This is a continuation of a travel series to South Dakota. To start at the beginning, go HERE. The rest of the posts in chronological order are HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE!
I can't believe it, but after six months (with lots of breaks in-between) I have finally reached the end of my South Dakota travel series! YEAH! Today will be my very last post of our fall vacation to South Dakota.
On our very last day in South Dakota we spent the day in Custer State Park trying to cram into one day everything we hadn't seen yet. Of course you can't see everything in Custer in only 2 1/2 days, you need more like a week to hike every trail and participate in all the activities. But we felt we hit all the highlights in 2 1/2 days.
So on Day 6 after taking a drive on Wildlife Loop, we visited the two Visitor Centers in the park, hiked "Lover's Leap Trail", popped in to check out the "Badger Hole", stopped to refresh ourselves at Legion Lake, and took a little drive to see this gorgeous lake pictured below:
At the very beginning (or end) of Wildlife Loop is a Visitor's Center. For us, it was the end as we started at the other entrance of the loop. This is a little Visitor's Center, designed primarily to serve the needs of the visitor's to Wildlife Loop since it's one of the park's most popular attractions. We stopped in anyway just to use the bathroom, but there were also a few exhibits here and a very nice park ranger who helped us decide what else we should see in the park that we haven't already. She highly recommended stopping in to see "Badger Hole", and I'm glad she did because I never would have known about it if she didn't mention it. She also suggested hiking "Lover's Leap Trail" because she knew we could handle it after just hiking "Black Elk Peak Trail" the day before.
After stopping at the little Visitor's Center we then went to the park's main Visitor's Center. It was quite large and very impressive. I really wish we would have stopped here BEFORE we did anything else in the park, as learning about the buffalo warning signs would have been very helpful BEFORE we encountered a real buffalo. But we didn't because Custer State Park is a HUGE park, and where we entered the park, the Visitor's Center was no where near, so we just started exploring on our own.
Here are some of the fun displays in the main Visitor's Center.
It actually was kinda cool learning about the places we had already been too; I could bring it back in my memory and understand what I was reading better.
The buffalo behavior exhibit was fascinating. Be sure to do this if you stop at the Visitor's Center. You stand in a square, and every time you move forward, the buffalo sends out certain warning signals if he sees you as a threat. My husband is playing the game in the two photos below.
After spending time at the main Visitor's Center we headed to "Lover's Leap Trail". We thought it sounded interesting and it was recommended to us by the park ranger for it's views. It's a three mile loop described as "Moderate to Strenuous". It took awhile to find, and we had to stop at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center to get clarification as to where the trail actually starts (It would have been nice had there been a sign marking the trail on the main road). The trail head is actually right across the street, behind a pavilion.
The trail was definitely a mix of landscape, it started with a very steep climb that I began to wonder what I got myself into as I was still worn out from the day before, but then it leveled off and meandered through forests, over babbling brooks, and eventually to the top of a spectacular view ("Lover's Leap"?) and back down again. We were warned of poison oak on this trail, I actually have no idea what it looks like, but I was paranoid it got me once, so my husband washed my legs immediately with water.
The most challenging part of this hike for me was crossing all the streams. Most of the time there was a narrow board over the water to cross on, but some times, there was just rocks. I am such a Nervous Nelly when it comes to crossing over water. My husband was no help at all and just laughed and laughed (and took my picture) as I attempted to cross the water. I think we had to cross over water at least 7 or 8 times on this hike. So if you have kids who love that sort of thing, they would love this hike. Just be sure to watch out for Poison Oak!
I love this picture my husband snapped of me below. There are some really nice rock formations on this hike, and the water (even though I was scared of it) was a plus!
If you want to see Big Horn Sheep, this is the trail to see them. It's quieter, less touristy, and higher up in elevation, so the sheep like to hang out here. Just be sure to bring your binoculars, as they are shy and you can't too close to them. I drew arrows on the pictures so you could see where the sheep were. We found this small herd just a few feet down from our trail.
There was one part of this trail that looked like we walking on diamond dust. It glittered so beautifully in the sunlight. I'm not sure what type of rock it was, but it sure was gorgeous.
If you don't want to climb the Black Elk Peak Trail, this trail is half the length and much easier, and you will still see spectacular views and rock formations.
More Big Horn Sheep:
Be sure to get off the trail and climb up some of the more accessible boulders. The views are spectacular.
Legend has it that two Native American lovers took their lives off this cliff as they were forbidden to marry by their respective tribes.
My husband soon discovered that we were being watched...by this guy! A big horn sheep. Follow the arrow. See him standing on the edge of the cliff?
Hubby was not afraid to cross any streams at all; but he has a much better sense of balance than I do.
After we were done hiking on the trail, we headed to Badger Hole, the cabin home of South Dakota's first Poet Laureate. This was such a neat experience as EVERYTHING was left in the home EXACTLY as it was the day the poet died in 1957. You are allowed inside, but I didn't take any pictures of the inside. There is a park ranger on duty to answer all your questions.
By now, I was getting hungry so we headed to another of the park's lakes where they had a restaurant: Legion Lake Lodge. This is a lovely spot that offers both indoor and outdoor dining with fabulous lake views.
We did get out and walk a bit around the lake, then we headed back to the car to see Stockcade Lake. There are five lakes in Custer State Park, but we only saw three while we were there: Lake Sylvan, Legion Lake, and Stockcade Lake. Of the three lakes, I think Stockcade Lake was the prettiest (and largest), but Sylvan Lake was the most interesting and I loved the trail around the lake.
By now I was exhausted, so we stayed in the car and just drove around this huge lake soaking in all the beauty.
It was so hard to leave this beautiful park and say goodbye! I've been to a lot of state parks in my life, and this one was certainly the very best I have ever seen. I'm amazed it is a state park and not a national park. It truly is a park everyone in America needs to have on their bucket list.
And that concludes my South Dakota travel series, I hope you enjoyed it! Next week I'll start sharing some of the fun places I went to when I spent a week in Illinois with my kids.
Have A Great Day! Amy
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