Dances With Wolves movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Dances With Wolves filmed?

1990

About Dances With Wolves

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 30 years since Dances With Wolves was released. This epic western, directed by and starring Kevin Costner, was one of the biggest surprise packets of cinema in the 1990s. While westerns were thought to be a dying genre, Costner’s creation received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences and grossed around $425 million worldwide.

Dances With Wolves tells the story of John Dunbar (Costner), a Union Army Lieutenant in the Civil War. After being wounded in battle and rewarded for his bravery, Dunbar requests a transfer to the American frontier so he can experience it for himself before it’s overrun by settlers.

He eventually arrives at Fort Sedgwick to find that it’s been abandoned, but he decides to maintain the fort on his own and enjoy the solitude. Soon, Dunbar comes face to face with the local Sioux tribe. While they’re initially hostile toward the white man, he soon earns their trust by alerting them to the presence of a herd of buffalo.

Over time, Dunbar comes to respect the lifestyle and culture of the Sioux, and even strikes up a relationship with tribe member Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell). But when the US Army returns to Fort Sedgwick, Dunbar is arrested as a traitor.

Sioux warriors eventually rescue him and, not wanting to bring danger to the tribe, Dunbar and Stands With a Fist head into the wilderness on their own to live out their remaining years together.

Dances With Wolves is a visually stunning film from start to finish, showcasing the American frontier in all its beauty. If you’d like to check out some of the most spectacular Dances With Wolves locations, we’ve put together this rundown of where some of the movie’s best scenes were filmed (spoiler alert!). Check them out below.

City Locations

Various locations in South Dakota

Location Types

Cabins, NatureScapes, Ranch

Location Styles

Cabin, Ranch Style

Dances With Wolves Locations

What is the filming location of Dances With Wolves? Where can you check out the same scenery that Kevin Costner experiences in the film?

Dances With Wolves was mostly filmed in South Dakota, at several important locations around the state. Much of the film was shot at the Triple U Buffalo Ranch, as it’s now known, in central South Dakota. Located near Pierre, the ranch covers some 50,000 acres and was purchased by Ted Turner in 2015.

The location where the Sioux set up their winter camp, and where Dunbar says his final goodbye to the tribe, is Spearfish Canyon in the state’s southwest. Located near Rapid City, it’s a popular spot for wildlife watching.

Other Dances With Wolves locations include the Sage Creek Wilderness Area in Badlands National Park, and a set that was specially constructed near Rapid City for the film.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can check a few of these film shoot locations out for yourself.

Fun Fact:

To entice a buffalo to charge a fallen horseman in the film, the crew had to use that particular buffalo’s favorite treat: Oreos.

Fort Hays scene in Dances With Wolves

Film Set Rapid City

Rather than face the prospect of a gruesome amputation, Dunbar chose to die on the battlefield. But when his attempted suicide saw him inspire Union troops to victory instead, Dunbar is forced to take stock of his life. “The strangeness of this life cannot be measured. In trying to produce my own death, I was elevated to the status of a living hero,” he reflects.

At busy Fort Hays, Dunbar puts in his request to be transferred to Fort Sedgwick. In a bizarre confrontation with the clearly mentally ill Major Fambrough, Dunbar explains the reasoning behind his planned move.

“Actually sir, I’m here at my own request. I want to see the frontier,” he says. “You want to see the frontier?” Fambrough responds quizzically. “Yes, sir. Before it’s gone.”

The Fort Hays we see on-screen in the movie was constructed as a Dances With Wolves film set around four miles south of Rapid City. Today, you’ll find it on the grounds of the Chuckwagon Supper & Music Variety Show, around 10 minutes from downtown Rapid City.

Buffalo hunt scene in Dances With Wolves

Triple U Buffalo Ranch

In Dunbar’s early dealings with the Sioux, one of the key points of communication is whether or not the white man has seen any buffalo. So when he spots a great herd of migrating buffalo, Dunbar races to the Sioux camp to tell them.

There’s confusion at first, as Dunbar races into camp atop his horse at breakneck speed. The Sioux warriors at first attack Dunbar, but he’s eventually able to communicate to Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) why he’s here: “The buffalo have come.”

The Sioux are jubilant, and Dunbar joins them as they head out to hunt the buffalo. What follows is a truly memorable sequence as the hunters on horseback track and hunt a massive herd of beasts.

These Dances With Wolves action scenes were filmed at the Standing Butte Ranch, which is now known as the Triple U Buffalo Ranch, near Pierre, South Dakota. The ranch is home to a herd of over 3,000 buffalo, and it reportedly took eight days of filming to capture just a few short minutes of on-screen action.

Final goodbye scene in Dances With Wolves

Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon

Against all odds, Dunbar has completely changed the way he looks at the Sioux. He’s formed lifelong friendships with Kicking Bird and others, and found love with Stands With a Fist. But Dunbar, now known as Dances With Wolves, also knows that it cannot last.

He’s a wanted man, so his presence among the Sioux will only bring unwanted attention from the army their way. He knows that if he’s going to protect the Sioux and their way of life, he needs to leave them and head off into the wilderness with Stands With a Fist.

Before he does that, however, he must say goodbye to Kicking Bird at the Sioux’s pretty winter camp. “You were the first man I ever wanted to be like. I will not forget you,” Dances With Wolves says. It’s an emotional scene, and the two men know that this means goodbye.

The winter camp scenes were filmed near Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon. Located in the Black Hills National Forest in southwestern South Dakota, this Dances With Wolves filming location is a popular spot for wildlife watching, hiking, and rock climbing.

Conclusion

Dances With Wolves may not have been particularly eagerly anticipated before its release, but Kevin Costner’s epic western packed plenty of punch. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards, the film won an impressive seven, including statues for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography.

It’s also one of those movies where the scenery is a headline star. Even if the plot doesn’t grab your attention, there’s some truly breathtaking scenery and unspoiled wilderness for you to admire, with sweeping vistas showcasing just how beautiful the US actually is.

Best of all, as this movie was shot on location, there’s nothing stopping you from hitting the road and checking out the scenery for yourself. So what are you waiting for?