What the Locals Do: Black Hills Winter Edition

Just like any other Midwesterner, trying to get through the winter months, I’m often guilty of not taking full advantage of all the wonderful winter activities there are here in the Black Hills. Many of which can be found right in my backyard. After a recent trip to Custer State Park, I have vowed to never sit home bored during the winter months again.

Recently, a close friend of mine and I took a weekend trip down to Custer State Park with the intent of partaking in a snowshoe excursion.

We left on a snowy Saturday morning from Spearfish, which is only about an hour north of Custer State Park. Initially, we wanted to take the scenic route through the hills on Hwy 385, but due to the less than desirable driving conditions, we decided to stick to Interstate 90 instead. Before hitting the road, we stopped at the Alpine Inn Coffee Co. in Spearfish for a couple of breakfast burritos and some coffee. After filling our bellies with some warm breakfast goodness, we were set for our trip south.

As we entered the Southern Hills, just south of Rapid City, all of the familiar summer tourist attractions were dark and closed. Traveling in this area during the off-season seemed sort of strange, as I hadn’t been to Custer State Park since the summer months. But without having to battle summer tourism traffic, it quickly became apparent to me that this was the perfect time to visit Custer State Park. The winding scenic roads of the park were well-cleared, and the forest glistened with untouched snow.

Because the intent of this trip was to spend as much time as we possibly could snowshoeing, we decided that it would be worth our while to spend the night in the park. We pulled into the State Game Lodge, where there were only three other cars parked. As you can imagine, the check-in process was quite fast. After checking in to our cozy accommodations, we headed over to the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center to collect two pairs of snowshoes. We plotted out our trail in the Grace Coolidge walk-in fishing area and began our journey through the park.

The trail is about three miles one way and is listed as moderately difficult. It follows a creek and has several log-and-rock creek crossings that add a little adventure. As we tromped through the untouched snow, the only sound we could hear was our snowshoes. The sun peaked out of the clouds while the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen fell all around us – it was as close to the perfect weather conditions a person could possibly ask for in western South Dakota during the month of February. As soon as we stumbled upon one interesting area, a few feet down the trail something new and much cooler beckoned us further. When the sun started on its descent for the evening, we decided to head back to the lodge.

After we rested for a bit at the lodge, we bopped into the town of Custer for some dinner. We decided on the Sage Creek Grill, a small restaurant located on Custer’s main street. After dinner we hit up the local Dairy Queen for some ice cream, since we had worked so hard during our snowshoe, and headed back into the park.

On our way home the next morning, we encountered a small herd of mountain goats walking across one of the bridges. We slowed the truck down to get some photos and the mountain goats stood still as if they knew they were being photographed. Because the road conditions were much clearer that morning, we decided to take the scenic route north on Hwy 385 through the hills. We passed through Hill City, and by Crazy Horse and Sylvan Lake. As we approached Deadwood, we decided to go through Lead to dine at our favorite breakfast venue in the Black Hills, Cheyenne Crossing. After noshing on some sourdough pancakes and biscuits and gravy, we headed down through Spearfish Canyon on the last leg of our trip home.

Our weekend trip to Custer State Park proved to be a success. I can’t wait until we have the opportunity to head that way again. For now, I suppose I have to settle with snowshoeing in Spearfish Canyon!

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About the author

Anne Dickman