As we traveled cross country with our 11 and 6 year old boys, we attempted to tent camp every few nights to save money. Custer was a favorite stop in past trips, so we decided to try one of the campgrounds.
We asked one of the rangers at the entrance station which campground was the most private (we really dislike public camping - we like a little privacy and quiet!). She recommended we check out Center Lake Campground.
We had no prior reservations, but it was a Monday night so we were safe. She told us there wouldn't be much of a cell signal back there, but there was a park phone at the entrance to the campground that connected us directly to the National Parks Reservation system. Very cool.
We drove around the Upper and Lower loops and decided we'd stick with the Upper Loop - farther from the lake, but definitely less full and more quiet. I used the campground phone and connected immediately to a nice reservation agent. They were able to tell me which spots were available and which were already reserved. It was a little more expensive than we expected ($25 for non-resident).
We got a great site at the top of the Upper Loop - very spacious with a nice flat spot for the tent. They have boxed, gravel tent sites all ready for you. The tall pines offered shade and a wonderful scent. There was also a nice parking pad, set off the road through the campground.
We drove the Wildlife Loop as dusk fell and returned just as it became dark. As we were getting the boys into bed, another group pulled up to the site next to us (around 9 p.m.). They were very loud as they set up their tent - four adults in their 20s. This continued until about 1 a.m. which was so rude. It ruined the feeling of the spot, but again, that's the downside to organized campgrounds vs. dispersed camping.
The pit toilets were fine - didn't smell terrible. There was potable water just a few sites away. We were able to take showers the next morning with a short drive down to the lake area and Lower Loop. The showers were free and were decent.
The beach area at Center Lake was kind of gross - lots of geese leaving their feces around, but overall it was a nice place to stop for the night. I did get one bar signal with AT&T at our campsite - enough to send texts back and forth.
All-in-all, it was a nice spot with pretty much space. Can't help how loud the neighbors get!
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