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Watching Wildlife in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is home to resilient animals that are able to withstand some seriously harsh winter conditions. Also home to many endangered species in North America, the park is characterized by its bitter winters and searing summers as part of the Great Plains. From winds and drought to blizzards, heat, and storms, any animal that survives in this habitat is surely one to appreciate.

One of the most famous residents of the park is the American bison, once abundant in the American landscape. Their natural habitat began in Mexico and extended all the way to Canada, and from New York to Oregon. There were estimated to be 30 million bison roaming the country before the European settlements of the 1600s and 1700s. Settlers quickly cut down the bison population with significant hunting that nearly caused the species to go extinct. Thanks to conservationists that intervened in 1884, there are now 20,000 bison protected on public lands today. One of their homes is the Badlands National Park.

Additionally, the Badlands National Park is known for its abundance of butterfly species thanks to its location in the Great Plains. Visitors can view 177 different butterfly species in the greater region.

The Badlands National Park’s Top Animals

  • American bison
    • The plains bison subspecies are found in the Badlands National Park, a genus of Bison, of the species bison. Still, they are often called buffalo, derived from the French word for beef when they began trapping the bison in the 1600s. Bison are about 6.5 feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Their thick coats are designed in such a way that snow sits on top of their fur without ever making contact with their skin in the wintertime.
  • Ferrets
    • Nocturnal in nature, the black-footed ferret calls the Badlands its home as it crawls out of its burrow in the wee hours of the morning. Ferrets are known for sleeping up to 21-hours per day, waking up to hunt and eat before they go back to sleep.
  • Bighorn sheep
    • Found throughout the park, bighorn sheep live in small, separate groups that migrate constantly. For that reason, they can be hard to spot during your travels.
  • Pronghorn
    • Often mistaken for deer at a distance, pronghorn are much smaller, at only three feet high at the shoulder. Found in the open prairies of western North America, pronghorn are defined by their speed (they can run up to 55 miles per hour for half a mile). They are the most abundant mammal in the badlands region.
  • Prairie Rattlesnake
    • Able to grow up to 5-feet in length, this subspecies of snake has a triangular head and body defined by dark blotches. The snake will use its tail to make noise if it senses it is in danger. They often do this when a human is approaching since they are not an aggressive species. The snake preys on chipmunks, rabbits, ferrets, and mice.
  • Butterflies
    • Look out for sulphurs, whites, coppers, hairstreaks, blues, frittilaries, and skippers during your time in the park.

Fun fact: There are no bears of any kind in the Badlands National Park!

Viewing Locations

Medicine Root Trail: If you’re on a mission to catch some of the Badlands’ natural butterfly species, this hike is a great one.

Wind Cave National Park: Located near the Badlands, Wind Cave National Park is praised for its views of pronghorn in their natural habitat. Consider adding this park to your travels.

Mount Rushmore: Should you decide to make a great American historic stop, the collared mountain goat can be found around Mount Rushmore.

Castle Trail: This 10-mile hiking trail provides some of the best wildlife viewing along your journey. Be sure to bring binoculars.

Sage Creek Rim Road: For your best chance at seeing bison in the park, drive along Sage Creek Rim Road. Herds can be glimpsed by drivers, as well as those who hike along the road.

Pinnacles and Cedar Pass: Check out white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, and American antelope in these areas. You can also see American badgers, swift foxes, bobcats, black-footed ferrets, and mountain lions.

When Should You Go?

The Badlands National Park is impressive year round. However, it comes with a brutal winter most tourists want to avoid. It’s recommended to visit the park from April through October, like many other U.S. parks. The good news is that the bison can be spotted in the park year round – they never migrate.

Although it’s nearly impossible to catch a ferret in action since they eat and mate at night, the ferrets in the park are most active March to May when they can be found mating.