A Yellow-crowned Night Heron standing on the shoreline.

Top Birdwatching Hotspots In South Dakota: Insider Guide!

South Dakota, with its diverse range of habitats, is a birdwatching enthusiast’s paradise. Whether you’re an experienced birder or a beginner, this great state offers a plethora of bird species to observe and appreciate.

From the Black Hills National Forest to the Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region, the top birdwatching hotspots in South Dakota are waiting to be explored.

Key Takeaways:

  • South Dakota is a top destination for birdwatching, offering a wide range of habitats and bird species to observe.
  • The Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, Missouri River Valley, National Grasslands, Badlands National Park, and Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region are among the top birdwatching hotspots in South Dakota.
  • Outdoor activities and amenities, such as birdwatching trails and guided tours, are available for a memorable birdwatching vacation in South Dakota.
An Eastern Bluebird perched in a tree in winter in Tennessee.
Image by J from Pixabay

Top Birdwatching Hotspots In South Dakota

South Dakota is a haven for birdwatchers, with diverse habitats and bird species to explore. Fort Pierre National Grassland is a prime spot for prairie birds, while Newton Hills State Park is home to migrant and breeding songbirds.

Adams Nature Preserve is a great place to see Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls, while Hartford Beach State Park offers sightings of waterfowl.

Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge is a must-visit for its 240+ bird species, including the Snow Goose and Sandhill Crane. South Dakota’s birdwatching hotspots are perfect for birdwatchers of all levels.

Diverse Habitats for Birdwatching

South Dakota is home to a wide variety of bird species, thanks to its diverse habitats. Birdwatching enthusiasts can explore different ecosystems and natural areas to observe different bird species.

From grasslands and prairies to forests and wetlands, South Dakota has it all. One of the best things about birdwatching in South Dakota is the range of species that can be observed.

The state is home to over 400 species of birds, making it a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced birder, South Dakota has something to offer for everyone.

South Dakota Bird Species

The state of South Dakota is home to a rich variety of bird species. Some of the most commonly observed birds in the state include the American Goldfinch, Bald Eagle, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, and the Red-tailed Hawk.

In addition, birders can observe many migratory species passing through the state during spring and fall.

South Dakota Birdwatching Tips

For the best birdwatching experience in South Dakota, it’s essential to plan your trip accordingly. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your birding adventure:

  • Know the best time for birdwatching: Early morning or late afternoon is the ideal time for birdwatching.
  • Choose the right location: Pick a location that suits the species you want to observe.
  • Be quiet: Birds are easily scared away by noise, so keep your movements and sounds to a minimum.
  • Invest in good binoculars: A good pair of binoculars will make a considerable difference in your birdwatching experience.
  • Join a guided tour: A guided tour can help you learn more about the local bird species and the best places to observe them.

By following these tips, you’ll have a successful and enjoyable birdwatching experience in South Dakota.

Black Hills National Forest

The Black Hills National Forest is a birdwatcher’s paradise and one of the top birdwatching spots in South Dakota. The forest’s diverse vegetation and landscapes make it an ideal habitat for a variety of bird species.

With over 450 bird species documented in the state, the Black Hills are a must-visit location for birdwatching enthusiasts.

Some of the unique bird species that can be spotted in the Black Hills National Forest include the Red Crossbill, White-headed Woodpecker, and Northern Pygmy-Owl.

To increase your chances of spotting these birds, we recommend visiting in the summer months, when the forest is alive with bird activity.

The forest’s many trails provide optimal birdwatching opportunities, with favorites including the Iron Creek Trail and the Harney Peak Trail.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is a must-visit location for birdwatching enthusiasts in South Dakota. This 71,000-acre park is home to more than 250 bird species, making it one of the best birdwatching spots in the state.

Bird species commonly found in Custer State Park include the Bald Eagle, American Goldfinch, and the Black-billed Cuckoo.

The park’s mixed-grass prairies, ponderosa pine forests, and riparian areas provide a diverse habitat for these and many other bird species.

Where to Birdwatch

The best areas within Custer State Park for birdwatching are Sylvan Lake, the Wildlife Loop Road, and the French Creek Natural Area. Sylvan Lake provides a picturesque setting for birdwatching, with its clear waters and surrounding granite cliffs.

The Wildlife Loop Road offers birdwatchers the opportunity to observe bison, elk, and pronghorn, in addition to various bird species. French Creek Natural Area is a dense riparian area that is home to many bird species.

Missouri River Valley

The Missouri River Valley in South Dakota is a prime location for birdwatchers looking to spot a variety of bird species. The river serves as a migration route for many birds traveling to and from the Arctic, making it a great spot to observe waterfowl, shorebirds, and raptors.

Along the river, birdwatchers can find a mix of habitats, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, and sandbars, providing a diverse range of bird species to observe. Visitors may even get to see some rare and elusive species, such as the piping plover, bald eagle, and the endangered interior least tern.

The best times to visit the Missouri River Valley for birdwatching are during the spring and fall migrations. During these times, the river is bustling with activity as birds stop along the way to rest and refuel.

There are several locations along the Missouri River that are perfect for birdwatching. Some of the best birdwatching spots include the Oahe Downstream Recreation Area and the Lake Francis Case area, where visitors can observe a wide range of bird species in their natural habitats.

National Grasslands

The National Grasslands in South Dakota are some of the best places for birdwatching in the state. The grassland ecosystems provide habitats for unique bird species that are not found in other regions. Visitors can expect to see a range of grassland birds, such as the Western Meadowlark, the Ferruginous Hawk, and the Prairie Falcon.

The Dakota Grasslands are made up of over one million acres of public land, making it easy for birdwatchers to find undisturbed areas for observing bird species. The National Grasslands also offers birdwatching trails that are open to the public.

Best Birdwatching Locations in the National Grasslands

The National Grasslands in South Dakota have several birdwatching hotspots that visitors should consider exploring. Some of the best locations include:

Buffalo Gap National GrasslandVisitors can explore the Pinnacles Overlook trail, which provides an excellent vantage point for observing birds of prey, such as Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons.
Fall River Road Scenic BywayThis byway is an excellent birdwatching location for grassland bird species, such as the Horned Lark and the Chestnut-collared Longspur.
Jewel Cave National MonumentVisitors can explore the park’s trails and view a variety of bird species, such as the Black-capped Chickadee and the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

If you’re planning a birdwatching trip in South Dakota, the National Grasslands are a must-visit. With a range of unique bird species and undisturbed habitats, visitors are sure to have an unforgettable birdwatching experience.

A Roseate Spoonbill standing around on land.
Image by Melanie from Pixabay

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is a unique geological formation located in southwestern South Dakota. The park is famous for its striking rock formations, canyons, and spires that attract visitors from all over the world.

But Badlands National Park is also a well-known birdwatching hotspot, with various habitats supporting a wide range of bird species.

The park is home to over 200 bird species, making it a prime location for birdwatching enthusiasts. The unique geological formations provide nesting and resting spots for different bird species.

You can spot the elegant golden eagle soaring above the canyon walls or the swifts nesting in the crevices. The park is also home to hawks, falcons, and prairie falcons.

For the birdwatcher, the best time to visit Badlands National Park is in the early hours of the morning or late afternoon.

During these times, the birds are active and visible, making it a perfect opportunity to observe them. You can observe the birds from various viewpoints along the park’s hiking trails.

Viewpoint NameDescription
Big Badlands OverlookPanoramic views of diverse bird habitats.
Fossil Exhibit TrailExplore while spotting birds in unique terrain.
Door TrailIdeal for raptor spotting and open vistas.
Cliff ShelfObserve birds soaring along rugged formations.
Sage Creek Rim RoadScenic drive with various birdwatching spots.

A visit to Badlands National Park is a must for birdwatching enthusiasts, as it offers an opportunity to observe unique bird species in their natural habitat. Remember to carry a pair of binoculars and a camera to capture the beauty of these birds and the stunning scenery of the park.

Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region

The Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region is one of the best birdwatching locations in South Dakota, offering a diverse range of habitats for bird species. This region includes more than 20,000 lakes, potholes, and wetlands, attracting over 250 bird species throughout the year.

The lakes and wetlands provide a vital habitat for waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, while the tallgrass prairies are home to grassland specialists like the grasshopper sparrow and the bobolink.

The Waubay National Wildlife Refuge is a popular destination for birdwatchers in this region, offering guided birding tours and nature trails.

Other excellent birdwatching areas in the Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region include the Roy Lake State Park and the Pickerel Lake State Park.

Exploring the Dakota Nature & Art Center

The Dakota Nature Park & Larson Center is another must-visit location for birdwatching enthusiasts. Apart from the impressive bird specimens, it also offers a range of educational exhibits on the region’s natural history and environmental conservation.

The center features a bird viewing area with bird feeders that attract a variety of bird species ranging from cardinals to finches.

The outdoor gardens are planted with native flowers and grasses that attract birds and butterflies, making it a great spot for birdwatching.

An American White Ibis foraging.
Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

Outdoor Activities and Amenities

Birdwatching enthusiasts visiting South Dakota can take advantage of various outdoor activities and amenities to enhance their experience. From designated birdwatching trails to guided tours, South Dakota offers a range of options for visitors to explore the state’s top birdwatching hotspots.

One popular trail for birdwatching is the Mickelson Trail, a 109-mile path that passes through the Black Hills and prairie grasslands. The trail offers scenic views of diverse habitats and bird species.

For those interested in a guided tour, the South Dakota Birds and Birding website offers a list of birdwatching tour operators in the state.

These operators provide expert guides who can lead visitors to prime locations for birdwatching and provide insight into the bird species found in the area.

Visitors can also choose to stay in accommodations that cater to birdwatchers. The Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park offers cozy cabins and campsites with easy access to prime birdwatching locations.

The Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park also offers cabins and campsites surrounded by beautiful natural settings and bountiful bird species.

South Dakota’s state parks also offer a variety of camping options for visitors.

Custer State Park has nine campgrounds, each with unique settings and amenities, while the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area near Yankton offers both cabins and campsites with easy access to birdwatching spots along the Missouri River.


South Dakota is a birdwatching paradise with a variety of habitats and ecosystems that attract a vast array of bird species. From the Black Hills National Forest to the Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region, each location offers its unique birdwatching experience to visitors.

While exploring these top birdwatching hotspots, it is essential to follow birdwatching ethics and preserve these natural habitats for future generations. Take only photographs, leave nothing but footprints, and respect the birds’ space.

Whether you are a seasoned birder or a beginner, South Dakota offers the perfect vacation spot for birdwatching enthusiasts. With numerous outdoor activities and amenities, visitors can enjoy the best birdwatching trails, guided tours, and accommodation options while exploring the state’s scenic beauty.

So, if you are looking for a unique and peaceful way to commune with nature, pack up your binoculars and head to the great state of South Dakota. You will discover a wealth of bird species and unforgettable memories waiting for you.

A Glossy Ibis standing in the water stalking its prey.
Photo by Paul Crook on Unsplash

FAQs: Top Birdwatching Hotspots In South Dakota

What are the top birdwatching hotspots in South Dakota?

The top birdwatching hotspots in South Dakota include Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, the Missouri River Valley, the National Grasslands, Badlands National Park, and the Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region.

What makes South Dakota a great place for birdwatching?

South Dakota’s diverse habitats, such as forests, parks, river valleys, grasslands, and prairies, attract a wide range of bird species, making it a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts. The state is home to numerous bird species, providing ample opportunities for birdwatching.

Which trails or areas within these hotspots are recommended for birdwatching?

For birdwatching in Black Hills National Forest, recommended trails include the Centennial Trail and the Big Hill Trail. In Custer State Park, the Wildlife Loop Road and Sylvan Lake areas are known for birdwatching.

Along the Missouri River Valley, locations like Pierson Ranch and Oahe Dam offer excellent birdwatching opportunities.

The Buffalo Gap National Grassland and the Fort Pierre National Grassland are prime areas within the National Grasslands for birdwatching.

In Badlands National Park, the Door Trail and the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail are popular spots.

Finally, the Glacial Lakes and Prairies Region’s Wahpeton-Like Kampeska Wetlands and Waubay National Wildlife Refuge are recommended for birdwatching.

What outdoor activities and amenities are available for birdwatching in South Dakota?

A: South Dakota offers various outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and boating, which can enhance the birdwatching experience. There are birdwatching trails available in many of the hotspots mentioned above, providing designated routes for birdwatching enthusiasts.

Additionally, guided tours and accommodation options are available to ensure a memorable birdwatching vacation in South Dakota.


  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.

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