These plein air painting sites in South Dakota were visited in September 2013 by plein air painters Suzanne Elliott and Eunice Van der Linden.
The Road to Elk Mountain Lookout
If coming from Newcastle, Wyoming - take Route 16 east towards Custer. A few miles after crossing into South Dakota on Route 16 you will see a gravel road off to the right with a sign saying "Elk Mountain Lookout" - take that road and proceed across the cattle grid. You can have a good painting site not too far from Route 16 without driving too far off the beaten track. Great views of open range country. There are no facilities of any kind so bring your own food and water. When I painted in this spot I was able to find a small stand of pine trees for shade. Here is a photo of the view from my painting spot.
Wild Life Loop Road - Custer State Park
The entrance fee for Custer State Park is
$15.00 (no Senior discount either). The
pass is good for 10 days or one can buy a Season Pass to all South Dakota State
Parks for $30. A good deal if you live
there or visit more than once a year. Take the Wild Life Loop Road to look for the large herd of American Bison that this park is famous for. We painted on a side road with some elevation which allowed us a good view of the rolling hills in all directions. There was one spot that had a public restroom near where we painted. Bring your own food and water and watch out for those bison! Do not get too near them. They are wild animals and can be unpredictable. Here is a photo of the painting I did from our painting spot on the hillside. We stayed very close to our car just in case we needed to jump in to get out of the way of grazing Bison.
The Annual Buffalo Roundup - Late September Every Year!
Every year the buffalo roundup gathers together the over 1300 buffalo for testing, vaccinating and branding. The roundup allows the park to keep the herd size at a level that is appropriate. Extra animals are auctioned off to other ranchers. Check with the folks at Custer State Park at 605-255-4515 for more information.
The Needles Highway - Scenic Drive - Black Hills, South Dakota
We found an overlook spot along this narrow and busy road (Route 87) that allowed us to take a trail through the granite to a spot where we could paint in peace. Here is a photo of the view from the painting spot. We painted there for 3 hours. Recommend painting either early morning OR late in the day at this challenging plein air site. You will need the shadows to give definition to the scene or it will be nearly impossible to get a good result. We arrived a little on the late side in the morning and struggled to make something of all those grey granite needle-like rocks. No bathrooms at this spot and take your own food and water of course.
Sylvan Lake - Route 87 - Black Hills, South Dakota
After driving West on 87 out of the Needles area, you will find a lovely lake area with bathrooms, camping and other facilities nearby. A good spot for a lake painting with nice reflections. A rest after painting those difficult granite spires!
We didn't paint at Mount Rushmoor - but if you decide you want to take on the challenge, you can find spots like this one were you can get a good view of the mountain without paying the hefty fee ($10 or $12 per person) - and no, they won't accept any National Park Passes. Why, I don't know. We felt a bit put off by this and didn't go into the fee area as a result.