Unearth a time when mammoths roamed the High Plains of North America. With a quick 50-minute drive from Rapid City you can discover the fascinating finds of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs. This active paleontology dig site is has been recognized as the world’s largest mammoth research facility and one of the top fossil interpretive sites in North America. Visiting this Ice Age sinkhole turned mammoth graveyard is a must-do while visiting the area. 

History Of The Site

inside the active dig pit at the mammoth site of hot springs
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

The discovery of the Mammoth Site took place in 1974. The location was being leveled to create a new housing development when the equipment operator noticed something white shining in the sunlight. What he unearthed was part of a seven-foot-long tusk. Ten days of digging with a professional dig crew exposed bones, teeth, tusks, and skull fragments. This short excavation uncovered so much that the landowner offered to pause the housing development until they had a better idea of what all this location was. After two back-to-back summers full of fossil discoveries, the landowner came to the realization that this location was a valuable resource. Through his efforts and the help of the community, the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs was created. You can read more of the history here

How did all these creatures end up here? It was a sinkhole. Experts state the animals would have been drawn to the vegetation found on the edge of the water and from there the slippery sediment would pull them further and further in. 

What’s Been Discovered

Viewing areas of the dig site at the Mammoth site in hot springs south dakota
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is considered the largest concentration of mammoth skeletons in the world, and they are still discovering things. 

Two species of the elephants hairy relative have been uncovered at the Mammoth Site, the first being the Woolly. The Woolly mammoth, named after the appearance of its fur, stood around 10 to 12 feet tall and could weigh anywhere from 6 to 8 tons. It is the best-known of all the mammoth species. To date, three have been discovered in the Mammoth Site. 

The other species discovered has been the Columbian mammoth. The Columbian mammoth was one of the largest of its time, standing up to 14 feet tall and could weigh up to 11 tons. To date, 58 Columbian mammoths have been found at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs.

They have also found 87 other Late Ice Age animal fossils in the sinkhole. They include the giant short-faced bear, prairie dogs, llamas, camels, and more. 

Things To Do At The Mammoth Site

look inside the museum at the mammoth site of hot springs south dakota
Mammoth Site of Hot Springs

There’s a lot to dig into at the Mammoth Site, literally. Start off with touring the indoor dig site and watch staff actively working in the sinkhole uncovering fossils. Don’t miss the opportunity to take the self-guided audio tour which goes into fascinating details on this dig site. After, be sure to hit up the museum!

Entrance to Andrea's Kids Cave at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs
Andrea's Kids Cave at the Mammoth Site

Kids that visit the Mammoth Site love spending time in Andrea’s Kids Cave which is a sensory learning area offering places where they can uncover fossils on their own along with other activities. The museum also offers other hands-on learning opportunities like the Augmented-reality Topographic Sandbox, which is a fun way to learn and understand mapping and geography. 

It’s been about 4,000 years since the last mammoth roamed the earth, but the discoveries found at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs brings history to life for everyone who visits. Interested in touring more museums during your vacation? Check out the related content section below!