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Geography of South Dakota

by Vishul Malik

Missouri River dissects the state of South Dakota into two halves and is known as East River and West.

About the Geography of South Dakota

South Dakota is located in the north-central United States and is a part of the Great Plains region. The topography of the state is characterized by low hills, canyons, and rolling plains.


Geographically, the state can be divided into four major regions:

  • The Drift Prairie:

     The area known as the Drift Prairie lies in the eastern region of South Dakota. It receives high rainfall and is characterized by low hills. Formerly known as Coteau des Prairies by the French, it is bordered by Minnesota River Valley on the east and James River Basin on the west. James River Basin is characterized by low, flat, and highly eroded land area and follows the flow of James River.

  • The Dissected Till Plains:

     Characterized by rolling hills and fertile land, the Dissected Till Plains are located in the southeastern corner of South Dakota. The region extends from Nebraska and Iowa and enters the southeastern corner of the state.

  • The Great Plains:

     South Dakota is a part of the Great Plains. This region covers more than 60% of the state. It is home to the Badlands National Park. The region comprises hills, plains, ravines, and buttes. Buttes are steep flat-topped hills.

  • Black Hills:

     Extending from Wyoming, the Black Hills region enters the southwestern part of the state. The elevation of hills in this region vary from 2,000 to 4,000 feet. It is home to the highest point in the state and the largest gold mines in the country. This region is rich in minerals such as copper, silver, and lead.


Geographical Facts About South Dakota

Area 77,121 square miles
Land Area 75,898 square miles
Water Area 1,224 square miles
Highest point Harney Peak at 7,242 feet above sea level
Lowest point Big Stone Lake at 966 feet above sea level
Highest temperature 120 degrees Fahrenheit
Highest point -58 degrees Fahrenheit
Geographic Center Located in Hughes County, 8 miles NE of Pierre


Climate of South Dakota

There are four distinct type of weather in South Dakota. It has a continental climate, varying from cold, dry winters to hot, semi-humid summers. Summers are usually hot, with the average temperature varying from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters are usually cold, with average temperature ranging from 10 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing point. Rainfall ranges from region to region, with Black Hill region receiving highest annual rainfall, at nearly 30 inches. The state faces an annual average of 30 tornadoes.


Harney Peak is the highest point in the state. Other important peaks in the state are Bear Mountain, Terry Peak, Nipple Butte, Medicine Mountain, and White Tail Peak.


Lake Thompson is one of the largest natural lake in South Dakota. Other major Lakes in the state are Lake Oahe, Lake Sharpe, Lake Francis Case, and Lewis and Clark Lake.


The longest and the largest river in the state is the Missouri River. Other significant rivers in the state are Cheyenne, Big Sioux, James, and White Rivers.

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