South Dakota, with its vast landscapes and sweeping plains, is a haven for those with an adventurous spirit and an appreciation for the mysteries of the natural world. Beyond its iconic Mount Rushmore and the rugged beauty of the Badlands, the state offers some of the most pristine night skies in the country.
Stargazing in South Dakota is a transcendental experience, where the Milky Way paints a silvery arc across the heavens, and meteor showers become events that inspire both awe and reflection.
Whether you’re an avid astronomer or a casual observer, visiting South Dakota for business or pleasure – or you call the Mount Rushmore State, the celestial wonders awaiting in the South Dakota skies promise to ignite a newfound passion for the universe around us. Here are the best spots for stargazing in South Dakota, to inspire you.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Yanktonai, and Mnicoujou peoples, among many others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Map of Where to Go Stargazing in South Dakota
By popular request, I’ve added a map to this post to help make it easier to understand where each of the best spots for stargazing in South Dakota can be found. I hope this helps you plan the ultimate stargazing trip!
Badlands National Park
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park offers prime stargazing opportunities due to its remote location and minimal light pollution. Its unique geological formations create a surreal backdrop for stargazers.
By the way, the park is known for its stargazing events called Night Sky Viewings every night in the spring, summer, and fall. It draws astronomy enthusiasts to marvel at constellations, planets, and the Milky Way against the breathtaking landscape.
Like the name suggests, the Badlands Observatory is nestled within Badlands National Park. The property benefits from the park’s dark skies, making it an exceptional spot for stargazing in South Dakota.
Visiting the observatory genuinely is an amazing experience; the staff is passionate and knowledgeable, and the variety of telescopes and things to see keep you busy for the whole session.
Beaver Creek Nature Area
If you want to pair your stargazing session with some camping, Beaver Creek Nature Area is a fantastic alternative. Lots of wildlife and natural beauty throughout the park! The property is a secluded location away from urban centers and is brimming with trails, low and highland paths and many waterways. It also has several campgrounds where you can set up your tent and have a fire and prepare a delicious meal as the sun goes down before spending a night under the stars.
Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
The vast expanse of Buffalo Gap National Grasslands offer stargazers a unique setting to appreciate the night sky. These Grasslands are located in the southwestern part of South Dakota, and they offer a beautiful view of grasslands, plains, and interesting rock outcroppings. Its remote location and expansive horizon provide a panoramic view of the celestial wonders above.
Make sure you spend the night here; hearing the coyotes howling through the evening is a thrill but the sunset, night, sunrise, and solitude are the best part!
Farm Island Recreation Area
Situated near Pierre, Farm Island Recreation Area‘s location away from city lights ensures a pitch-dark night sky for stargazers. The landscape isn’t as breathing as some of the counterparts we’ve mentioned here. It’s actually on Hipple Lake, a widening of the Missouri with a dam near Farm Island. It’s rarely busy, so you can get a beautiful site right on the lake shore.
Fort Sisseton State Park
Fort Sisseton State Park sits in northeastern South Dakota. It is the perfect blend of beautiful scenery along with American history. The property’s rural location provides an escape from light pollution, enabling exceptional stargazing opportunities. The park has hosted stargazing events in the past, though they do not offer any currently. Still, you can spend the night here and enjoy the sky on your own.
Hartford Beach State Park
Nestled along the shore of Big Stone Lake, Hartford Beach State Park is a popular camping and picnic area nestled in the shade of a native wooded forest.
The park is quite simple, but it offers stargazers a serene atmosphere with limited light pollution, which is what we really need, right? Its lakeside location also provides a nice setting with the views of stars and reflected on the water.
Laframboise Indiana Nature Area
Laframboise Island Nature Area offers a quiet and naturally dark environment for stargazing. One of the many beautiful gems of Pierre, it’s a great place to experience the natural world in all its splendor. The large size of the park means you have plenty of space to lose yourself in the woods, grasslands, and beaches that adorn this island. There’s no sign of light pollution at all, meaning nothing will stand in the middle of your South Dakota stargazing experience.
Lake Herman State Park
Lake Herman State Park‘s serene lakeside setting, located near Madison, offers a tranquil backdrop for stargazing. Its location away from densely populated areas ensures a clearer view of stars and constellations. There are a few walking trails and two camping areas. There is also a swim beach and kayak, and canoe rentals available. You can set up your telescope near the picnic shelters.
The lower campground offers a park and many shaded sites. The upper campground is newer and has a couple of camping cabins available. Keep in mind reservations for camping are a must, and fill up fast.
Situated near Canistota, Lake Vermillion‘s quiet shores and limited light pollution create an inviting atmosphere for stargazing. It is a true haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a remarkable experience in nature.
This sprawling recreational area offers a myriad of activities, but it particularly shines in fishing and camping, making it an ideal destination for those seeking tranquility and adventure. However, stargazers will find pristine dark skies and lots of open areas to enjoy a starry show.
Oakwood Lakes State Park
Oakwood Lakes State Park is located north of Brookings, SD. This state park has everything necessary to keep a family busy having fun. Great sites with mature trees, lakes, canoe rental, outdoor games to use, and easy walking trails. Of course, its lakes and forested surroundings create a natural shield against light pollution, providing an optimal setting for stargazing.
There are two camping areas – upper and lower. The lower one has more trees because it is older but the new area is just as nice but definitely more sunny.
Okobojo Point Recreation Area
Located in central South Dakota, Okobojo Point Recreation Area offers a wonderful stargazing setting with the Missouri River as the backdrop. (Not to be confused with Lake Okoboji down in Iowa!)
Renowned for its isolated and serene setting, this area is a sought-after destination for astronomy enthusiasts. Its remote position ensures minimal light interference for stargazing. There’s expansive vistas and unobstructed views of the night sky wherever you look.
If you want a lake and stargazing day, Pactola Lake is a good alternative. The lake is in the Black Hills – closer to Rapid City. Naturally, its high elevation and relatively remote location create excellent stargazing conditions. There are numerous hiking trails in the area as well that you can explore to find a suitable stargazing spot.
Palisades State Park
Nestled along Split Rock Creek, Palisades State Park is a gorgeous alternative for stargazers who like unusual landscapes. Its rugged landscape, towering rock, and waterways provide an ideal stargazing environment. Needless to say, it’s completely isolated from urban lights, making it yet another fantastic stargazing spot.
Pelican Recreation/ Lakeside Use Area
The name says it all. Pelican Recreation is a popular hub for birdwatchers who enjoy migrating birds across the sky. But the area hides a surprise for stargazers. The prairie setting boasts dark skies away from major cities. Feel free to explore the open areas, but know that the lakeside has a lot of spots for stargazing.
Pickerel Lake Recreation Area
In the northeastern corner of the state, Pickerel Lake Recreation Area is one of the best kept-secrets for stargazing in South Dakota. Its location amidst forests and near a lake ensures unobstructed views of celestial phenomena.
The best asset of this property, besides the dark skies, is that it has lovely cabins, which are perfect for those who aren’t fans of camping. During the day, you can enjoy the park’s hiking trails, playgrounds, beach, and fishing opportunities.
Roy Lake State Park
Roy Lake State Park is set near Lake City and offers a fantastic location away from urban lights. Renowned for its outdoor activities, the park invites visitors to explore both nature and the night sky.
You’ll find good stargazing spots in the campgrounds. All of the spots are a nice distance from each other, so you don’t feel cramped and can enjoy yourselves – you can’t even hear neighboring campers’ music or conversations!
Sica Hollow State Park
Sica Hollow State Park is a nice oasis in the middle of a hot prairie. The park has a small trickling creek running through, a couple hiking trails, and a horse trail. Also has a couple of reservation campsites! It is located in northeastern South Dakota and offers stargazers a secluded setting for observing the night sky.
This park’s dense forests and unique rock formations contribute to its reputation as a spot for stargazing. If you go in the fall, the maples have turned so the primary color is yellow with dashes of orange and green.
Thompson’s Point Lakeside Use Area
Situated along Lewis and Clark Lake, Thompson’s Point Lakeside Use Area is a good option for those who want a less crowded place for stargazing. The lake is nestled in Lake Preston, a city in Kingsbury County with a population of 599. With that small population, there’s no sign of big urbanizations and pesky city lights. Head out to explore the shores and find good opportunities for your stargazing session.
West Bend Recreation Area
Nestled near the Missouri River, West Bend Recreation Area is in a beautiful, remote area. Be sure to pack everything you need, because there is no store nearby!
Its remote location and minimal light pollution provide an optimal setting for stargazing. There’s tons of open landscapes where you can have a gorgeous celestial experience. Also, there are numerous campsites around the grounds with some right along the river, including 4 cabins available to rent.
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park is a great stargazing alternative for those living in the southwestern part of the state. As the name suggests, the park’s main attraction are the caves, but there’s lots of beauty above as well. During the day, explore the park’s unique geological features and at night, you can find great places throughout the park to soak in the night sky.
Know of any other great places for stargazing in South Dakota, or have questions about these ones? Let me know in the comments below!