Searching for Bighorn Sheep in Badlands National Park (and Other Wildlife)

If you’ve been following the blog regularly, you’re aware of my insane obsession with bighorn sheep. It probably started because I failed to see any when I searched for wildlife in Yellowstone.

And even though I saw a few at the Georgetown Bighorn Sheep Viewing Area, they were far away and only visible through binoculars.

badlands bighorn sheep visitor center sign
Stop by the visitor center for ranger tips on where to see bighorn sheep.

So the Badlands of South Dakota offered a chance for redemption, and I embraced the opportunity.

I saw lots of bighorn sheep in Badlands National Park, and plenty of other wildlife, including prairie dogs and bison.

This article will explain where to see bighorn sheep and other wildlife in the Badlands, based on my own experience and advice from National Park Service rangers.

Where to See Bighorn Sheep at Badlands National Park

I stopped into the park headquarters, known as the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, and spoke with rangers about the park’s wildlife.

They taught me that there is a certain bend on the road where sheep often gather in a forest ravine below. There’s even a parking lot there where you can pull over.

It’s called Pinnacles Overlook, and it’s on Badlands Loop Road, the central road through the park.

badlands bighorn sheep
How cool to see my first bighorn sheep in the Badlands!

Normally, when you view bighorn sheep, you have to look up on the sides of mountains. It’s rare that you get to look down on the animals.

But that’s the case at Pinnacles Overlook. Here, the sheep enjoy hanging out in the ravine just below the road.

I drove there and was rewarded with the sight of about a dozen bighorns, from very close range. Score!

Initially, I saw a lone sheep feeding. She looks at us, but didn’t seem concerned with our presence.

Minutes later, a mother and a baby came strolling past. They were mostly just feeding on plants and looking up at all the strange humans staring at them.

The sheep came and went; the most I saw together at a time was four. There were some cute babies too!

bighorn sheep

The Badlands bighorn sheep I saw in this ravine were all females and juveniles. I didn’t see any males, the ones with the signature large, curly horns.

The NPS says that sheep are also commonly seen at the Big Badlands Overlook, and on the Castle Trail hike. Keep an eye out as you explore the park!

Prairie Dogs and Other Animals in the Badlands

For the non-sheep-obsessed, the Badlands offer plenty of other sights. In terms of wildlife, you have to love the prairie dogs.

These adorable creatures run around in the grass, until someone gets close, and then they all run underground in their holes, except for one “lookout” prairie dog, who stands guard and shrieks loudly to warn the others of impending danger.

badlands prairie dog
A prairie dog peeks out of its hole at Badlands National Park.

Yes, that’s a pile of bison dung next to the poor prairie dog’s hole. How unfortunate for that little guy!

Don’t you hate when you think you have a prime piece of real estate, and then some other species leaves behind excrement the size of your own body?

If you happen to be hiking through prairie dog territory, the animals will shriek at you all the time. Even if you think, “Don’t hide little guys, I won’t hurt you!,” they will view you as a threat.

The lookout stands watch until you approach within about 10 feet, and then he or she finally heads underground.

Don’t run, little fellow! I just want to say hi!

Find prairie dog villages at Burns Basin Overlook and Roberts Prairie Dog Town.

Bison are another common animal in the Badlands. They live in the Badlands Wilderness Area, so the best place to see them is on Sage Creek Rim Road or in the Sage Creek Campground.

badlands hike
Hiking on a trail near Sage Creek Campground.

The bison wander around wherever they feel like, although they’re not as numerous here as they are in Custer State Park. You can run into them on a hike, so keep your distance!

Other animals in the park include coyotes and badgers, both of which can be seen in open fields and around prairie dog towns, as well as mule deer and pronghorns, which prefer the open grasslands.

Hikes and Rock Structures in the Badlands

One of the most impressive things about the Badlands are the seemingly-neverending hills of rock.

It’s unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. I can only imagine what the early explorers who stumbled on this place would have thought.

badlands rocks

I camped for a night in the Badlands at Sage Creek Campground. It was a fun backpacking experience.

We did some hiking the next morning, walking through prairie dog villages and stepping around fresh bison dung all over the place.

Here’s a basic map showing the main hiking trails in the Badlands:

badlands hiking trails

What’s the Best Time to Visit Badlands National Park?

For the nicest weather, come during summer. In the U.S., summer is June through September.

The Badlands actually get really nice weather from May through October. High temperatures in May average about 77 F (25 C).

From June to August, temps get quite a bit hotter, averaging 91 F (33 C). Bring lots of sunscreen and water if you visit then. In September, average highs dip to 80 F (27 C), and in October they remain comfortable at 68 F (20 C).

Rain can happen any time of year, but it’s usually not that heavy. You can still visit the Badlands during winter, but expect temperatures to be around freezing.

Snow is frequent from November to March. The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is open all year, until at least 4 pm (longer hours during summer.)

Badlands has two campgrounds. Sage Creek, where I stayed, is first-come, first-serve and offers primitive camping. Cedar Pass Campground has more facilities.

If you visit the park, stop by the Badlands Visitor Center to get all your questions answered regarding camping, weather, wildlife, hiking, cabins, and more.

For a Badlands National Park map showing campgrounds, roads and points of interest, click here.

While you’re in South Dakota, see our guides to Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and the Crazy Horse Monument.