Storm moving over the prairie and forest from the Rankin Ridge fire tower.
Recreate Responsibly

National parks across the country provide endless opportunities for recreational activities for everyone.

Two male bison fighting with each other head to head while other bison look on in the background.
Bison bulls fighting during the rut.

NPS Photo

Encountering Wildlife

Animals in the park are wild and unpredictable. Do not feed prairie dogs or other wildlife. Fed animals may become dependent on handouts and fail to survive the winter or become sick from human food. They also become attracted to highways where they can be struck by passing vehicles.

Use caution when encountering all wildlife, especially bison or buffalo. Bison are amazingly quick! They can run 35 mph, weigh up to a ton, and have sharp horns. These majestic animals may seem tame but are unpredictable and dangerous. You must stay at least 25 yards (23 meters) from all wildlife, but it is strongly recommended to stay farther away from bison. Bison are more aggressive during the calving and mating season from May through August.

Mountain lions visit the park from time to time. Follow these mountain lion safety tips to avoid a confrontation.

Pets are permitted in the visitor center area and campground, as well as on the Elk Mountain Campground Trail and Prairie Vista Trail. Pets are not permitted in the backcountry, including all other trails, to protect your pet and park wildlife. Pets may not be left unattended and must be on a leash at all times. Be aware that ticks are common in high grass and along trails and may affect you, your pet, or both.

Front end of a green pickup truck with a smashed in grill, broken headlights, and a crumpled hood.
Motor vehicle accident involving a bison.

NPS Photo

Park Roads

No matter the season, use caution and expect wildlife on the roads. Obey all speed limits. They are strictly enforced to protect you and park wildlife.

Vehicles and bicycles must be on the roadways at all times. Off-road driving or bicycle riding is prohibited.

During winter icy roads, poor visibility, and changing wildlife patterns create hazardous driving conditions throughout the park. Bison often crowd along highways and are extremely difficult to see at night. Accidents involving bison or other large wildlife have the potential to cause serious injuries to drivers and their passengers.

a small plant with three shiny leaves
Poison ivy usually grows low to the ground.

NPS Photo / Lauren Reid

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is a common native plant that can be found throughout the park and on hiking trails. Though it usually grows low to the ground in moist areas, it can take the form of a "hairy" vine on occasion.

It can be identified by it's three shiny, jagged leaves, hence the saying; "leaves of three, let it be."

When touched, oils on the plant can cause an itchy, red rash to appear on your skin up to a week after contact. Wear long pants and fully enclosed footwear when hiking. Wash affected skin or clothing with soap and water if you think you have come into contact with poison ivy.

Last updated: March 19, 2024

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Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


605 745-4600

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