I can’t believe that in all my posts, I’ve neglected to mention the Prairie Trail in Custer State Park. This is one the Trekkers really enjoy, and have hiked on multiple occasions. It is a loop trail that is around three miles in total length. This trek traverses multiple ecosystems throughout its duration. From cottonwoods and oaks that line the lower creek beds, to the higher, pine-forested hillsides and rolling prairies, this trail has it all! It’s crazy how you can experience multiple habitats in just a matter of minutes by ascending or descending just a few hundred feet.
The trailhead is located on the south side of the Wildlife Loop Road, around six miles from the Blue Bell Campground, or 13 miles from the State Game Lodge. It consists of rolling hills, bits of pine forest and grassland areas. The hike can get pretty steep in a few spots, while you climb or descend the next hill. Fortunately, none of these rises is overly lengthy.
Obstacles you may encounter
You’ll see all sorts of critters on this trail, namely prairie dogs, turkeys and buffalo. This path actually has some of the busiest and most regular buffalo activity we’ve experienced in the Hills. They seem to enjoy lounging along the trail itself, so you should always be ready to turn around, or alter your course, if you come near them. We have hiked here on several different occasions, and our last trip was the first time we DIDN’T have to skirt a herd of bison. Dogs are allowed (and both dogs we’ve taken on it thoroughly enjoyed themselves). I would STRONGLY encourage you though, unless you have your pup under ABSOLUTE voice control, to keep them on a leash so they can’t antagonize the buffalo.
A few water crossings may be required depending on the level of the creek, and recent snowmelt or rainfall. Depending on its height, you may be able to cross it by jumping rocks or using the well-placed logs. There can also be times, during dryer spells, where the creek will almost run dry.
Hikers should also be watchful for rattlesnakes along the route. They are especially active during the summer months, and tend to frequent the tall grass that flanks both sides of the trail.
What you’ll see
Great views of the surrounding prairie and park are available from the tops of the hills. You may even be able to see the Badlands, far to the east, on a clear day.
Much of the trail crosses the open prairie, so be prepared for lack of shade when it’s warm out. This is supposed to be a prime area for spotting wildflowers in the summer (though I can’t speak to this personally. As the park tends to be pretty busy that time of year, we often avoid it, so we’ve never actually tried this trail during the summer).
We can complete the entire loop in about an hour, though this will vary on your speed, ability level and if you choose to take any breaks or not (or if you’re required to take a detour around a buffalo herd). There are plenty of scenic spots that would be good for a picnic lunch, or just to view the surroundings and critters found nearby.
If you’re looking for a fun trail to hike in Custer State Park, that the whole family can enjoy, check out the Prairie Trail. In a short amount of time and space, you can experience much of the flora and fauna that is offered throughout the park.
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