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South Dakota panoramas

Custer State Park
One of South Dakota’s great outdoor treasures, Custer State Park preserves the Black Hills landscape and wildlife that made up the area before the encroachment of modern society. With 71,000 acres, it’s the largest state park in the nation, and it also has one of the country’s largest bison herds.

In the early 1900s, there were fewer than 1,000 buffalo in North America, so the park began an endeavor to bring back the native buffalo population. Today, the park’s herd exceeds 1,200 head, with hundreds of new calves born each year.

Visitors can get close to the animals during a buffalo safari, an experience offered by park guides. Group members can split up and ride in a convoy of sports utility vehicles that have been specially modified to go off roads, over rocks and through streams in order to follow the herds. The safaris last up to two hours; during a typical ride, guests may also see elk, deer, bighorn sheep and “begging burros,” which linger by the roadside looking for food from passing vehicles.

Custer State Park is also home to one of the state’s signature group travel events: the Buffalo Roundup. During the September roundup and accompanying arts festival, visitors can watch as dozens of cowboys from around the state help corral the buffalo, which are then tagged, treated and eventually released.

The Outdoor Campus
Travelers that have always wanted to try their hand at outdoorsman activities have a perfect place to do so in the city of Sioux Falls. The Outdoor Campus, an attraction run by the state parks department, offers opportunities to learn about and try a number of different outdoor skills.

“We love to have classes, seminars and demonstrations of outdoor skills like archery, fly-fishing, outdoor cooking — anything you can do outdoors,” said Thea Miller Ryan, director of the Outdoor Campus.

The 100-acre park has all the necessary components for outdoor activities. Park staff can guide nature hikes on two miles of walking trails. A two-acre lake is stocked with native South Dakota fish, and the organization has all the necessary gear to offer canoeing and kayaking lessons with certified instructors.

When planning your group’s visit to the park, you can choose to have everyone participate in a single activity or set up a more robust experience.

“If the group wants to get active, one of our favorite things to do with them is an outdoor Olympics, where they get to do all sorts of different activities,” Ryan said. “You rotate from station to station and do things like fishing and archery. Sometimes we have contests and prizes, too.”

A more relaxed group visit could include an afternoon stop for an outdoor snack. The staff’s favorite snack to make for visitors is a “smaco,” a combination of a s’more and a taco that they prepare over a campfire.

Ryan said the Outdoor Campus has proven especially popular for mystery tours.

“Nobody knows what to expect when they pull up here,” she said. “They get to try things that they never expected they would do.”