Founded in 1875 near the site where gold was first discovered in French Creek, Custer is the oldest established town in the Black Hills. This small community is considered one of the most beautiful areas in the Black Hills, with an extensive network of trails and backcountry roads left behind by early pioneers, ranchers, and loggers. It’s conveniently located within a short driving distance of popular attractions such as Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Jewel Cave National Monument.
History is a big deal in the Black Hills, and the 1881 Courthouse Museum houses one of the region’s most extensive collection of historical artifacts dating back to Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 Black Hills Exhibition. This former courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features exhibits on Native Americans, mining and minerals, Victorian life, ranching, forestry, and military artifacts from the Revolutionary War through Operation Desert Storm. There’s also an original jail cell, one-room schoolhouse, and collection of antique cars. Four Mile Old West Town allows visitors to experience what life was like in the Old West as they wander through 50 open-door buildings on a self-guided tour. The Gordon Stockade is an exact replica of a log fortress built in 1874 to protect the Gordon Party from attacks by the Sioux during the Black Hills Gold Rush.
No trip to Custer is complete without exploring the outdoor scenery. The Custer Skywalk is a series of short trails that begin at Harbach Park, two blocks off Main Street. Head left for a covered observation point, then continue on the trail to the right to reach Big Rock Observation Point; both offer stunning views of the Black Hills and the city of Custer. The half-mile trail winds through ponderosa pine forests and, while the steep uphill climb may leave visitors out of breath, the views) are well worth the exertion.
Custer State Park may not be within the city limits, but it’s a must-see for visitors to the area any time of the year. This 71,000-acre nature and wildlife reserve offers plenty of opportunity for outdoor recreation and features some of the area’s most impressive scenery. You won’t even need to leave the comfort of your car if you opt for a drive along Iron Mountain Road or the Needles Highway. Impressive granite rock formations can be found at Cathedral Spires and Sylvan Lake. Hiking, fishing, camping, and swimming are all popular pastimes. The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road provides visitors with up-close looks at wildlife such as bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, coyotes, elk, deer, and the park’s famous “begging burros.”
The community of Custer prides itself on being a destination for foodies. After you’re done exploring the attractions, grab a bite to eat or a tasty beverage from one of the town’s excellent restaurants or breweries!
Custer holds a number of popular events throughout the year. The Burning Beetle in January is an annual community celebration that supports the local arts scene while promoting a connection to the environment and awareness of the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills. It includes a talent show, parade, fireworks, and pub crawl, and culminates in the burning of a wooden beetle, accompanied by fireworks.
Fans of Tesla electric vehicles turn out en masse for the annual Sound of Silence Tesla Rally every May. Owners are encouraged to meet up and explore scenic drives in the Southern Hills. Attendees enjoy food, beverages, and live entertainment. If ATVs and UTVs are more your speed, the Custer Off-Road Rally takes place each June and includes rides, a poker run, vendors, and live music. In September, the public can admire a collection of classic cars from the Dakotas Chapter of the Studebaker Drivers Club. The annual Studebaker Car Show attracts owners from five states for a weekend cruising the Black Hills and showing off their cars and trucks.
The Old Time Country Fourth of July is a two-day old-fashioned Independence Day celebration ideal for the entire family. It includes a Patriot’s Parade, flag ceremonies, children’s fair, live music, games for the whole family, and (of course) fireworks. Also in July, Gold Discovery Days commemorates the Black Hills Expedition’s discovery of gold in 1874 with three days of fun for the family. There’s a parade, carnival, arts and crafts fair, quilt show, bed races, street dance, stick horse rodeo, games, and a hot air balloon launch.
The Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup & Arts Festival is the region’s signature event. Every September, thousands of spectators descend upon Custer State Park to watch cowboys and cowgirls round up the herd of 1,300 bison. It’s one of South Dakota’s most popular events, and has expanded to include an Arts Festival where some 150 vendors sell handmade arts and crafts. This three-day festival showcasing Western and Native American culture features square dancing, poetry recitals, and musical entertainment, in addition to plenty of delicious food and beverages.
Ending the year on a festive note, the annual Custer Christmas Parade kicks off the holiday season with a parade of lights, tree lighting ceremony, and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain events may be postponed or canceled, and attractions may not be open as regularly scheduled. We encourage you to check with each venue before planning your visit.