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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Camping in Custer State Park

In August 2009, I spent three weeks camping at Center Lake in Custer State Park.  I fell in love with the park, its history, culture, recreation and natural splendor.  It was long days spent hiking in the Custer backcountry, picnicking at numerous day-use areas, dipping my toes in the area's many lakes, 'spelunking' in Jewel and Wind Caves that the idea for 'Murder in Custer State Park' was born.  I work the book in 2010 and have edited it the past few years and writing additional books (including Playhouse Mystery Series - soon be released).

My passion for camping came from Summer in Custer - as a seasoned National and State Park traveler and hiker, CSP is still my favorite place to camp.  Custer State Park offers top amenities and facilities (free showers - a big perk when roughing it), activities on site and boundless recreation.

So pick up your copy of 'Murder in Custer State Park,' curl up by the fire and delve into camping fun and mystery.

Here is a list of the camping options in Custer and some tips for making your camping trip a success.

Custer Campgrounds:

Blue Bell Campground: Great location - you can walk to the General Store, restaurant and horseback riding!

Center Lake Campground: I highly recommend Center Lake Campground.  It is half a mile from The Black Hills Playhouse, and adjacent to Center Lake.  This campground is well sited with electric and non electric, RV to Tent only sites. 

Game Lodge: A hub of activity - this campground is well sited, albeit packed with Bison.  Bison weigh 2,000 + pounds, have razor sharp horns and can gore you, running at speeds of 30 mph.  They are peaceful animals, but need their space, so I personally don't feel comfortable sleeping in their prime lounging ground - (this comes from summers working and living in Yellowstone National Park as well)

Stockade Lake: I love Stockade Lake.  It is so peaceful.  I spent days on end lost in the serenity of the lake, watching the ducks quack in chorus, hiking in the Stockade Lake area...the advantage of Stockade Lake is that it very close to the gateway town of Custer City, where you buy your groceries.  This is very convenient if you are staying in the area more than a night or two.  You can boat on Stockade Lake, making this a good option if you are attracted to water sports.

Sylvan Lake Campground: Sylvan Lake is a recreation paradise, with swimming, kayaking and ample hiking opportunities.

French Creek Horse Camp - horseback ride?  This might be the spot for you.

The campgrounds have a variety of sites and also include some camper cabins for all the latest info: 1 800 710 CAMP

Camping Essentials:
- Lantern - we use battery powered, but Kerosene is preferred by most.  If you do use battery powered I recommend LED Coleman works the best in my experience.
- Chairs: fold out chairs by Kelty to Coleman help make your camping trip comfortable.  I loved journaling in my waterproof fold out chair.
- Kindling, Firewood: Both are sold in General Stores.  I recommend taking a class at REI or going on YouTube to learn about building a fire.  It is critical that you use top safety precautions with fire to protect the forests of Custer from wildfire.
- Tarps - bring lots of tarps - you'll need one for under the tent, and more for covering/protection - Custer has no bears, so it is one of the few places you can store your food outside.
-Cooler (Ice is sold at General Stores)
- Tent: REI and Coleman are my suggestions for tents.  I actually used the Coleman 4-person instant tent when I camped in YNP this past September - it held up better than my other tent - withstanding four days of heavy rain and snow without one leak.  It cost $100.  I also used the Ozark Brand (Wal-Mart) for a back-up tent and it worked great as well... though I recommend Coleman.
-Sleeping Bag: In the Black Hills, nights are chilly but not frigid; 30+ is okay, though 0+ sleeping bags are preferred.
-Utensils, plates...we used eco-friendly paper and compostable utensils for our camping the last few times, but camping utensils are affordable at most Outdoor stores and re-usable
- Trash bags - Seventh Generation work great and are good for the environment
- Cooking gear: I won't go into too much detail about this, Coleman stoves are ideal and run $50-$200, using propane or kerosene.  When we camped at Custer we made a lot of Gluten Free Wraps (Like Merritt, I'm gluten intolerant) and ate twice a week at area restaurants.  In YNP we typically camp with salads and sandwiches, because it is easy to pack and clean up.  However if you are up for going all the way with cooking a culinary feast at your campsite - the fire rings at Custer work great - or you can plug into the electricity...

Do not allow your tarp to extend this far, we cut it down to size - otherwise the rain will flood your tent.  Look for a hilly spot, that is flat enough for your tent, so if it does rain, the water will go down the hill, instead of flooding your tent.
You cannot camp without making S'mores:

Chocolate squares (Hershey's is fine, but I prefer Green & Blacks or organic varieties without soy, as I'm allergic to soy)
Graham Crackers (If you are Gluten Intolerant like me, Kinnicknick has a Gluten Free S'More Cracker, you can also use gluten free crackers - rice crackers even, cookies, anything crunch that blends well with chocolate.  I have used Gingerbread Cookies before)
Marshmallows - roasted on the open fire

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