Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota
  • Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup
    Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup

If you’ve booked your room or campsite for the 52nd Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup – great! But you’re not quite ready. For a memorable and comfortable roundup experience, you’ll want to be prepared for this unique event. Every September, one of the most anticipated events of the season is the buffalo roundup. It’s not every day that you see 1,300 buffalo thundering through the hills. In fact, it’s something that might not have happened at all if hadn’t been for conservation efforts in places like Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Prior to the 1700s, 30-60 million buffalo roamed the Great Plains. Their numbers started to fall as settlers pushed west, and by the late 1800s, they were nearly extinct. Photo: Robin EH Bagley Today, the park tries to keep the herd to approximately 900-1300 animals. The park is 71,000 acres, but it’s fenced and resources are finite, so managing the herd’s numbers are important for the herd’s health. If the herd grows too large, overgrazing causes food to become scarce. So, every fall the herd is rounded up, vaccinated for brucellosis (a bovine disease that can travel between buffalo and cattle), and a number of them are sold at the annual auction in November. Thousands of visitors travel to South Dakota’s Black Hills every year to watch the roundup. This year the event is Friday, Sept. 29. The roundup is held in Custer State Park, which is located five miles from Custer, SD, and about 45 miles from Rapid City, SD, which is also the location of the nearest commercial airport. Normally there is a fee to enter Custer State Park—daily and weekly permits are available—however, there is no entry fee on the day of the roundup. There are two viewing areas, north and south, and both are equally good. Just remember that you must go out the same way you came in. Photo: Robin EH Bagley The roundup itself typically happens around 9:30 am, but the viewing area parking lots open at 6:15 am. So the number one thing on your list is: an alarm clock. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there. Leave early because traffic will get heavy as you approach the park—sometimes even coming to a complete stop. Bring along your patience; it will start moving again. Personally, I recommend that you leave Custer by 5:30 am and take a big mug of coffee along. Once the sun comes up, you can enjoy the scenery. This is an outdoor event where you will park your car and walk to the viewing area, so it’s nice to have a camp chair or a blanket to sit on if you don’t care to lug a chair. The ground is rough, so closed-toed shoes or boots are recommended. Wear plenty of layers as late September mornings are chilly in the Black Hills and it’s not uncommon for temperatures to start below freezing. It’s also nice to have rain gear with just in case. It should go without saying to bring snacks, but in case you forget or want a hot breakfast, the park serves a pancake and sausage breakfast at both the north and south viewing areas. Photo: Robin EH Bagley Usually the morning starts cool but heats up once the sun rises, so be sure to have sunscreen. Binoculars are also a good idea to watch the herd as it starts moving in from a distance. You won’t need the binoculars once the herd approaches the corrals. Bring your camera to record your experience, but don’t spend the whole time clicking away. Take some time to just watch and absorb the whole spectacle. It’s a sensory experience. If you stay in Custer, there are a couple of shuttle services that will drive you out and back to the roundup, so you’re free to enjoy the scenery. Many of the hotels also offer an extra-early breakfast as well. Photo: Robin EH Bagley No two roundups are the same because well, buffalo do what buffalo do. Plus, everyone experiences the roundup differently. Go with coffee, warm clothes, plenty of snacks, and an open mind. See what you experience. For more information on the roundup, as well as a map of the viewing areas, visit https://gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/. Helpful links for lodging and camping are www.visitcuster.com and https://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills. You can also call Custer State Park at (605) 255-4515 or the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce at (605) 673-2244.

About the Author

Robin EH. Bagley is a native South Dakotan who has lived in the Black Hills for more years than she cares to admit. She has spent the majority of her career in communications and marketing in the nonprofit sector. For the last eight years she has called Custer area home, living just minutes from Custer State Park and the Peter Norbeck Wildlife Refuge. When she’s not pursuing outdoor activities, she enjoys writing about the outdoors, reading and hanging out with her family and two dogs. Keep an eye out for her and her Rhodesian Ridgeback on the trails in the Southern Hills. And if you happen to need a Band-Aid or a granola bar, she’ll probably have one for you.

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