Summer Escape | Custer State Park Trail Challenge

Looking for something challenging to do this summer? Custer State Park has a task for you!

From old favorites like Centennial Trail and Lovers Leap to the newest trail, Barnes Canyon, work your way through eight different hikes and document the journey along the way. Among these two, the challenge also includes Stockade Lake Tail, Cairn Trail, The Lost Trails, Badger Clark Historic Trail, and Prairie Trail. Each year the challenge changes, but the rules remain the same.

  1. Pick up an official challenge form from the park office (please only take one per family)

  2. Complete the eight trails between May and September

  3. Document a "rubbing" of the medallion that is installed in each trail about half way through

  4. Submit the form at the end of the season

Custer State Park is most known for its wildlife with herds of bison, antelope, deer and more. Drive through the wildlife loop (map here) and take the airport road to discover the newest trail, Barnes Canyon. A 4.6 mile hike one-way, the trail is ranked moderately difficult.

Isaac and I attempted the new trail a week ago, and it was easy to find once we knew the right directions. We came in from LH road, south of the lodge and park office. That entrance takes you right into the wildlife loop, turn right. Along said loop (near mile marker 15 ish?), there's a split in the road. Take the fork that leads you toward the park airport and turn right on the first gravel you see. Continue about a mile, and you will have arrived at the trail head. (Note: You can also enter the trail from the opposite end.) It is important to know that you need to pay admission for Custer State Park. Some of the entrances are self-pay, so please be honest.


On the trail, you are adjacent to a little creek, and most of the hike is flat. Some of the inclines are so steady and small, you barely realize them! If you're lucky enough, along the way you might see some buffalo. It is cautioned that you stay your distance from the wildlife though, because they are just that. Wild. They are considered dangerous, so no matter how much you want to go hug the big, fluffy, adorable, giant. RESIST!


Another site to make note of is the old bear cave! Along the hike, Isaac and I bumped into a couple of the park managers who were out making their rounds. Stopping to chat for a few moments, they shared with us that there was an old bear cave coming up on our our right. Now it's probably home to many other wildlife like mountain lions....


Anyways, we started the hike about 10 a.m., and stopping every so often for photos and video (because I couldn't hike without my camera gear!) it took us about an 1.5 hours to hike half way through. All in all, we ended up turning back because we had to be in Spearfish that afternoon, but we made a nice four (ish) mile hike, and I look forward to going back to complete the full trail.

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Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Available to travel upon request, additional fees may apply.

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