South Dakota birdwatching

January 8, 2022 // 21 minutes read

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Birding In South Dakota - State Bird - Ring-necked Pheasant

Residents and visitors of South Dakota are going to love this place because it’s truly one of the best places to go birdwatching in the entire US. There are so many different opportunities for birding throughout this diverse landscape that it’s hard to pass them up. Even though the majority of the state consists of grasslands, or pasture for crops, it also has many wooded areas, large reservoirs, and hills that also attract a wide array of different birds.

While here, you may also want to stop by Mount Rushmore National Memorial, because it’s located in the heart of one of the best birding sites in the state. They didn’t nickname South Dakota the Mount Rushmore State for nothing, right?

One of my favorite things about the great state of South Dakota is the wide range of birding opportunities in habitats located in this great state. And there are so many wonderful paid and free bird watching hotspots, so visitors and residents have plenty of great places to go to experience bird watching at its finest.

I’m always focused on saving money and I hope you are too. If so, you’ll see that the bulk of my recommendations are for free South Dakota birding locations. These destinations are the best of the best and provide wonderful outdoor opportunities for hiking, biking, birdwatching, and more without breaking the bank.

Would you like to visit other excellent free and paid birding destinations in the surrounding states? I have shared my favorite resources for other bordering states as well. This includes neighboring states like North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana and I think you should check them out in the near future as well.

South Dakota free birdwatching destinations

Today, I’d like to share some of the top free birding destinations with you in the great state of South Dakota, otherwise known as The Mount Rushmore State. These free resources are invaluable for everyone looking to save a quick buck.

Believe it or not, there are many local birding destinations that are considered hotspots in the area and you will not even have to travel too far to get there depending on where you live. And if you love birding like I do, it’s definitely worth it to pay one or more of these recommendations a visit to enjoy the sights, sounds, and incredible bird watching experience.

The best part? Every one of these recommendations are free! You can visit them with family and friends and spend a low-cost fun filled day enjoying each other’s company. Keep reading to discover these wonderful South Dakota birdwatching hotspots.

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Large flocks of ducks and geese spend plenty of time in the Sand Lake during the fall and spring times of the year. In fact, these birds come in such plentiful supply that they number in more than 1 million quite often. This phenomenon amongst other waterbirds makes this refuge such a well-known hotbed of activity.

Even better, in South Dakota it’s well known that Sand Lake is the original place to record nesting White Faced Ibis, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and Great Egret. So it’s definitely a place you want to visit with family and friends the next time you intend to go birdwatching during the spring, summer, fall, or winter for that matter.


39650 Sand Lake Dr.
Columbia, SD 57433

Phone: 605-885-6320
GPS: 45.7258° N, 98.3045° W

Hours Of Operation:

For those looking to visit the refuge to hike and bird watching while viewing all wildlife, you are allowed to enter the park during daylight hours only. So, show up at sunrise and leave by sunset to remain in accordance with the rules.

Visitor Center/Headquarters Hours

  • Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Closed on All Federal Holidays
  • Restrooms open 24/7
  • Black-Crowned Night-Heron
  • Eared Grebe
  • Double-Crested Cormorant
  • Blue-Winged Teal
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Clay-colored Sparrow
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Black Tern
  • American Avocet
  • Sedge Wren
  • Horned Lark

Hiking Trails:

Hiking and wildlife viewing are very popular activities at Sand Lake NWR. Birding and whale watching and other outdoor activities involving wildlife are popular for refuge visitors. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of any of the hiking trails in the area, although they do exist. You will have plenty of opportunities to hike and walk along the trails while viewing wildlife in their natural habitat.

There is also an auto tour route known as Wildlife Drive. And while you’re at it, you can visit Sand Lake Overlook to get a beautiful view of the entire area from the observation tower. Just know that outdoor activities, hiking, walking, and exercise are in plentiful supply in this wonderful bird watching hotspot.

Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge

Located in the southern part of South Dakota, the stunning Lake Andes is made up of 4700 acres of prairie lake. And it is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and grasslands, which makes it an amazing home for a wide array of bird species and other wildlife. As a matter of fact, more than 200 documented bird species have been discovered in the area.

For those who like to get outside and get their exercise, they will appreciate one of the biggest highlights of the area which is a nature trail located next to the refuge headquarters. This trail takes you past ponds, has hikers traversing through the woods, and it goes directly to Owens Bay, a wonderful area of open water filled with a plethora of dozens of ducks, waterfowl, and other popular birds.


Refuge Complex Headquarters
38672 291st St.
Lake Andes, SD 57356

Phone: 605-487-7603 
GPS: 43.1657° N, 98.4321° W

Hours Of Operation:

The public use areas at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge are open every day from sunrise to sunset. At certain times during waterfowl hunting season, they may close the public use areas in an effort to protect the habitat and wildlife. Otherwise, it remains open all year around.

Lastly, there are no camping facilities at this park. So no camping or overnight parking is allowed in the area.

  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • American Bittern
  • Western Grebe
  • Marsh Wren
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Bald Eagle
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Red-Headed Woodpecker
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Horned Lark
  • American White Pelican
  • Franklin’s Gull

Hiking Trails:

Visitors have an opportunity to take advantage of wildlife viewing and birdwatching whenever they visit Lake Andes NWR. There is an extensive trail system that consists of observation decks, boardwalks, hunting and hiking trails, photography and hunting blinds, boat launches, fishing piers, and much more.

Unfortunately, I do not have the names and other pertinent details like distance and estimated time to share with you about these trails. This information isn’t easy to find on the Internet, so I have no way of passing it along to my valued readers.

At the end of the day, just know that hiking, walking, and wildlife viewing are popular activities for many refuge visitors. You’ll definitely have a chance to get out in the fresh air to view birds, other wildlife, and more in a natural setting.

Oakwood Lakes State Park

This wonderful state park is Located Just 14 Miles to the Northwest of Brookings, South Dakota. It is also the neighbor of many wetlands and glacial lakes that are known to attract huge flocks of waterfowl during the spring migration. The best part? If you visit during the spring migration, you’ll have an amazing opportunity to see 20 species of waterfowl or more on any given day including massive gaggles of snow geese.

This state part is quite possible because it has a number of different trails and grasslands, woodlands, marshlands, and open water as well. There is a large number of nesting birds in the area and it’s an incredibly productive bird site no matter what way you look at it. It’s also a delightful place to go to visit with family members and friends the next time you plan a birdwatching outing.


20247 S. Oakwood Shoreline Dr.
Bruce, SD 57220

Phone: 605-627-5441
GPS: 44.4499° N, 96.9821° W

Hours Of Operation:

Oakwood lakes state park is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. It’s open on weekends as well and you can even visit on federal holidays. The headquarters does not remain open on holidays and weekends.
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Pied-Billed Grebe
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Ring-Billed Gull
  • Double-Crested Cormorant
  • American White Pelican
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Warbling Vireo
  • Great Egret
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Green Heron

Parking and Other Fees:

  • Daily Vehicle Fee – $8
  • Annual Vehicle Fee – $36
  • Campsite with Electricity – $26 per night
  • Campsite without Electricity – $22 per night
  • Camping Cabins – $55 per night

Hiking Trails:

The best part about Oakwood Lakes State Park is there are multiple hiking trails in the area, which is great for those looking to spend time outdoors. Unfortunately, not all of these trails have names and detailed information shared about them. In fact, I was only able to find the name of one trail that loops around the park, which I will share with you below.

But before I do, please know that hiking and biking on trails are two of the popular activities that take place in this state park. Birdwatching is also a very popular activity as well, and many people visit because of the amazing array of bird species in the area. So, please put your fears to rest and know that hiking and bird watching opportunities are plentiful at this location.

The name and other pertinent details about this hiking trail include the following:

  • Scout Island Loop – First of all, I want every one of the readers here to know that this is an easy to navigate hiking trail, which makes this the perfect trail for beginners or intermediates that do not spend a lot of time outdoors. The area is clear, the trail is very distinct, and the scenery is absolutely amazing and you’re going to love spending time outdoors near the water. In total, the complete distance of the trail from beginning to end is just 1.8 miles, which isn’t very difficult at all in my personal opinion. You should have no trouble completing this trail in under an hour. Most people will likely finish the entire trail in about 45 minutes if they walk at an average pace.

Newton Hills State Park

Located 20 miles to the south of Sioux Falls, this state park is located in the Prairie Coteau region, which is very distinct because the area consists of hills that are formed of glaciers. It consists of rugged terrain, deciduous forest areas, and it also happens to be one of the best sites for birdwatching in all of South Dakota. There are even various Prairie tracts throughout the park.

Even more exciting is the fact that there are some uncommon and rare bird species in this state park as opposed to other birding hotspots within the state. So, not only will you enjoy the beautiful scenery and get a nice taste of the outdoors, you’ll also get to see some unique birds that aren’t found in other parts of the state.


28767 482nd Ave.
Canton, SD 57013

Phone: 605-987-2263

GPS: 43.2189° N, 96.5692° W

Hours Of Operation:

Like the other state parks and South Dakota, Newton Hills State Park is open every day, seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Visitors can spend time in the park on weekends, federal holidays, and more. Feel free to call the phone number above if you need further assistance.

  • Orchard Oriole
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
  • Black-Billed Cuckoo
  • Wild Turkey
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Whippoorwill
  • Wood Thrush
  • American Redstart
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Barred Owl
  • Eastern Wood-Pewee

Parking and Other Fees:

  • Daily Vehicle Fee – $8
  • Annual Vehicle Fee – $36
  • Campsite with Electricity – $26 per night
  • Campsite without Electricity – $22 per night
  • Camping Cabins – $55 per night

Hiking Trails:

Like many of the other places in South Dakota, I discovered that there are networks of hiking trails in Newton Hills State Park, but unfortunately, they haven’t shared a great deal of information about the names of these trails and other details like distance and estimated time to complete. I do have the name of one trail that I’d like to share with you below, so please continue to read to find out more. But know that there is an actual network of trails in the area, so there is plenty of hiking to enjoy and experience with family members and friends the next time you decide to go birdwatching in this part of the state.

The name of the hiking trail and other important details include:

  • Blue Diamond and Woodland Trail Loop – this is an easy and well-maintained trail that they do a good job performing upkeep on, so hikers will not have a difficult time navigating this particular path. In fact, there is even a boardwalk to walk across at one point along the trail, so you’ll definitely have an easy go of it. The trail itself is 4.6 miles long, which is definitely going to take you a little while to complete. In fact, we estimate that it would take roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish the trail from beginning to end.

Waubay National Wildlife Refuge

This gorgeous location is in the heart of South Dakota and it’s relatively close to the state line of Nebraska. The area consists of 4650 acres of land and it’s filled with Prairie portholes made up of wetlands, small ponds, and more than 245 different species of birds. Geese and ducks gather in the region during the spring migration and it’s truly a great place to visit if you’re looking for a memorable birding experience.


44401 134A St.
Waubay, SD 57273

Phone: 605-947-4521
GPS: 45.42495°N 97.34092°W

Hours Of Operation:

The outdoor portion of the refuge remains open every day during daylight hours for the viewing public. It is even open on weekends and national holidays.

Headquarters Visitors Center

  • Open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM
  • Closed on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Closed on holidays
  • Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Black Tern
  • American Bittern
  • Red-Necked Grebe
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Western Grebe
  • Northern Harrier
  • Franklin’s Gull
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Red-Bellied Woodpecker
  • Wilson’s Phalarope

Hiking Trails:

I’ve noticed a very common theme in South Dakota. In this particular case, their website says that there are hiking and walking trails located in Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, so the opportunity definitely exists. The difficult part for me is that I cannot find any specific information about the particular trails in the area, so I have nothing to share with you today. Please visit the park and enjoy the facilities and definitely head out on the hiking trails. You’ll have no trouble finding your way once you reach this beautiful wildlife refuge and begin experiencing it first hand with family and friends.

South Dakota paid birdwatching destinations

Badlands National Park

If you ever wanted to see some of the most spectacular scenery in the entire United States of America, you’ll love visiting Badlands National Park. The whole place is filled with multicolored cliffs and a road that inspires one of the most striking landscapes you’ll ever see. It’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before in your entire life. It’s a breathtaking view that is very difficult to take your eyes off of. But even better, it’s a great place to go if you want to see some of your favorite birds, because the birdwatching is excellent in this location.


25216 Ben Reifel Rd.
Interior, SD 57750

Phone: 605-433-5361
GPS: 43.8554° N, 102.3397° W

Hours Of Operation:

Badlands National Park remains open to visitors all year around unless there are closures due to the weather. The park itself is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

  • Long-Billed Curlew
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Horned Lark
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Ferruginous Hawk
  • Wild Turkey
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Rock Wren
  • Black-Billed Magpie

Entrance Fees:

  • Individual Admission (hiking, bicycling, etc.) – $15
  • Motorcycle Admission – $25
  • Private Vehicle Admission – $30
  • 1-6 Passenger Commercial Sedan – $25
  • 7-15 Passenger Commercial Sedan – $50
  • 16-25 Passenger Commercial Minibus – $60
  • 26 or More Passenger Commercial Motorcoach – $150
  • Badlands National Park Annual Pass (single, private, noncommercial vehicle) – $55 per year

Hiking Trails:

There are a wide range of different hiking trails available to visitors I’d Badlands National Park. As a matter of fact, there are so many trails that I’m going to narrow down my top 10 favorites. The names of my favorite hiking trails and other important information include:

  • The Door Trail – easy difficulty, 0.9 miles, 25 minutes to complete
  • Saddle Pass Trail – moderate difficulty, 0.7 miles, 30 minutes to complete
  • Sage Creek Loop – hard difficulty, 22.8 miles, nine hours and 45 minutes to complete
  • Sage Creek Trail – easy difficulty, 1.9 miles, 55 minutes to complete
  • Castle Trail – moderate difficulty, 10.3 miles, four hours and 25 minutes to complete
  • Burns Basin Overlook – moderate difficulty, 0.2 miles, 10 minutes to complete
  • Sheep Mountain Table Road – moderate difficulty, 14.6 miles, six hours and 20 minutes to complete
  • Fossil Exhibit Trail – easy difficulty, 0.4 miles, 10 minutes to complete
  • Medicine Root Loop Trail – easy difficulty, 4.5 miles, two hours and five minutes to complete
  • Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail Loop – moderate difficulty, 11 miles, four hours and 40 minutes to complete

South Dakota birdwatching clubs

Anybody who loves birdwatching is definitely going to enjoy living in South Dakota, which is better known as the Mount Rushmore State. There are many different bird watching clubs and National Audubon Society chapters for you to join and get involved in birding in the local community.

The best part about joining these clubs is you get to connect with other people who share your passion for all things bird related. You’ll get to become more involved in habitat protection, education, environmentalism, and other important activities. Even better, you can even join other like-minded birders to go on field trips, participate in local events, and take your birdwatching to a whole other level.

Right now, I want to share my favorite bird watching groups and organizations with you in the state of South Dakota. Learn about these wonderful clubs and feel free to join so you can connect with other birdwatching aficionados and become more involved in the local community.

Sioux Falls Bird Club

Originally founded in 1922, the Sioux Falls Bird Club was only active as a group on and off during World War II. But the group was officially restarted in 1947, and they officially teamed up with the National Audubon Society at this point. From here, they brought in different speakers, top birders, authors, photographers, and much more.

Unfortunately, the Audubon Society folded at some point during the 1950s and the club wasn’t reopened again until 1970 by Rosemary Draeger, Jon Little, and Gil Blankespoor. The group has continued to thrive from this point moving forward and it currently has more than 180 members on the email list and 340 people following their Facebook page.

Becoming a member of this group is a wonderful opportunity to become more active in the environment, birding, education, and much more. You’ll have a great time getting involved with this exciting group of other like-minded individuals that are known as the Sioux Falls Bird Club.

Contact Info:
Sioux Falls Bird Club
c/o Bob Bork
8504 E. 38th St.
Sioux Falls, SD 57110

Past and Future Events:

  • SDOU Fall Meeting – and before the pandemic, the group would get together every year at different times for business meetings and regular group meetings. The fall meeting was one event that typically took place in early September, but they haven’t hosted this meeting for the last two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will come back again eventually, but for now the meeting is going to remain on the back burner until things get better.
  • Freeman Preserve – on October 10, 2020, the group was going to get together to meet at Freeman preserve before the pandemic stopped it from happening. During this event, they were going to view many different birds including goals, warblers, sparrows, and more. They were to meet at 8 AM and stay together as a group until the early afternoon, but unfortunately this event hasn’t happened for the past two years.

Membership Fees:

Becoming a member of the Sioux Falls Bird Club is incredibly easy. They still do things the old-fashioned way, so you’ll need to drop a $5 check into an envelope and mail it to the following address:

Bob Bork
8504 E. 38th St.
Sioux Falls, SD 57110

Please provide your home address and email address so the group organizers can send your membership kit. They will also add you to their listserv, which gives you access to up-to-date birds citing information and other valuable pointers and tips.

Missouri Breaks Audubon Society

The Missouri Breaks Audubon Society has made their home in Pierre, South Dakota. They are an official chapter of the National Audubon Society and a wonderful birding group. They have regular meetings scheduled every month except the month during the summer and they can act as a group to go on educational and conservation adventures from time to time. And they also like to get together for birdwatching trips and other events.

Unfortunately, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the group isn’t very active at the moment. But when things turn around, you can bet that they will begin participating in outdoor activities once the pandemic rules aren’t as strict.

Contact Info:
Missouri Breaks Audubon Society
PO Box 832
Pierre, SD 57501

Past and Future Events:

  • Christmas Bird Count – each year, the group gets together to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count together by the National Audubon Society. These bird counts typically take place during the month of December and last for a few weeks before they come to an end. Contact members of the organization to find out more about these important bird counts that take place every year.
  • Raptor Rendezvous – this event took place on February 20, 2014 at the SDGFP Outdoor Campus East in Sioux Falls. This fun filled event took place indoors and roughly 80 people attended to see many wonderful birds including the great horned owl. It was an exciting event for all involved.

Membership Fees:

You can become a member of the National Audubon Society by visiting this page here. Typically speaking, you can pay monthly, annually, or a one-time fee to become a member of this group.

The annual price recommendations are as follows: $50 per year, $75 per year, $100 per year, $250 per year, and $500 per year. Follow the on-screen instructions on their website. You can pay for your membership via PayPal, your bank account, or a debit or credit card.

South Dakota birding final thoughts

I am very glad that you made it all away to the end and it’s my privilege to share information about the Best South Dakota birding destinations with you today. I really went above and beyond to try and share my favorite free and paid destinations with you. You should check out each and every one of these locations the next time you plan to spend time in South Dakota. And if you live here, you’re even in better luck because you can check out these great hotspots at any time.

I have a request that I would like to make a few.

Please help me make this website the best possible resource for all things birding in South Dakota. If you have a recommendation for a birdwatching club, a free or paid birdwatching location, or anything else that I can share, please send me a message to let me know about it. I really appreciate your help and I can’t wait to hear from you in the near future.

Our goal is to continue to be the best birding resource in the Mount Rushmore State. Please help us achieve our goal by lending us a hand and sharing valuable information and will pay it forward and share the love with our readers.

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