Anyone who has camped at Sylvan Lake campground in South Dakota’s Custer State Park knows that Black Hills camping doesn’t get much better than this. Sylvan Lake Campground is one of eight designated campgrounds in Custer State Park, and one of the best public land destinations for camping in the Black Hills of southwest South Dakota. The region’s expanse of dense forests, rolling prairies and granite mountain peaks (the very same peaks that were used to form Mount Rushmore) offer photo-snapping tourists and laced-up explorers alike a chance to dive into the ecology of the American West.
For campers looking for a comfortable and convenient basecamp for diving into the region’s scenery and activities, Sylvan Lake campground is the place to be for many reasons. First, the 40-site campground offers access to the popular swimming spot of Sylvan Lake, where campers might feel inclined to spend their entire stay on the rocky beach of this scenic body of water. There’s also access to multiple hiking trails, suitable for all skill levels, including a trail that takes you to the curious and beautiful Black Elk Peak, the highest summit-able point east of the Rocky Mountains. Both a family-friendly spot and a hardcore adventurer’s playground, Sylvan Lake is Black Hills camping for everyone.
Campground review: This lake is amazing! It makes the busyness of the road and the cost of the state park. We were staying there for a day and had to pay for a 7 day pass which was$20 just to enter the park. The campground is across the road from the lake and it is the perfect distance to there in about 2-3 mins.
The sites are well covered but the campground is right next to the road so it is a bit loud on busy weekends. The general store at the lake was basically empty when we were there because it was a busy weekend but typically it is stocked with food and basic essentials.
Gear review: As a ranger we often get to review fun gear! This trip I was able to bring along the Steel Camping Mug from Banner and Oak.
This mug is perfect for a casual campground mug. It radiates the temperature of the drink so be careful with hot beverages. The design on it is perfect for starting the day with the intention of trying something new! It holds about 8 oz of liquid.
The one thing I would be aware of is the lip on the mug. It is a bit of a dip on the underside so if you don’t drink out of it just right, it will spill down your chin.
Great site in the Black Hills. Book early to get a good site. The hike in sites are recommended if you don't want neighbors. We were at site 17 - a hike in site - felt almost like we were in the wilderness, but flush toilets and a full service lodge and camp store within walking distance. We were there in July with few mosquitoes and low humidity. Great stargazing. This is higher altitude than most of Custer State Park, so lots of huge boulders and pine trees.
This campground had beautiful sites with enough space between them to feel like you have a little privacy. We even saw some friendly marmots climbing up the rocks the first day. Close proximity to Sylvan Lake which includes swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and stunning rock formations. Also close to the Needles Highway. We took day trips to Mount Rushmore and Bear Country, where my kids got it feed baby bear cubs. You will be off the grid with no cell service up there so plan accordingly. Bathrooms were nice enough and showers were included but lacked hot water. Overall, a great camping experience!
Easy access and nicely laid out. Being able to ditch the car and walk to hikes, the lodge and lake was so nice after a long drive. The campground must be full from day one that it opens in the spring, but there is plenty of privacy. If you have a larger trailer, some of the spaces required some expert level maneuvering to get into, but everyone managed to do it. There was recycling available at the rubbish bins, so we were happy to unload them there. Didn't see a lot of wildlife inside the campground, but enjoyed seeing the bison on the far side of the park. Easy drives around the area and up to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We were in a minivan, so we fit easily through the smallest tunnels on the road. I am not sure about our F250, and certainly NO motorhomes. We plan to go back eventually and would definitely camp here again.
Really only room for pop ups and tents. No RVs. Gorgeous scenery.
We absolotely love this campground. It have everything, you can see buffalos, praire dog, deers. Good for spending time with kids. If you stay here, need to go and see the Mount Rushmere. They have a really nice panoramic route.
This is a great area for reaching many trailheads in the Custer state park area. It is a main tourist spot during the summer months.
Sylvan Lake is stunning! The campground is popular, and people can reserve sites ahead of time by a year so you might not be able to depend on getting a spot the day you arrive, plan. I have been to Sylvan Lake twice in the past two years, and it was busy both times. There are many families at the campground and lake. When I was at Sylvan Lake this June ('18), the water was closed due to bacteria levels, which was disappointing. A nice swim after three hot days of backpacking would have been nice. The trail to Harvey Peak isn't far from Lake Sylvan. If you don't enjoy crowds and you are a hiker; I would suggest camping on one of those trails. Campsites need to be a certain distance from the Peak otherwise people can set up tents anywhere.
When I reserved the site it was at least stated that there was an additional entrance fee on top of the out-of-state fee for the campsite. I did not dream it would be $20/week. It is a smallish campground of about 30 sites, but for some reason there are only 2 water spigots, and one is out of order. The working water is on the right as you drive in near the trail to the lake, hidden by a pedestrian crossing sign.
I had reserved a tent only site, but it should be labeled a walk- in site, and as such is over priced. Tents -only are consigned to park on a hill by the pit toilets and most sites are a good walk up a steep hill. I was lucky to have a short walk to my car but it was mostly too steep to use the kitchen I have set up in back and dealing with the bike rack was extra problematic.
There are nice bathrooms with flush toilets, running water and an electric outlet in the middle of the back-in site loop, down hill from the tent sites. There are 2 shower rooms with free unlimited lukewarm water.
The camground is guarded by a man who lurks slouching in a state owned pickup truck. Twice I asked him a question, which caused him to start the truck and speed away after talking to me. He may also be the campground host, as the truck was parked in an empty site across from the host RV.
Overall I felt this area of SD is set up to soak as much money out of tourists as possible.