Winter Weekend in Custer State Park

When we visited Custer State Park last summer, I spent some time with their visitor brochure and was drawn to the winter park activities.

It seemed clear based on things like free snowshoe rentals and hiking trail treasure hunts that they were trying to entice people to the park in the off-season. Mission accomplished, as far as we were concerned – we were in!

The park is about a 4.5-hour drive from our house so we headed up Friday afternoon following work and set out to return Sunday mid-day. While a day and a half wasn’t a ton of time, we did enjoy hiking, spotting wildlife, eating, and overnighting in an ‘upscale’ treehouse.

Here are a few highlights I’d recommend if you have a weekend to explore Custer State Park in winter.

Where to Hike

The Custer State Park Visitor Center offers free snowshoe rentals during the winter. The docent was very friendly and said we could rent them for up to a week! We checked them out for our day in the park and didn’t end up needing them – it was snowy, but not that snowy. It was a great option and very easy to check them out and back in.

The temperature was in the single digits and falling throughout Saturday so we kept our hiking to a couple shorter trails – the Sylvan Lakeshore Trail at Sylvan Lake and the Prairie Trail along the Wildlife Loop. If you’re looking for something in the easy-to-moderate range, I recommend them both.

Where to see Wildlife

Speaking of the Wildlife Loop, our drive from the visitor center to the Prairie Trailhead along the Wildlife Loop did indeed include lots of wildlife!

I wasn’t sure how many animals would be moving around in the cold, but we ended up seeing white-tail deer, mule deer, elk, prong-horn, and coyote (three of them!) from our car.

One of Custer State Park’s points of pride is its herd of tatanka, known in English as the American bison.

We spotted a few bison on a hillside and rounded the corner to find part of the herd settled in away from the road. Given the distance, I was comfortable getting out of the car and taking some photos with the camera from the guardrail overlooking those huddled in the snow.

Later in our drive we came across another group split along either side of the road. Brian followed the docent’s advice and kept the car slowly moving through them, but one to our left was making a quick beeline for our car (you can see the wild look in his eye in the photo below – walking straight toward us!). Brian told me to hurry up with the pictures out my window while the interested bison came right up to his window and started licking the side of the car!

The docent said they sometimes do that – they like the salt and road debris – but he was making us both nervous so Brian kept inching forward. Apparently we were outpacing the licking – annoying the bison – because the next thing we knew, he head butted our rear panel! That was enough – Brian slowly sped up and we left the herd behind. Too close of an encounter for me!

Where to Stay

I came across Buffalo Ridge Camp Resort on Instagram – they were highlighting their upscale treehouses, which remain open in winter. Most of them were large enough to accommodate several couples, but I was able to book us the smallest one, called The Coop.

It was a snowy drive back to The Coop but we finally made it, parked, and entered this sweet bungalow. I loved the tree branches actually extending into the space and the cozy fireplace, which ended up running all night as the temperatures dropped to negative 8 degrees.

We turned in early and I enjoyed a leisurely morning reading my book and drinking my coffee as we maximized our time in this amazing space!

Where to Eat

I had a list of places to eat but was so glad we asked the docent for his breakfast recommendations. He pointed us to Hjem a.m., which ended up being a stand-out restaurant of our trip.

Their menu has both unique and familiar items – I went with the lemon curd and lingonberry pancakes, while Brian opted for the walleye with mint emulsion, potato bacon hash and sunny side up egg. The walleye / mint pairing was exceptional – I’ll have to remember that for my home meal planning!

This place was so cozy and the staff members were wonderful – I would go back for breakfast or brunch in a heart beat! There were lots of other options on the menu I need to check out.

It was a brief getaway, but I loved our snowy winter weekend in Custer State Park!

One thought on “Winter Weekend in Custer State Park

  1. Pingback: Cross-Country Skiing in Frisco, Colorado – Heather's Compass

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