Schedule extra time for Sylvan Lake — Custer State Park, SD

We usually plan fairly well when mapping out our day-to-day itineraries for a long trip. We know how much time to project for each stop so we can estimate where to spend the night, how long it will take to travel between sites, and what we’ll do when we get to where we’re going.

But we definitely shorted ourselves on time to spend at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

Boaters can move in and around the boulders rising from Sylvan Lake.

On a map of South Dakota, Sylvan Lake appeared to us as other lakes do — a blue amoeba-like form. “Should we stop here?” we asked each other. When we looked at a different photo in a travel book, we saw not only the lake’s clear blue waters but also these unusual boulders looming large at water’s edge. “Worth a stop,” we said. “After all, where else would you see boulders of this magnitude in a lake? It’s would be worth an hour or so for a quick visit, for sure.”

Families come for the day to enjoy hiking, swimming, boating, and picnicking.

But when we arrived, we realized how unprepared we were. Sylvan Lake is a haven for activities — from hiking to kayaking, or climbing rocks, fishing, and picnicking. We watched as families enjoyed the space to the fullest, taking long walks at water’s edge and then hiking in, around, and through the boulders that define this extraordinary area of Custer State Park.

Later, we learned that Sylvan Lake had been a star in its own right, serving as a featured area (albeit not behind Mount Rushmore as it was pictured) for the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The raw, unspoiled beauty of Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

But no matter the star status of Sylvan Lake — the real benefit is its outdoor space for couples or families, hikers or sitters, boaters or photographers. What you have to do is what we didn’t do well enough: allow extra time to enjoy this breathtaking natural space in your own way. So bring a lunch. Wear your hiking shoes. Rent a boat. Prepare to climb.

And by all means, schedule well. Sylvan Lake is a South Dakota treasure.

Rusha & Bert

15 thoughts on “Schedule extra time for Sylvan Lake — Custer State Park, SD

  1. Anonymous

    I was gonna ask if those boulders were man-made. But I read on and looked closer at the pictures and I realised that they seemed natural. My family would enjoy spending time there too! — Amor

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      It does look a bit otherworldly! But it was a placid lad, a great place to relax or roam about. With so little noise, you could really immerse yourself in quiet reflection. Thanks for commenting. Stay safe out there!

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