7 Best Zoos & Aquariums in South Dakota

Updated On October 7, 2023

In addition to the many landmarks you’ll find in South Dakota, it also has some of the best zoos and aquariums anywhere.

These attractions can help enhance your visit, and give you a break from the many outdoor activities you will likely encounter.

Though many travelers overlook the beauty of South Dakota, there is a lot to see and do there.

If you enjoy getting up close with animals, be sure to visit the state’s best aquariums, zoos, and similar attractions.

7 Best Zoos & Aquariums in South Dakota 

1. Butterfly House & Aquarium

To get right to the heart of the Butterfly House & Aquarium, start your adventure by stepping into the home of more than 800 butterflies who are free to fly around the 3,600-square-foot insectarium.

All of the butterflies you will see started life in various butterfly farms before being brought to the facility.

The climate-controlled 80-degree insectarium lets you surround yourself with butterflies in their natural habitat.

And if you rent the proper equipment, you can even feed the butterflies during your visit. 

When you’re ready to learn about aquatic life, you’ll want to make your way to the aquarium.

With more than 10,000 gallons of water, the tanks hold corals and fish.

Learn about the hundreds of species that call the aquarium their home.

Some of the most commonly seen animals here are tangs and seahorses.

You’ll also be able to view beautiful coral reefs.

To see even more aquatic animals, look for the Under the Dock display.

This is where you will see the Princess Parrotfish, Yellow Stingrays, and Horseshoe Hawkfish.

Last but not least, make sure you check out the Pacific Tide Pool.

It holds animals that live in the waters of Alaska, southern California, and many places in between.

The most educational and kid-friendly part of the aquarium is its Discovery Den.

The Den is divided into three attractions, which are the South Dakota Seas Display, the viewing area for the Moon Jellyfish Life Cycle, and the Butterfly Life Cycle, which is an interactive experience. 

2. Great Plains Zoo 

The Great Plains Zoo is the place to be to see animals found in North America and the African Savannah.

Residents of the zoo include primates, flamingos, Asian cats, and many endangered animals.

They include the Amur Tiger, the Snow Leopard, Grevy’s Zebra, the Siamang Gibbon, African wild dogs, giant anteaters, the Humboldt Penguin, and the Red Panda.

But for visitors of all ages, the best part of the zoo may be the Hy-Vee Face-to-Face Farm.

This is where you can interact with animals like goats, alpacas, and sheep, and even feed the goats. 

If you can get to the zoo first thing in the morning, be sure to participate in one of the birding walks.

During your walk, you’ll be armed with a pair of binoculars so you can spot as many different birds as possible.

And to top off the day right, book the After Dark Adventure.

Held in the hours after the zoo closes, you’ll get an after-hours tour and enjoy animal-related activities. 

3. Reptile Gardens 

Not your typical animal sanctuary, Reptile Gardens features many exhibits that visitors of all ages will enjoy.

This includes Spring Creek Gulch, Prairie Dog Town, SkyDome, and Methuselah’s Playground.

Another huge attraction is the Botanical Gardens, where you can see sights like Dutchman’s Pipe, Torch Ginger, and Passion Flower.

Highlights of the Botanical Gardens include the Safari Room, Tortuga Falls, Walking Gardens, and The Living Wall. 

4. Bear Country, U.S.A

Despite its name, Bear Country U.S.A. houses other animals too, including goats, elk, and cougars.

This drive-through animal habitat spans more than 200 acres, and visitors are permitted to drive through three miles worth of animal enclosures.

From the safety of your car, you can see the black bears crossing the street in front of you, climbing trees, and even playing in their pool. 

The wildlife walkway area is where visitors can check out the Discovery Den, dine on the patio which gives a great view of numerous waterfalls and even ride a Babyland golf cart, driven by a Bear County U.S.A. guide. 

5. Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery

Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery can be fun to visit any time of the year.

While most of its attractions are outdoors, the hatchery also has an aquarium that is popular with visitors.

The aquarium houses local fish species, along with collections of reptiles and amphibians.

Local fossils are also on display.

More than just a place to go fishing, visitors can also participate in hiking, horseback riding, boating, backpacking, camping, and more.

The most popular hiking trail takes you past Lake Yankton.

Along the way, you may see wildlife if you make the hike at the beginning or end of the day. 

6. Old MacDonalds Farm

Between May and October is the only time you can visit Old Macdonalds Farm.

Home to more than 100 animals, it’s worth planning a vacation to South Dakota to see it.

Kids can take a ride on a pony and even bottle feed a goat.

These are just two of the activities offered during the farm’s Fall Festival days.

The festival also includes pig races, wagon rides, a corn bin, and train rides for children. 

7. Bramble Park Zoo 

You’ll find that the Bramble Park Zoo houses 130 species, and 600 animals have made it their homes.

The zoo’s residents include fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians in the form of Leopard frogs and Tiger salamanders.

You can choose to sponsor any of these animals for a period of one or two years. 

There are also staff-led classes open to school-aged children.

During these classes, kids can interact with some of the animals and learn more about them in their natural environments.

Most classes also include a nature hike.

7 Best Zoos & Aquariums in South Dakota – Summary Table

Zoos & AquariumsAddress
Butterfly House & Aquarium4320 S Oxbow Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57106, USA
Great Plains Zoo 805 S Kiwanis Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104, USA
Reptile Gardens 8955 US-16, Rapid City, SD 57702, United States
Bear County, U.S.A13820 US-16, Rapid City, SD 57702, United States
Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery101-149 Hatchery Loop, Yankton, SD 57078, United States
Old MacDonalds Farm23691 Busted Five Ct, Rapid City, SD 57702, United States
Bramble Park Zoo 800 10th St NW, Watertown, SD 57201, USA

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can outside food be brought into Great Plains Zoo?

Yes, many small families bring a picnic lunch with them to the zoo.

Are outdoor attractions at Reptile Gardens open year-round?

The habitats for the prairie dogs and bald eagles are outside and are open all year long.

Can guests go hunting at Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery?

Yes, hunting is allowed within the confines of the hatchery’s property.

How long has Bramble Park Zoo been open?

Bramble Park Zoo has been opened more than 100 years ago.

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