; and (a mile west of the cave entrance) the 5-mile Hell Canyon Trail, which descends deep into the limestone canyon. Everyone thought the cave was just a shortie when President Theodore Roosevelt created the park in 1903. By 1959, spelunkers had traced it two miles. Now we know it’s over 200 miles long — third-longest in the world — so some wonder if it might possibly be part of the Nebraska Cornhusker’s tunnel walk?

Custer’s Hunting Rifle & So Much More

Your Black Hills explorations are even more meaningful when you become better acquainted with the colorful history. Where better than the 1881 Custer County Courthouse? The beautiful temple of justice, where many of our outlaws, scofflaws, politicians and local heroes gathered to sort out their differences, is now an interesting and thought-provoking museum. The courtroom remains intact. An entire room is devoted to Lt. Col. George Custer (see his hunting rifle!).  Native American artifacts, wildlife, rocks and fossils, weaponry and gold mine antiques are all on exhibit.

How About an Urban Hike on Pageant Hill?

Pageant Hill holds a special place in the hearts of Custer residents and regular visitors. It’s the hill that borders the south side of the city (see the lighted “Custer” sign). The 73-acre park is where volunteer firefighters shoot fireworks for the town on July 4. Pageant Hill is also a popular sledding hill in winter. In summers, it’s a favorite destination of disc golfers. Disc rentals are available at the Chamber of Commerce visitor’s center, at the foot of the hill. Nature walks are plentiful in the Black Hills, but the trail to the summit has steps and you’re rewarded with an observation tower at the top. High in the pine forest, you’ll enjoy great views of the city and Southern Black Hills. Park at the end of 6th Street to start your climb.



More stories on Custer

Custer’s Four Seasons

Custer State Park in the southwestern Black Hills is a place of superlatives. South Dakota’s first and largest state park boasts one of the largest publicly-held herds of wild American Bison in the world. The scenery is also some of the best you will find in our state.

Dinosaurs and Big Art

Where else would I find a shrine to Fred and Wilma Flintstone, complete with a full-size replica of Bedrock City? The town has preserved the handiwork and legend of Wilber Todd, builder of Custer’s first stone jail. He used the money paid him for the construction to get drunk and rowdy and became his jail’s first occupant.

Explorers of an Unseen World

Compact and strong, both Conns could wriggle through spaces sometimes only eight inches wide for long distances. They came to live for the magic words, “It goes!” meaning they’d found a passage extending deep into the black unknown. Jewel Cave, it turned out, goes farther than anyone dreamed 40 years ago.

Land of Infinite Variety

Custer State Park includes a landscape perhaps more diverse than any other in the state or region, with Black Hills forest, deciduous trees, rolling prairies and granite spires.

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