Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup | Black Hills Travel Blog

Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup

  • Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
    Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
  • Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
    Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
  • Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
    Everything You Need for an Incredible Buffalo Roundup
Thursday, September 21, 2023
By : 
Black Hills and Badlands

The Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup is an event unlike any other, set in one of the most spectacular state parks in the country. To make your roundup experience as smooth and comfortable as can be, we've compiled everything you need to bring and know before you go. Read on to see how you can make your roundup trip the best it can be.

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 1,300 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 and vaccinated for brucellosis (a bovine disease that can travel between buffalo and cattle) and then a number of them are sold at the annual auction. Many of the bison sold are purchased to replenish other herds across the US. Beyond playing a role in conservation, the roundup attracts thousands of visitors who travel to South Dakota's Black Hills every year to watch the spectacle.

What to Expect on the Day of the Roundup

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; both are equally favorable to onlookers. Just remember that you must go out the same way you came in. 

The roundup itself happens at 9:30 a.m., but the viewing area parking lots open at 6:15 a.m. Allow yourself plenty of time to get there and leave early to avoid heavy traffic, which often can 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 the month of September 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 in the region during the fall, 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 56th 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, hot chocolate, or your favorite hot beverage
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • 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, and plenty of snacks. Enjoy the 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. 

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup & Arts Festival
Thursday, September 26, 2024 (All day) to Saturday, September 28, 2024 (All day)

Experience the iconic Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park's annual event. Held each September, visitors can witness the park's herd of approximately 1,500 bison being corralled by cowboys and cowgirls on horseback.

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