Each month we highlight an airstrip with hopes that you will get out and enjoy these special places. This month, we’re featuring Custer State Airport in South Dakota.

Visitors to South Dakota’s Custer State Park will find adventure between its nearly black granite outcrops and the soft green of its rolling plains and forests. Open year-round, and encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, this area and its wildlife is worth exploring. The annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival takes place in late September. Visit the Museum/Visitor center for more information about opportunities in the park such as horseback riding, swimming, fishing, boating, biking, birdwatching, or for the hearty, snowshoeing. Buffalo viewing safaris are available seasonally. The good news is that within the Park is a 3,900-foot runway and plenty of room to camp. Or set up your camp chair and take in the dark skies scattered with a palette of sparkling stars.

Daylight offers plenty of hiking trails nearby. The Barnes Canyon Trail is one of the premiere trails in the park and the east trailhead is literally adjacent to the airport, as is the French Creek trailhead. The State Game Lodge is two miles from the airport and offers accommodations in the park for those who would prefer a rustic 1920s era lodge experience. Known for its grand, historic character and tradition, the Lodge served as President Calvin Coolidge’s summer white house in 1927.

However, the airport is in jeopardy of closure. The State is faced with high maintenance costs, not reimbursable by the FAA. The RAF, AOPA, and South Dakota pilots are working hard to find cooperative solutions, and volunteers have offered to step up to help. 

In the meantime, the RAF encourages putting Custer State Park Airport on your itinerary, and watch for further developments. 

Find it here in the Airfield Guide.

For information on the State Game Lodge, click here.

Written by Carmine Mowbray
Submitted on September 28, 2023.


  1. Crista Worthy on October 1, 2023 at 7:46 am

    In 2003 we flew nonstop to this airport from Santa Monica in our Centurion. A rental car had been arranged and it was there for us. We spent a week exploring Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, Devils Tower, and all the small towns in the area including Deadwood, Sturgis, etc. The highlight was a visit with Dan O’Brien, a wildlife biologist, rancher, and award-winning writer who took us out among one of his many buffalo herds. He raises the best grass-fed bison in the U.S. and has restored tens of thousands of acres of native grasses. He’s also a falconer. http://www.WildIdea.com.

  2. Phil Berggren on October 2, 2023 at 8:37 am

    Thanks for posting, nicely done. I have camped here and recommend it. I’m a part time Hill City resident, but hadn’t been here in a few years, so drove in yesterday. The roof on the hangar has blown off, but the asphalt runway looks to be in good shape. I was encouraged to see the log in the ops shack indicated it is seeing regular use by both local and transient pilots. I also learned at least some of the locals enjoy watching the Air Guard train here. The public comment period ended Sept 29, but, if so inclined, please go to the SoDak GFP site and make a comment on the “forms” page. Worth a try.

  3. Andy Turner on October 9, 2023 at 5:34 pm

    Fall 2012 our family flew into Custer State Park, hiked down into French Creek Canyon, and set up camp along the stream. It was a hot day, and I have good memories of the boys (four years old then) cooling off by swimming in a deep pool in the stream, with trout bumping into our legs. The canyon is wonderful and relatively close to the airport. This one needs to be kept open.

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