If you’re looking for the best things to do in Buffalo Gap National Grassland you’ve come to the right place. In 2021 we partnered with the South Dakota Tourism Department to travel to Buffalo Gap and bring a portion of it’s beauty to screens all over the world.
Surrounding Badlands National Park in western South Dakota lies nearly 600,000 acres of spectacular landscapes and rugged outdoor adventure.
In this article I’ll go over:
- Things to Do in Buffalo Gap National Grassland
- Best Places to See in Buffalo Gap
- Camping in Buffalo Gap
- Must See Sites in Buffalo Gap
Our nation’s system of national grasslands comprises a patchwork of more than 3.8 million acres of unique public lands filled with recreational opportunities. These grasslands are often overlooked by would-be public lands visitors in favor of more popular national parks and even national forests. But as Buffalo Gap amply proves, national grasslands are spectacular public lands destinations for those wanting to escape the crowds and truly enjoy a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland is often overshadowed by the neighboring Badlands National Park, as well as nearby sites like Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Black Hills National Forest, and Wind Cave National Park. But we’re here to tell you this grassland truly delivers on scenery and solitude.
Watch the Buffalo Gap National Grassland Video
In the vast prairie expanses of western South Dakota lies nearly 600,000 acres of spectacular landscapes and rugged outdoor adventure.
Journey with us to discover a place where bison roam amidst winding badlands and unending prairie – where solitude is ample and people are not. This is Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
We partnered with our friends at Travel South Dakota to capture the beauty of Buffalo Gap and bring it to screens all over the world. Be sure to check out Travel South Dakota’s website for up to date travel information and plenty of inspiration for your next trip!
Things to Do Buffalo Gap National Grassland
1. Explore the Grasslands
Like Badlands National Park, Buffalo Gap National Grassland is an open hike area where visitors can explore wherever they prefer (as long as they stay on public land).
At Buffalo Gap visitors are encouraged to create their own experience and explore this vast and rugged terrain. There’s something stirring about looking out at such a vast and beautiful expanse of land and knowing you can take off in any direction and explore however you like.
Some things to keep in mind as you explore Buffalo Gap National Grassland:
- Make sure you’re staying on public lands – grasslands are often a patchwork of public lands so make sure you have an up to date map and aren’t crossing over any fences or private land boundaries.
- Be mindful of prairie rattlesnakes and wear safe and sturdy footwear.
- Enjoy wild animals from a safe distance.
- Leave no trace – always try to leave the area as you found it.
I highly recommend stopping in the National Grassland Visitor Center in Wall, South Dakota to grab some maps and chat with the Forest Service staff there about your trip. The staff are incredibly helpful and will give you some great recommendations on where to go and what to expect.
2. Camp Out Under the Stars
Buffalo Gap National Grassland has one developed campground and endless backcountry camping opportunities.
French Creek Camping Area
- Reservations: First Come-First Serve
- No potable water
- Fees are required
Thanks to it’s remote location and hundreds of thousands of protected acres Buffalo Gap is a fantastic place to take in unobstructed views of the night sky.
There’s really nothing quite like sleeping out under the stars amidst the badlands of the Dakotas, a pastime President Theodore Roosevelt fondly enjoyed in the late 19th century and one you can enjoy much the same today.
3. Go Rock Hounding!
Yes, in Buffalo Gap National Grassland it is perfectly legal (and even encouraged) for you to scour the hills for rare rocks and take a few home with you!
Rock hounding is a fun activity for the whole family and who knows, you might even find the rare and beautiful Fairburn Agate, a highly sought after agate and the state gem of South Dakota.
Fore more information on this fun activity visit the Grassland’s website here.
4. See the Bison
Bison can be viewed throughout Buffalo Gap National Grassland, but are most reliably found in the area adjacent to Badlands National Park. Seeing these majestic emblems of the American West is an opportunity not to be missed.
NOTE: It’s important for your safety and theirs that you keep at least 25 feet away from animals (especially bison) at all times. Also bison can damage your vehicle if you present an obstacle to them so don’t attempt to drive up next to them.
5. OHV Riding
Buffalo Gap provides some amazing opportunities for OHV riding on your public lands. Railroad Buttes is the go to spot here for dirt biking, ATV’s and more with plenty of parking and space to ride.
For more information on OHV opportunities in Buffalo Gap visit their website here.
6. Take in a Magical Sunset
Sunsets in this western corner of South Dakota are unforgettable. The dwindling light lingers on the badlands and paints the oceans of grass vivid shades of purple and orange.
Regardless of your vantage point you’ll be amazed at the way the entire landscape before you is transformed as the last light of the day puts on an incredible show before retiring for the night and ceding way to the stars that soon fill the sky.
7. Storm Watching
Weather fronts move through this part of the country in stunning fashion. The wide open vistas and badlands formations offer unobstructed views and dazzling backdrops to watch the forces of nature at work.
Taking in a distant storm from a high bluff in this rugged country is right of passage you might say. There’s something about seeing a massive wall of rain moving along in the distance with flashes of lightning that gives one a healthy respect for nature.
Make sure to view storms from a safe distance and take proper precaution in the event of lightning in your area!
8. See the Prairie Dogs
A family favorite, prairie dogs are endlessly fun to watch as they go about digging, yipping, and frolicking amidst the waving prairie grass.
Prairie dog towns can be seen throughout Buffalo Gap National Grassland and you’ll know them when you see them.
NOTE: Though they are very cute, don’t approach or attempt to feed the prairie dogs. Enjoy watching them go about their business from a safe and respectful distance.
Summary of Things to Do in Buffalo Gap National Grassland
- Explore the Grasslands
- Camp Under the Stars
- Go Rockhounding
- See the Bison
- OHV Riding
- Take in a Sunset
- Prairie Dogs
Helpful Related Articles
Black Hills Guide: Your Complete Guide to South Dakota’s Black Hills
Badlands National Park Guide: Helpful Guide to Badlands National Park
Things To Do Badlands National Park : 20 Amazing Things to Do Badlands National Park
Visiting Mount Rushmore: 15 Helpful Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore
Things to Do Near Rushmore: 25 Epic Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
Why Trust Us About Things to Do in Buffalo Gap National Grassland?
I’m Jim Pattiz and along with my brother Will, we make up the filmmaking duo known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
And a bonus! Tips for Visiting Your Public Lands Responsibly
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the place you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks, forests, and grasslands are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs