An autumn view from Nicollet Tower.

Fall in South Dakota


Explore South Dakota in the autumn!

South Dakota is naturally painted in rich colors year-round, but autumn illuminates the landscape with fiery fall foliage. That makes fall in South Dakota prime time for road trips along scenic byways. When you step out of the car, you’ll walk into adventure, whether you choose to join in an epic hunt or explore one of South Dakota’s state parks. (Bonus: Our parks receive less visitation in fall compared to summer, so you might even feel like you have some of our best natural assets to yourself!)

What kind of weather can you expect for your fall adventure? With average daytime highs just below 60°F (15°C) and lows in the mid-40s (7°C), a light jacket will usually do. However, while most days tend to be sunny and mild, precipitation – even frost and snow – can intermingle with crisp, fall weather. Please pack accordingly.

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Seeing SoDak: What It's Like to Experience South Dakota

They came. They saw. They were amazed by the majesty of Mount Rushmore, the expansive views of Badlands National Park, the discovery of 1880 Town, and the magic that can come from a South Dakota road trip.

Rough Lock Falls in Spearfish Canyon.
Black Hills & Badlands Region

Visitation to Custer State Park near Custer reaches its peak in summer, flowing from the park to its surrounding scenic byways. Take advantage of quieter fall months to enjoy legendary overlooks and park experiences. Near the heart of the park at Sylvan Lake, hike the Black Elk Peak summit trail for a panoramic view of fall foliage. Cool down with a drive along Needles Highway and snap a photo at the iconic Needles Eye rock formation. Don’t miss the drive along Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway near Spearfish, where you’ll appreciate how crimson vines and the golden leaves of aspen & birch trees highlight the gorge’s limestone cliffs and foamy waterfalls. Keep an eye out for local color reports to time your trip.

Sica Hollow State Park
Glacial Lakes & Prairies Region

Continue leaf-peeping on a hike through Sica Hollow State Park in Sisseton. Follow the Trail of the Spirits for Native American lore and pops of color: orange & red jewelweed and bittersweet against the overstory of yellow leaves. This region also offers some of the best pheasant hunting in the U.S. Come October, Aberdeen is a good base for lodges, guided hunts and tips for DIY trips. For indoor exploration, visit the Redlin Art Center in Watertown. American artist Terry Redlin’s series of paintings depicting autumn scenes will keep you inspired.

Country Apple Orchard
Southeast Region

With more than 180 species of trees and shrubs, Union Grove State Park near Beresford is a picturesque setting for fall camping. But with much of the region falling under a major flyway, the birdwatching can be as exhilarating as the leaf-peeping. Randall Creek Recreation Area in Pickstown is a good bet for spotting gulls to bald eagles. And almost anywhere in the region, you can count on seasonal celebrations, including harvest festivals at regional wineries and farms.

Missouri River Region

Neighboring South Dakota’s Glacial Lakes & Prairies region, the Missouri River region shares the distinction of offering excellent hunting, from pheasant to big game. Add the region’s four lakes into the mix and you have the ideal “blast and cast” conditions. Scan local hunting and fishing reports or sign up with area charters to land walleye, salmon and more. For a bite of local history, tour the State Capitol in Pierre or the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center in Chamberlain.


Featured Events

The Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park is truly a sight to behold. Look on as local cowboys and cowgirls drive a herd of 1,300 buffalo. Then, head over to the Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival to shop more than 150 local vendors and take in Western and Native American entertainment. If you’re a movie lover, you won’t want to miss the South Dakota Film Festival. Held at the historic Capitol Theatre in Aberdeen, this weekend festival emphasizes works filmed in the Great Plains region and filmmakers from the area as well. Celebrate Native American culture at the Black Hills Powwow and Expo in Rapid City, where hundreds of tribes gather for three days of art shows, storytelling, drum group performances, singing and dancing. If you like hunting, gear up for opening day of pheasant hunting season. South Dakota offers some of the best pheasant hunting in the nation. Beginning mid-October, you’ll discover public hunting opportunities across the state for you and your bird dog.

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