Photography | Black Hills & Badlands - South Dakota


Opportunities at every turn

If it’s photo opportunities you want, you’ll hit the jackpot in the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota.

If you’re hoping to shoot wildlife, bring a zoom lens to capture their magnificence up close and personal. Keep a safe distance when photographing these wild creatures, as they tend to become aggressive if they feel threatened. Patience is the key for capturing that perfect wildlife shot.

Home to seven National Parks, monuments, memorials, forests, grasslands and many State Parks and recreation areas, there’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife to photograph year-round. Scenic byways and wildlife loops offer panoramic vistas of our great outdoors.

Keep your camera loaded and ready at all times. You’ll find yourself wanting to stop at every turn because there no doubt will be a Kodak moment just ahead. Something as simple as a hike or bicycle trek along the 109-mile Mickelson Trail can provide you with postcard photographic moments.

Some of the most photographed areas in the Black Hills are Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Monument, the 70-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway which includes the cathedral spires along Needles Highway (SD 87), Iron Mountain Road (US 16A), Horse Thief Road (SD 244) and Sylvan Lake Road (SD 89). There’s also Spearfish Canyon and Roughlock Falls, Devils Tower National Monument and Badlands National Park.

On the Peter Norbeck drive alone, you’ll find picturesque lakes, towering granite formations, six picture-perfect tunnels, tight hairpin curves, spiral “pigtail” bridges, and the wildlife ranges of Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, Black Elk National Wilderness Area and Custer State Park. There are many photo stops along this popular route.

Spearfish Canyon’s thousand-foot-high limestone palisades tower to the right and left of Highway 41A as it twists through the 19-mile gorge. Spearfish Creek lines the canyon floor while canyon waterfalls make for popular roadside attractions.

For the most colorful photographs of the Badlands formations, plan your shots either early morning or dusk. The colors of the formations change depending on the time of day, and after a rain or snow shower, when the rocks are wet.

Fall offers the most colorful drive through Spearfish Canyon, as Mother Nature paints the leaves in shades of yellow, gold and red to accent the evergreen backdrop. The changing of the leaves normally peaks during the first week of October.

The colorful parade starts earliest in the 6,000-foot elevations of the high country near Spearfish, Hill City and Custer, then marches down into the foothills, and finally paints broad yellow strokes into the cottonwoods and elms along the prairie rivers.

Tips from SD Tourism Photographer Chad Coppess  and Paul Horsted offers some great ideas and tips about any photos you would want to take during your stay in the Black Hills.