Best time to travel to South Dakota

Fall Colors in South Dakota

Discover why South Dakota ranks among the top states for natural environment

Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Spearfish Falls

South Dakota boasts dramatic landscapes year-round: towering rock formations, steep canyons, and vast prairies. In the fall, the scenery of the Great Planes becomes especially beautiful as it acquires warm golden tones. Fall is an excellent time for hiking and observing wildlife: bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The Western part of the state is the most popular with visitors: from Badlands National Park to Black Hills National Forest, there are plenty of scenic routes to explore!

The best time to see fall foliage in South Dakota

The best time to see fall colors in South Dakota is usually the first week of October. The grass turns golden, and the first colorful leaves appear in early September. By mid-October, the fall foliage season reaches its peak. Stunning crimson and golden leaves typically last until Halloween. After that, leaves start to fall off the trees, and colors fade away.

Where to see the best fall colors in South Dakota

Black Hills National Forest

South Dakota mostly consists of plains, canyons, and flat-top hills. Black Hills National Forest is called the Island in the Plains. It adds plenty of bright colors to the rugged landscape of South Dakota. This hiking paradise boasts 13,000 acres (5,260 ha) of wilderness. It features over 350 miles (560 km) of trails.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon, located in the Northern part of Balck Hills, is one of the most scenic locations in the fall. Plenty of fall foliage with tall limestone cliffs in the background awaits visitors on the 19-mile (30-km) Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, also known as US Highway 14A, which starts at the town of Spearfish and follows Spearfish Creek at the bottom of the canyon. Don't forget to stop by scenic waterfalls: Spearfish Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are surrounded by fall foliage.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park is another gorgeous area known for its wildlife: buffalo, antelope, and deer. It's a perfect destination for a fall family weekend outing on a crisp sunny morning. However, keep in mind that most campsites and lodges at Balck Hills National Forest close in early September.

Sica Hollow State Park

Sica Hollow State Park is located in the northeastern part of South Dakota, 15 miles northwest of the town of Sisseton. The rugged scenery of the park gets especially dramatic due to the vibrant fall foliage in October. The park boasts great camping and horseback riding as well as plenty of Native American legends connected to its secret nooks.

Palisades State Park

Palisades State Park in the southeastern part of the state boasts a unique scenery of impressive cliffs, eroded out of pink Sioux Quartzite. The beautiful rock formations, which reach 50 feet (15 m) in height, make up a perfect contrast with fall foliage and golden grass. The park is popular with nature photographers, rock climbers, and hikers.

Newton Hills State Park

For more scenic views, visit nearby Newton Hills State Park, with several miles of forested trails, including horse and mountain bike trails. One of the main attractions in the park is Lake Lakota, which is open for fishing and boating. The park boasts rich wildlife: deer, wild turkeys, marmots, rabbits, and foxes. Over 200 species of birds can also be spotted in the park.

Practical info

When can you see the fall foliage in South Dakota?

Mid-September to late October is when the fall foliage in South Dakota is usually at its best. During the month of September, grass turns golden, and the leaves start to turn color. By October, the fall foliage reaches its peak with stunning crimson and golden leaves usually lasting until Halloween. As November comes along, the leaves start falling off the trees, and the colors fade away. Show more

Which locations in South Dakota offer the best fall colors?

Black Hills National Forest and Spearfish Canyon are perfect locations for fall foliage viewing. The forest houses 13,000 acres of wilderness and 350 miles of hiking trails, while the canyon features 19 miles of fall scenery, cliff faces, and two waterfalls. Palisades State Park, Newton Hills State Park, and Sica Hollow State Park are also fantastic parks that showcase the beautiful fall colors of South Dakota. Show more

What kind of wildlife can be found in Custer State Park?

Wildlife found in Custer State Park includes bison, antelope, elk, deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The park is home to a designated bison herd, which has grown to over 1,300 in number. Visitors can also have the opportunity to see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bobcats, depending on the season they visit the park. Show more

When do the campsites and lodges at Black Hills National Forest close?

Most campsites and lodges at Black Hills National Forest are closed by early September. If you are looking to camp or lodge at Black Hills National Forest, it's best to plan your visit earlier in the fall season. However, there is still plenty to do in the forest, including scenic drives and day hikes to enjoy the fall foliage later in the season. Show more

What is unique about the scenery at Palisades State Park in comparison to other South Dakota State Parks?

Palisades State Park features unique cliffs that reach heights of up to 50 feet that have eroded out of pink Sioux Quartzite. These rock formations contrast beautifully with fall foliage and golden grass and make it a renowned location for hiking, rock climbing, and nature photography. The nearby Newton Hills State Park includes several miles of forested trails with horse and mountain bike trails, and a beautiful Lake Lakota that's worth a visit. Show more

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Last updated: by Olga Valchyshen