The greater Black Hills area is wonderfully abundant in wildlife, and even more remarkable in the amount of public access allowed for viewing creatures in their native habitat.
Enjoy a rare glimpse into the life of the American Mustang at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Hundreds of unadoptable wild horses who would otherwise have died of starvation or been killed, run free in the 11,000-acre preserve, along with elk, deer, and other animals native to the southern Black Hills region. Friendly tour guides offer an intimate look at the sanctuary’s geology, pioneer history, Native American culture, plants, and other wild inhabitants. Dayton Hyde, the sanctuary’s founder, believes that he and the horses are in a partnership to preserve the precious land, with the land, in turn, sustaining both man and the animals.
Custer State Park, a legacy of wildlife conservation and the largest state park in the United States, was established in the early 1920s, and was the first state reserve in the nation dedicated to the preservation of the American Bison. The park’s talented staff oversees and manages the large buffalo herd, as well as elk, pronghorn antelope, whitetail and mule deer, mountain sheep, mountain goats, mooching wild burros (a real kid pleaser), and smaller mammals, reptiles, and birds—all set against a matchless Black Hills backdrop. We highly recommend the Wildlife Loop Driving Tour!
You will also find wildlife near Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial. Besides other animals native to the region, the sure-footed white mountain goats roam the central Black Hills, and on occasion can be seen scaling the granite cliffs around the Shrine of Democracy and the famous Oglala Sioux chief!
If you crave the exotic, Reptile Gardens is a must! This complex houses the largest collection of reptiles in the world and was actually rated by USA Today in 2001 as “One of the Top Ten Places in America to Stop the Car and Take A Look!” Venture through an indoor jungle, a marvelous collection of colorful birds in their aviary, a spectacular botanical garden. See the largest venomous snake collection in the world, rare and deadly Komodo Dragons, alligators and crocodiles, and outdoor animal shows.
In 2012, Bear Country USA marked its 40th anniversary. This attraction has the world’s largest private collection of North American Black Bears, along with wolves, mountain lions, elk, buffalo, deer, bighorn and Dall sheep, Rocky Mountain goats, and other species. The nation’s premier “Drive-Through Wildlife” Park provides motorists along designated roadways with views of the animals in a natural environment. Admission fee also includes the walk-through Wildlife Center where adorable bear cubs and wolf pups are kept until they are mature enough to make their own way in the open.
On the outer edges of the Black Hills region are the Badlands, Bear Butte and Devils Tower. Watch for antelope, deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, songbirds and raptors, reptiles, and smaller mammals in their respective habitats in the prairie and foothill regions.
Remember — these creatures are called WILD for a reason! Admire them, photograph them, but respect their way of life. DO NOT approach animals unless allowed by officials or permitted by signage.