Visiting the Begging Burros and Bison in South Dakota’s Custer State Park

It’s finally time to wrap up our focus on South Dakota for this month. Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument and the bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park were all interesting.

But perhaps the quirkiest thing I discovered in South Dakota was the collection of “begging burros” and bison in Custer State Park, a wildlife reserve in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Visiting the Begging Burros in Custer State Park

begging burros custer state park

The burros are wild donkeys that live in a small section of Custer State Park along the road. They are called “begging burros” because they’ve become famous for approaching vehicles and expecting food. Many visitors bring crackers to feed them.

The issue of feeding wild animals usually gives me mixed feelings, but when I discovered that this practice isn’t frowned upon by park officials, I purchased a box of crackers and headed off to find the burros.

It wasn’t hard to find them! We saw about four or five, and they were very aggressive. They go right to your door, stick their face inside your window, and eat crackers or fruit out of your hand.

They will sometimes block traffic if their demands aren’t being sufficiently met. Now that’s gangsta!

begging burros custer state park donkeys

Feeding the begging burros, or wild donkeys, of South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

 

After a few minutes of this, it was getting old, and more vehicles had arrived eager to feed the animals, so we moved on. If you plan to visit, remember that it’s fine to feed the burros since this practice has been going on for years.

The rangers even acknowledge that it’s acceptable. Just don’t feed any of the other wildlife in the park!

What do burros eat? Besides the crackers as previously mentioned, some tourists bring healthier snacks like apples and carrots. They’re not exactly the pickiest of animals when it comes to their diet. The burro population here is small, usually numbering less than 10.

Seeing bison in Custer State Park at Norbeck Visitor Center

For bison sightings in Custer, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center is the place to be. Make it the first stop on your road trip!

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Around 1,500 bison live in Custer State Park, and hundreds of them are gathered near the visitor center, causing frequent traffic jams and giving tourists an up-close look at them. Just don’t get too close!

bison norbeck visitor center

One other Custer State Park / Black Hills wildlife tip – we heard that there are also mountain goats in the area. But when we asked the ranger about them, he said their population was stricken with a serious disease that was killing off many of them.

Not that my trip was several years ago – hopefully the goats have become healthy again since then.

Update: More mountain goats were imported from Utah to diversify the bloodlines, and that seems to have helped the goats rebound.

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About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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12 Comments

  1. I visited with my father the year before he passed. We drove from Connecticut and didn’t know about the beggars. All we had in the RV was licorice at the time. Well, dad HAD to see what they would do, I’ve got a few photos of them taking red vines right out of dads hand . Best memories of my life, just my best friend and I driving cross country to see yellowstone. My dad died last January 28th unexpectedly in my arms, in retrospect his primary care thinks it was covid.

  2. Fed “begging” donkeys on St. John and surrounded by a small herd of Buffalo while driving in Yellowstone during a ski trip. Both memorable.

  3. Went to Custer State Park with my sister. We’re two old ladies from back east – she never saw a buff before. As we were sitting in the car, admiring the huge-ness of these animals I said to her “I dare you to go stand next to those buffs. She got out of the car and walked up to the group of animals closest to us! I never thought she’d do it, but she didn’t even hesitate! and waited till I took a picture! We’ve done a lot of crazy things – but I think that was the most stupid!

    1. Your sister was lucky. A woman during the last Sturgis Rally got too close to a baby buffalo and the mother attacked her, catching her Levi’s on a horn and threw the woman high in the air and onto the ground, where she lost her pants and ended up in the hospital long-term. Buffalo are nothing to play around with, that’s why the signs say to stay in your car. Had a ranger seen your sister, you would have been seriously fined.

    2. When people take chances like that, they may get hurt or killed. If enough people pull stunts like your sister did, they will quit letting the rest of us enjoy these animals. Too bad she didn’t get caught. Stupid!

  4. I have fed elephants, monkeys and cows but donkeys, that too wild ones??
    Never!!
    The pics are great though!!
    Have a wonderful day Scott:)

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