Custer State Park campgrounds

Best Campgrounds in Custer State Park

If you are looking for a very special place to visit with fewer crowds than the National Parks, then Custer State Park is a terrific option.  There are a ton of places to explore in the park and nearby, and camping in Custer State Park is a great way to immerse yourself in the surrounding beauty and get away from your busy life when you aren’t traveling.  It’s also a great spot to use as a home base for visiting nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial or Wind Cave National Park, which is directly to the south.

Custer state park camping

When we visited Custer State Park, we were struck at how much it had to offer.  The amount there is to see is impressive, and the number of camping options is staggering.  In fact, there are no fewer than 9 campgrounds that you can reach by vehicle!

It may be tough trying to figure out which campground in Custer State Park is perfect for you, but we hope this guide helps to narrow down the choices!

CUSTER STATE PARK CAMPGROUNDS: OVERVIEW

Custer State Park is the most popular park in the state, with over 1.9 million visitors per year.  If this were a National Park, it would be ranked in the top 15 most-visited national parks in the country!  So while most campsites in the state are reservable only a few months in advance, reservations for camping at Custer State Park open up one year in advance.  They also can fill up fast for weekend stays, so be sure to plan ahead and have your preferences ranked in the event that you aren’t able to get your first or second choice.

The park is quite large as well, so you may find that you want to start off in one location and stay for a bit of time before moving to another area of the park.  For instance, Sylvan Lake is about 30 minutes from the Blue Bell campground.  While that may not seem like a lot, it can turn into a one-hour trek if you happen to get stopped by wildlife crossing the road, which can happen and seems to only happen when you are in a hurry to get somewhere!

If you need camping supplies, there are a few options for you to consider.  First, there are several general stores in Custer (one located near the main eastern entrance, one near Sylvan Lake and the other near Blue Bell) as well as a few convenience stores.  You can also head into the town of Custer to the west.  Finally, if you are really in a bind, you can go to Rapid City, which is about an hour away and will have everything you need, including vehicle repair facilities.

Badlands, theodore roosevelt and wind cave itinerary

 

When you are visiting Custer State Park, you should also consider a visit to nearby Wind Cave and Badlands National Parks.  Our Wind Cave and Badlands Itinerary can be super helpful in planning your time in these amazing parks!

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – STATE GAME LODGE AREA

State game lodge area map, custer state park

Map of the State Game Lodge Area Campgrounds in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Game Lodge Campground:

  • Location: The Game Lodge Campground is located is located on Game Lodge Campground Road right off Highway 16A. It is just west of the Custer State Park Visitor Center near the eastern entrance.  Directions from the Custer State Park Visitor Center to the Game Lodge Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered year-round. Game Lodge Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 59 sites and 11 cabins.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: The Custer State Park Visitor Center is just a short walk down the road (0.5 miles) and is very worth the time checking out! The Cairn Trail is an easy, 0.5-mile hike that only gains 150 feet in elevation.  It starts near the Peter Norbeck Education Center and loops around back to the beginning of the hike.  It has a great view from the top and the chance to see wildlife.  If you want something a bit longer and more challenging, the Lovers’ Leap Trail is 4.2-miles (round-trip) and loops with good views and the potential to see wildlife.  The entire trail gains 620 feet, but it’s mostly in the first mile of the trail if you head clockwise (which is recommended).  If you are looking for food, the State Game Lodge is a great place to go to (and visit) while you are there.
  • Additional details: The Game Lodge campground is all the way on the east side of the park, so it’s not centrally located. It is very nice and gets good reviews.  In addition to camping out of your vehicle, there are also cabins that are reasonably priced that are a great option as well.

 

Grace Coolidge Campground:

  • Location: The Grace Coolidge Campground is located on Highway 16A, about 2 miles west of the Custer State Park Visitor Center. Game Lodge Campground is located is located on Game Lodge Campground Road right off Highway 16A.  It is just east of the halfway point between the Visitor Center and the Legion Lake Area.  Directions from the Custer State Park Visitor Center to the Grace Coolidge Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from mid-May through mid-October. Grace Coolidge Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 25 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: While on the main entrance into the park, this is a bit of a less populated area than the Game Lodge Campground. Nearby is the Visitor Center.  You can also jump on the Grace Coolidge Fishing Area trail on the north side of the highway.  This path can be as short or as long as you want it to be.  If you go the entire way, it’s a 5.4-mile trail (round-trip) that has 15 water crossings (all with a bridge).  Along the way are many fishing spots, which tend to be quiet until around mid-day.  The hike ends (where you can turn around) at Center Lake, which has a trail around the lake as well.
  • Additional details: Since this campground is a bit quieter, you’ll likely have wildlife (bison, deer and potentially pronghorns) walking through or around your sits. It’s really quite cool.  The park is named after Grace Coolidge, who was the First Lady of Calvin Coolidge.  They stayed in the State Game Lodge when they visited.

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – LEGION LAKE AREA

legion lake area map, custer state park

Map of the Legion Lake Area Campground in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Legion Lake Campground:

  • Location: The Legion Lake Campground is located at the intersection of the Needles Highway and Highway 16A just north of Legion Lake. Directions from the Custer State Park Visitor Center to the Legion Lake Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from early May through mid-October. Legion Lake Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 26 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: Right across from the Legion Lake Campground is the Legion Lake Lodge. This is a great place to grab some food (informal dining, but really good-we recommend the chicken pot pie!).  Legion Lake is a great place to spend the day, with amazing sunbathing and swimming.  There is a hike around Legion Lake, called the Legion Lake Loop.  This is only 0.7 miles, and involves a bit of rock scrambling.  It does have quite a bit of shade, which can be welcome if you are in the sun all day.
  • Additional details: The Legion Lake Campground is fairly open and without a ton of privacy. This is still a great place to stay, as it is the most centrally located campground in the park. 

legion lake custer state park

 

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – CENTER LAKE AREA

center lake area map, custer state park

Map of the Center Lake Area Campground in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Center Lake Campground:

  • Location: The Center Lake Campground is located on Highway 753, just north of the intersection with the Needles Highway. Directions from the Custer State Park Visitor Center to the Center Lake Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from early May through the end of September. Center Lake Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 71 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: No / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: The campground is neighbors Center Lake, which is a great spot for swimming and fishing. If you are looking for a bit more culture, The Black Hills Playhouse is near the campground and offers shows in the summer for all ages.  You can also take three trails right from the campground, including the Grace Coolidge Fishing Trail (see earlier), the 1.1-mile Lost Trail Upper Loop and Overlook (250 feet of elevation gain) and the Lost Trail Lower Loop, which travels 1.6-miles around Center Lake with about 250 feet of elevation gain as well.  Of course, don’t forget to take some time to take the Needles Highway!
  • Additional details: The Center Lake Campground is one of the more rustic campgrounds in Custer State Park.

 

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – STOCKADE LAKE AREA

stockade lake area map, custer state park

Map of the Stockade Lake Area Campgrounds in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Stockade Lake North Campground:

  • Location: The Stockade Lake North Campground is located on the west side of Custer State Park, just about 7 minutes from Custer. Directions from the Custer to the Stockade Lake North Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from mid-May through early October. Stockade Lake North Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 42 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: The campground is near to Stockade Lake, which is the largest of the lakes in Custer State Park (and it also allows boats). You’ll love spending the day on the lake, as it’s a great place to relax and swim.
  • Additional details: The larger of the two campgrounds in this area, the Stockade Lake North Campground can handle rigs of all sizes. The sites are wooded and shady.

 

Stockade Lake South Campground:

  • Location: The Stockade Lake South Campground is located on the west side of Custer State Park, just south of Stockade Lake. Directions from the Custer to the Stockade Lake South Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from mid-May through early October. Stockade Lake South Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 23 sites and 13 cabins
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: See information about the North Stockade Lake campground.
  • Additional details: The smaller of the two campgrounds in this area, the Stockade Lake Souyth can take smaller RV’s.

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – SYLVAN LAKE AREA

sylvan lake area map, custer state park

Map of the Sylvan Lake Area Campgrounds in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Sylvan Lake Campground:

  • Location: The Sylvan Lake Campground is located in the remote northwest part of the park. It’s about 15 minutes from the town of Custer, SD.  Directions from the Custer to the Sylvan Lake Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from mid-May through the end of September. Sylvan Lake Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 39 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: The campground is nearby our favorite lake in the park, Sylvan Lake. You can swim and picnic at the lake or take on one of the more challenging and rewarding hikes in the park, the Sunday Gulch Trail.  It’s about 4 miles long and loops around the surrounding mountains as it gains about 800 feet.  The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail is an easier alternative, which hikes around Sylvan Lake with minimal elevation gain (it’s about 1.1. miles long).
  • Additional details: This campground is a bit in the shade, which some may like and others may find annoying if you are trying to use solar power.

custer state park sylvan lake area

 

CUSTER STATE CAMPING – BLUE BELL AREA

blue bell campground map in custer state park

Map of the Blue Bell Area Campgrounds in Custer State Park, courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks

Blue Bell Campground:

  • Location: The Blue Bell Campground is located in the southern portion of the park. Sylvan Lake Campground is located in the remote northwest part of the park.  It’s about 21 minutes from the town of Custer, SD.  Directions from the Custer to the Blue Bell Campground.  
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered when the campground is open, from early May through the end of October. Blue Bell Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 31 sites with 23 cabins.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Nearby: The campground offers a nearby restaurant, general store, hayrides and western-style cookouts. There are some small trails within the campground.  The campground is also near Wildlife Loop Road, which gives you a chance to really see the amazing bison up close.  Finally, it also is the closest campground to nearby Wind Cave National Park, which is a must-do as well.
  • Additional details: Unlike nearly all of the other campgrounds, the Blue Bell Campground is not near a lake. However, there is plenty to do down here!  It’s also in a fairly quiet part of the park.  The park is within the trees and the campsites are nicely situated.

wind cave national park

 

CUSTER STATE PARK CAMPGROUNDS - GROUP CAMPING

Group camping is offered at two different group campgrounds: the Stockade Group Camping Area and the Calvin Coolidge Group Camping Area.  Each can hold a maximum of 40 people, have water, electricity, fire rings and access to toilets and showers at nearby campgrounds.  To reserve the group campgrounds, you need to call (as they are not online), and you can do so up to a year in advance (1-800-710-2267).

CAMPING OUTSIDE CUSTER STATE PARK

With all the options inside of Custer State Park, it’s unlikely that you’ll not be able to get a campsite, as long as you do some pre-planning and grab your reservations online.  However, if you need full hookups (water and sewer included) then you’ll need to camp outside the park.  

If you want to camp for free or go off-grid, then you can check out the selection of free campsites near Custer State Park.  There are quite a few spots in the Black Hills National Forest, though it is not ideal for larger vehicles in particular.

FURTHER INFORMATION ON CUSTER STATE PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS

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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

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