Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup | Black Hills Travel Blog

Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup

  • Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup
    Your Checklist for a Great Buffalo Roundup
Updated: Tuesday, September 24, 2019
By : 
Alyssa

For a memorable and comfortable roundup experience, you’ll want to be prepared for this unique event in the Black Hills. 

The Origins of the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

One of the most anticipated events of the season each year in September is the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. After all, it's not every day that you see 1,400 buffalo thundering through the hills. 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 the animal was nearly hunted into extinction. 

Today, the park tries to keep the herd to approximately 900-1500 head. The park is 71,000 acres, but it is fenced, and resources are finite, so managing the herd's numbers is essential for their health. If the herd grows too large, overgrazing causes food to become scarce. 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. Thousands of visitors travel to South Dakota's Black Hills every year to watch the roundup.

What to Expect on the Day of the Roundup

This year the event is Friday, Sept. 27. The roundup is held in Custer State Park, which is located five miles from Custer, SD, and about 45 miles from Rapid City, SD. 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. 

The roundup itself happens at 9:30 am, but the viewing area parking lots open at 6:15 am. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there and leave early to avoid heavy traffic. Bring along your patience, as traffic will sometimes be at a standstill. Once the sun comes up, you can enjoy the wonderful fall scenery and the beauty of the Hills at sunrise. The roundup is an outdoor event where you will park your car and walk to the viewing area. Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes and bring a camp chair or blanket to sit on as there will be a long wait before the roundup begins.

Additionally, to prepare for your early morning wait, wear plenty of layers as late September mornings are chilly in the Black Hills. The current forecast for Friday morning is in the high 40's, warming up into the low 70's. Bringing rain gear is also recommended, as South Dakota weather is unpredictable during the fall. It goes without saying to bring snacks, coffee and water, but in case you forget, the park serves a pancake and sausage breakfast at 6:15 in both the north and south viewing areas.

Usually, the mornings are cool, but the sun can still burn even on cold days, so be sure to have sunscreen. Binoculars are also a good idea to watch the herd as it starts moving in from a distance. Take both your camera and your phone fully charged (with extra batteries and charge packs) to record this incredible experience. Above all, take some time to absorb this spectacular sensory experience. If you are staying 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. The park encourages that you do not bring your camper. Call (605) 255-4515 for drop-off locations.

Bring the Following for a Great Experience at the 54th Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup:

  • Camera
  • Phone
  • Extra batteries, power banks and memory cards
  • Comfortable, closed-toe shoes
  • Warm layers that can be removed if the weather warms up
  • Camp chairs or blankets to sit on
  • Snacks
  • Coffee
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Binoculars


No two roundups are the same because animals, even herd animals, are ultimately unpredictable. Additionally, 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. 

See more events that are happening at the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival this weekend.

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup & Arts Festival
Thursday, September 24, 2020 (All day) to Saturday, September 26, 2020 (All day)

Feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,400 buffalo (number of animals vary depending on rangeland conditions) to the corrals.

About the Author

Alyssa is a Chadron State College graduate with deep roots in the Black Hills and Badlands. As an English Major, she has a passion for writing, people, animals, stationary, and (of course) South Dakota. Her friends often describe her as loyal, funny, and someone who always keeps things interesting. 

Enjoy These Upcoming Events

You May Also Be interested In