Where to See Wildlife in the Badlands and Black Hills

There’s more than monuments in this incredible corner of South Dakota. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife.
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Pronghorn

Pronghorn at Wind Cave National Park

Young pronghorn at Wind Cave National Park

Pronghorn, often mistakenly called antelope, are the second fastest land mammal, running up to 60 miles per hour. They are only three feet tall at their shoulders and are reddish brown with white stomachs and wide, white stripes on their throats. Females and males have forward facing horns that curve slightly backward at their tips. They eat grass and sagebrush and chew their partially digested food.

Where to see them: In Badlands National Park, they can sometimes be seen from the Badlands Loop Road. In Wind Cave National Park, look for them in the open prairie near the south entrance to the park headquarters and along NPS Road 5.

Mountain Goats

Collared mountain goat at Mount Rushmore

Collared mountain goat at Mount Rushmore

Mountain goats are covered with two layers of wool that enable them to withstand temperatures that dip to -50F. They have large hooves and rough pads to scale steep, rugged slopes. Both females and males have black horns and long faces with fur hanging off their chins. Females, called “nannies,” live with children and females. Males live apart in groups of 2-3. They can jump nearly 12 feet.

Where to see them: Not native to the Mount Rushmore area, the 200 mountain goats that live in the area are descendants of six goats gifted from Canada to Custer State Park in 1924. You can see them at Mount Rushmore, too.

Blacktail Prairie Dogs

Black Tailed Prairie Dog Pups

Black Tailed Prairie Dog Pups

Stewards of grasslands but viewed as an annoyance by some, prairie dogs are highly social animals with a specialized form of communication with complex sounds. Prairie dog towns can stretch from one acre to several hundred. They eat grass and hide in a networks of underground tunnels. They inhabit grasslands, perching on mounds to look for predators

Where to see them: In Wind Cave, one prairie dog town is located 1.2 miles north of the visitor center at the junction of hwys. 385 and 87. In Badlands, see them at the Roberts Prairie Dog Town.

Yellow-Bellied Marmots

These curious creatures live in colonies of about 10-20 marmots where they spend the middle of the day and nights in a network of high-elevation burrows located in rocky areas or meadows. They eat in the mornings and evenings, munching on flowers, grass, insects and even bird eggs. When they are feeding in the open, one stands guard, whistling when danger appears.

Marmots hibernate for quite some time, usually from late October until late April.

Where to see them: At Mount Rushmore, look for them on the Presidential Trail during the summer, eating grass, plants and seeds. 

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park

Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park

Traveling in groups, bighorn sheep are built for spending long winters at high elevation. Born with rough split hooves, they climb up steep, rocky terrain to escape predators. Males, also known as “rams,” have larger horns that can weigh up to 30 pounds. Females, referred to as “ewes,” have horns that never form more than half a curl. Bighorn sheep eat grasses and shrubs. In fall rams compete for ewes by butting each other for up to 24 hours at a time.

Where to see them: In Badlands National Park, bighorn sheep are often seen in the Pinnacles area or near Cedar Pass.

Bison

Bison herd in Custer State Park in South Dakota

Bison herd in Custer State Park

Millions of bison once roamed the Great Plains before hunting and sport killing decimated the population. Today, in Custer State Park, there are 1,300 bison, one of the largest publicly owned herds in the world. Bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. While they may seem docile, they are unpredictable and have injured approaching visitors. They can run up to speeds of 35 miles per hour.

Where to see them: They often stop traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park. In Badlands, see bison in the western portion of the northern edge of the park from Sage Creek Rim Road. At Wind Cave, look for them in grasslands, near prairie dog towns and on the edge of forests. 

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