Custer State Park is a great place to meet the Black Hills. Entering the park from Keystone takes visitors on the Iron Mountain Road, full of switchbacks and breathtaking views. Once past the gatehouse (where the one- to seven-day pass is $15), visitors can choose their pleasure: Fishing for rainbow trout in Grace Coolidge Creek, hiking to Harney Peak (the trail starts in the park, but the peak is outside), horseback riding, navigating the spectacular Needles Highway or driving along the Wildlife Loop to spot bison.
The park’s historic State Game Lodge is where President Calvin Coolidge liked to stay. For dinner, Firehouse Brewing Company in Rapid City (30 miles north of the park) serves crispy fish and chips and flavorful ales.
Breakfast at the State Game Lodge includes a Belgian waffle bar, biscuits and gravy, and fresh fruit. Guests easily fill a day exploring the huge park’s trails and creeks. But Jewel Cave National Monument, 20 miles west of the park, is worth a visit: It’s one of the longest caves in the world (more than 151 mapped miles!) and filled with calcite that glitters in lanterns’ light. Tours range from half hour introductions to several-hour caving adventures.
Nearby Custer (10 miles west of the park) houses Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar, known for South Dakota specialties like a tender bison wrap. The iconic Mount Rushmore National Monument stands 25 miles north of Custer. A flag-lowering ceremony in the evening tugs at patriotic heartstrings and honors vets in the audience.
For information: Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes Association, (605) 355-3600; blackhillsbadlands.com