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In the Black Hills of Custer, South Dakota

By October 24, 2015March 25th, 2020One Comment

Prior to this summer, I didn’t know a thing about South Dakota and hadn’t ever had any real desire to travel there (beyond my desire to travel anywhere and everywhere because traveling is traveling). But my first trip to the southwestern Black Hills was extremely memorable: filled with small towns, historical attractions and gorgeous landscapes.

One spot that really captivated me was Custer, South Dakota. The hills rise up around the town, creating a perfect backdrop, and the cherry-on-top is the old-fashioned “Custer” sign on the hill up above; it is a beautiful sight when it’s illuminated each evening. The main street is full of small-town charm, lined with historic brick buildings that house restaurants and unique dessert shops like the Purple Pie Place. (Kids will love the homemade pie and ice cream served at this old house—yes, it’s actually purple!). But there is much more to Custer than good eats and shops.

Back in Time to the Wild West

To experience some of the area’s history, head to the Four Mile Old West Town. Just four miles outside of Custer (hence the name), this preserved ghost town is a great way to learn about the past. When we arrived, a kind woman met us at the door, shared some history of the attraction and gave us a tape recorder so that we could take a self-guided walking tour out back. We headed through the swinging wooden doors and were transported back in time.

The site contains more than 50 wooden structures, from a bank and a schoolhouse to a newspaper office, a photo studio and a barbershop. The old buildings are a little run down, as is the wooden walkway that connects them, but it just adds to the authenticity of the property. You can wander the inside of nearly every structure to see artifacts from the 1800s while the tape recorder tells you stories of past settlers and their use of the buildings. While kids will love seeing what life was like in the past, they will also love the bunnies that hop around the tall prairie grass throughout the town.

Animal Adventures

For little animal lovers, a drive through Custer State Park is a must. From the moment we entered the park, I fell in love with the scenery: the prairie grass blows in the wind, dotted with wildflowers, sloping along the uneven ground. The hills are covered in trees, providing shade for the vast amount of animals within the park.Wild donkeys in Custer State Park

Pronghorn antelope grazed along the road in large groups—larger than we saw at Yellowstone—enjoying the sunshine. In another part of the park, buffalo dotted the hillsides, laying in the dirt and chewing on grass. The population here was massive; we saw probably about 200 of them in one spot. But the real excitement came from the park’s wild donkeys. They wander the roads, looking for attention by sticking their heads inside the car windows. They were extremely friendly and let us pet them as much as we wanted. We eventually came to a clearing filled with them and families were wandering around, petting them and feeding them apples from their picnic lunches. The donkeys were gentle even with the littlest of children—and they even had some babies of their own wandering about.

After all of our experiences with the parks’ animals, we stopped at a shop for lunch and ate at a picnic table in the shade.

Prairie Berry Winery

There is a little winery north of Custer that offers a relaxing afternoon. Their free wine tastings (yes, free!) allow you to try up to five of their delicious wines, the most popular of which is easily the Red Ass Rhubarb. While their wines vary, many are crafted with berries that grow wild in the area, giving them a fruitier taste. The winery also has a small restaurant within, where they aim to use fresh ingredients from local farms. They have a kid’s menu as well as suggestions for which wines to pair with their dishes.

Prairie Berry Winery outside of Custer, South DakotaAfter lunch, be sure to wander the sales floor and pick up a few bottles. While you look at wines, kids can sample fruit-filled jams and delicious compote.

A Toon Town

Right in town, there is a fun little Flintstones theme park that is a lot of fun for fans of the show. It’s no Disneyland—don’t expect any rides except for a little train—but visitors can walk through the city of Bedrock, complete with Fred and Barney’s houses, a radio station, models of their cars and more. There are two theaters where guests can watch the classic cartoon or see an animatronic musical stage show as well as a playground. It’s a little hokey, but still a fun place for kids if they’ve ever been into the cartoon. There’s also a connecting Flintstones-themed campground so if you are fans of the outdoors, this is a great family-friendly place to stay overnight in Custer.

You can also stay at the Shady Rest Motel, a local family-run spot filled with rustic cabins. It’s set in the perfect location, right against the base of the hills a few blocks from the main stretch. The family that runs it is extremely friendly and can offer suggestions of things to do in the nearby areas of Keystone, Hill City and more.


Ashley Ryan

Author Ashley Ryan

Ashley Ryan is a southern California native with a background in journalism and anthropology. She loves learning about other cultures and combines her passions for traveling, writing and photography in her professional work. To learn more or get in touch, visit

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