There are nine campgrounds in Custer State Park (800/710-2267 for reservations) located near the four major lodge areas or near the lakes in the park. The campgrounds are run by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. Most of the campsites are gravel or paved, and have electricity, a fire grate, and a picnic table.
Prices are $16–18 per site for each “camping unit” at the site. Two tents is equal to two units, as is one camper trailer and one tent. In other words, two tents on one site is still going to be charged for two units.
Every site has warm showers and toilets. One-room camping cabins are also available at some of the locations. These run $45 per night and do not have bathrooms or kitchens. They are, in the words of a reservation agent, “hardsided tents.”
French Creek Natural Area
Tent campers who are looking for a deal and don’t mind primitive camping with no facilities should head for the French Creek Natural Area, located just east of the Blue Bell horse camp off of CSP Road #4. Camping is allowed anywhere in this area for just $4 per person per night. Evening campfire programs occur at all of the campgrounds.
Blue Bell Resort Campground
Activities and amenities vary near the campgrounds, depending on which lodge the grounds are affiliated with. The Blue Bell Resort Campground has 30 tent or RV sites and 23 camping cabins. Within a mile of the campground are laundry facilities and a park store, which provides fuel, basic supplies, and gifts. Nearby activities include fishing, horseback riding, chuck wagon dinners, and hay rides. There is a dining room/restaurant and lounge at the resort. The southwestern entrance to the Wildlife Loop is within one mile of the Blue Bell resort area.
Legion Lake Campground
At the Legion Lake Campground, there are 25 sites and no camping cabins. There is a casual dining facility at the lodge, and a park store nearby. This store does not have a fuel pump. There is a swimming beach and paddleboats, kayaks, and hydro-bikes are available for rental. Bike rentals are provided here as well. Activities include biking, hiking, swimming, and fishing.
Game Lodge Campground
The Game Lodge Campground has 55 sites and 11 camping cabins. It is the only campground on park grounds with an RV dump station. This campground is close to everything. There is a small pond nearby for swimming and fishing. The lodge has a restaurant and lounge. The park store and gift shop, with fuel, is within a mile, as are laundry facilities. Activities near the Game Lodge include bike rentals, fly-fishing lessons, wildlife caravans through the Wildlife Loop, and gold-panning demonstrations. The Peter Norbeck Visitor Center is located across the street from the Game Lodge.
Sylvan Lake Campground
The Sylvan Lake Campground has 38 sites and no camping cabins. There are several hiking trailheads near Sylvan Lake. Fishing and swimming and boat rentals are available here. There is a restaurant and a lounge at the Sylvan Lake Lodge near the campground.
French Creek Horse Campground
Campers with horses are allowed at French Creek Horse Campground, which is located close to the Blue Bell resort. This campground has 28 sites and three camping cabins.
Center Lake Campground
Center Lake Campground, located in the northern section of the park near the Black Hills Playhouse, has 71 sites and no camping cabins. The sites are all available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no sites with electricity, but, according to park employees, camping here is almost always available with the exception of Sturgis Week and the July 4 weekend. It is also a great site for fishing and swimming and is close to both the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition