Badlands National Park Travel Guide | Camping & Hiking Tips

Driving through the Badlands National Park in southwest South Dakota is an experience like no other. The beautiful valley landscape that was formed as a result of many centuries of erosion is a sight to behold. Visitors to the park get to see some of the most amazing gullies, canyons and buttes in the country.

This 244,000 acre park is estimated to receive over 1 million visitors every year. The park is also known for being the home to the one of the planet’s biggest fossil beds.

Badlands National Park Facts

It Was Once Covered By Seawater

Not many know that the park was once completely submerged under the sea. This was some 75 million years ago before solid earth and rocks began surfacing from the shallow ocean.

The water did eventually recede, but it left some marks that can be seen to date. The seawater left massive amounts of clay, sand and silt, each stripe in the rocks represent a different type of residue.

Also, numerous fossils of marine creatures were left behind after the land emerged from the sea.

Apart from the sea having a significant impact on the landscape, nearby rivers have also influenced the terrain in the park by contributing to the formation of numerous cliffs and peaks that people flock to for good fortune.

There Is More To See Than Just Rocks

Although the park is known for its amazing rock structures, this is not the only thing that the park has to offer. The park is famous for its extensive grasslands and prairies.

You can run through endless fields of grass and enjoy basking in the sun with worrying about anything in the world.

The park is also home to a healthy ecosystem of plant life that is comprised of more than 400 unique species.

So Many Ferrets To Watch

The park is a home to a special animal known as the black-footed ferret. This is a very rare animal species that has been under threat of extinction in past years. Luckily, the Badlands National Park provides a safe haven for them to both survive and thrive.

Conservationists have set up a special breeding program in the park to ensure that the ferret population gradually increases over time. However, these animals are still considered endangered so more efforts are needed to keep them alive and well.

Ferrets mainly feed on prairie dogs. There are not many prairie dogs to feed on in the park, but the ferrets still find a way to survive. The Badlands National Park has been the undisputed home of the black-footed ferrets since 1994.

Where Is Badlands National Park?

South Dakota is home to the Badlands National Park.

The closest airport to the park is in Rapid City. The park is situated approximately 70 miles from Rapid City. You can also access the park from I-90 at S. Dak.

Alternatively, if you are coming from Kadoka, you can travel west for about 25 miles to get to the park.

Badlands National Park Weather

Weather in this part of South Dakota can be unpredictable. There is often heavy rain, hail and strong winds especially during summer and spring. Lightning is also a common occurrence.

Temperatures in the park are usually high in summer, so it’s advisable to have plenty of drinking water, a broad-brimmed hat and sunscreen in order to avoid suffering from heat strokes, dehydration and sunburns.

During winter, travelers to the park should brace themselves for heavy storms that may feature blizzards, heavy snow, ice and sleet.

Best Time To Visit Badlands National Park

The best time of the year to make your way to the park is anytime from May to September. This is an ideal period because the park experiences limited rainfall and the temperatures are favorable as well.

The average lowest temperature in the park is -1° in January while the highest average temperature in the park is 32°C in July. Badlands National Park is therefore the perfect destination for a summer vacation.

Things To Do In Badlands National Park

There are so many things you can do in Badlands National Park. If you are planning to visit the park, then be prepared to have the time of your life as you explore new sights and scenery, and engage in fun and captivating activities. Some of the things you can do in the park include:

Enjoy Wildlife

Badlands National Park is home to some amazing and intriguing wildlife. The most famous include rare prairie dogs and bison. These world-famous animal species can be found along the Safe Creek Rim Road and in the Sage Creek Campground within the park.

The park also boasts of much more wildlife species such as coyotes, pronghorn, black-footed ferrets, and rocky mountain bighorn sheep.

Mountain lions and bobcats can also be spotted within the park. They may be a little difficult to find as they tend to hide away during the day, but they are there nonetheless. The park is also home to rattlesnakes and many other amazing animals.

Drive Along The Loop Road

You can also enjoy the park while riding on four wheels. The beautiful scenery along the Badlands Loop road will give you amazing views of nature and the magnificent landscape. All you need is to hop into your car and drive off into the horizon.

Stargaze Like Never Before

You can get magnificent views of the stars at night from the Badlands National Park. The fact that there is very minimal air and light pollution in this part of the country means that you can enjoy stargazing like never before. So, grab a chair and enjoy the view.

Watch Beautiful Sunsets

If you love watching beautiful sunsets as you sit back and relax, Badlands National Park is the place to be. Imagine sitting by the fire at the campsite after a scrumptious meal and a long day of exploring the beautiful terrain.

A beautiful sunset can culminate your day in the most relaxing and soothing way. If you are looking for the perfect place to relax and unwind, then this park should be your next vacation spot.

You can get amazing sunset views in numerous locations within the park such as the Hay Butte Overlook, White River Valley Overlook and the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.

Cycle Through Amazing Routes and Terrain

Anyone who enjoys cycling will love the Badlands National park. There are so many amazing cycling routes to explore within the park. You can expect challenging descents and ascents that will give you a cycling experience like no other.

Add A Stamp To Your National Parks Passport

If you have a National Parks Passport, visiting the Badlands National Park can help you add a new stamp to your passport. You can get your official Badlands National Park stamp at the Ben Reifel Visitors Center.

If you do not have a passport, you can get one online for as low as $10. A National Parks passport is a fun and innovative way of keeping track of your adventures.

Best Hikes In Badlands National Park

There are several high-quality hiking trails at the Badlands and it can be quite adventurous for those who want to enjoy the perks of this natural area. The trails are accessible and close to each other starting near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Castle Trail

This is spread across 5 miles and offers a beautiful array of sights including the badlands and prairies.

Being able to walk along this trail sheds light on different formations and historical features that have remained a part of the area for generations. Being able to walk through the area provides insight into what makes this park unique and it also allows visitors an opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views especially early in the morning.

Continue to follow the signs and uncover a multitude of spots that are spectacular to look at and will demonstrate the beauty of what makes this park amazing.

The trail itself isn’t used as you start to venture around and can be dangerous during the rain. It’s important to keep an eye out when walking with precipitation around. It can be accessed near the Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Door Trail

This is a trail that is claimed to be a part of the tough area when it comes to the Badlands. This means the view is great and then it becomes rugged. Some posts are set up illustrating when the rugged area starts and it’s important to follow them while walking on the trail.

As long as you are careful, it can be a delightful trail to walk on as you soak in the sights and make the most of what is around you. It can be accessed 2 miles away from the Ben Reif Visitor Center.

Fossil Exhibit Trail

This is a gorgeous, easy-going loop that provides access to beautiful history that’s spread from one end to the other. It offers a look into what wildlife used to look in this area millions of years ago. The trail can be accessed 5 miles northwest of Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

This beautiful trail is known for offering access points to different water supports in the park. This allows the trail to uncover gorgeous greenery and new formations that are incredibly stunning from one end to the other.

It’s recommended to look at the steeper sections and go through the area with a vigilant eye. It can be accessed near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Notch Trail

Situated between the buttes, it’s a unique trail that requires you to climb up a 45-degree ladder to reach the trail.

The view you are going to see on the other end is spectacular and one of the reasons people prefer this gorgeous location for all that it has to offer. It can be accessed near the parking area of Door Trail.

Window Trail

With a spectacular 100-yard trail, this is a renowned part of the park that has a window-like setup that allows you to look through the opening of the Badlands Wall. It can be accessed in the Door Trail parking area.

Saddle Pass Trail

The 200 feet rise is a unique one and it is situated at the Badlands Wall. It takes you to the Medicine root and Castle trails.

When the sun is out, this is one of the finest trails in the park and is a joy to experience. It can be accessed near the Badlands Loop Rd and Medicine Root Trail.

Badlands National Park Camping

The Badlands National Park and its surrounding areas offer tons of options for campers from two campgrounds located inside the park operated by the National Park Service to remote back country camping and nearby campsites just a short drive from the park.

Cedar Pass Campground

Cedar Pass is one of the two campgrounds in the Badlands operated by the National Park Service. The other is Sage Creek Campground.

The large and well-equipped Cedar Pass Campground has more amenities available than Sage Creek Campground and provides easy access to the many features of the park.

The buttes and spires of the Badlands are clearly visible from all 96 campsites inside the Cedar Pass Campground that can accommodate RVs and tents. Four larger sites can accommodate groups of up to 26 people each.

Cedar Pass Campground forms part of the larger Cedar Pass Lodge complex close to the Ben Reifel Visitor Centre and the Loop State Scenic Highway on the eastern edge of the Badlands park.

Amenities include pay showers, potable water, flushing toilets, and shaded picnic tables. The Cedar Pass Lodge & Restaurant is within walking distance of the campground providing hot meals, extra camping supplies, and handmade memorabilia.

Cedar Pass opens seasonally, however, the 4 group sites are available during off-season in the winter. At any time of the year the sunset view over the adjacent Badlands formations is breathtakingly beautiful.

Many other attractions are available within a short distance of the campground. Just a short 10-minute drive from the campground iconic trails can be found like the Window Trail, the Notch Trail, and the Castle Trail.

Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek is situated on the west side of the park in the North Unit. This more primitive campground is free to use and can provide campers with the most authentic Badlands experience. Without any convenient amenities nearby it is easier to experience a true sense of the rugged terrain that defines the Badlands.

With its vibrant beauty and the communal aspect of primitive camping, Sage Creek is not only considered the best camping ground in the Badlands, but also the best in the whole of South Dakota.

Overnight visitors must come equipped with their own potable water, essential camping equipment, and food. The only amenities available are a few picnic tables, vault toilets, and plenty of ground to pitch a tent.

Sage Creek Campground is best suited for small camper units and tents. It has plenty of opportunities for exploring, hiking, and appreciation of the wide-open spaces of the Badlands.

The campground is situated off Sage Creek Road which is a dirt road that prohibits large camper vehicles and motor homes from accessing the site. After a spell of wet weather the Park Service will usually close the road off temporarily.

Badlands/White River KOA

This is the perfect place from which to explore the rugged environment of the Badlands. Plenty of amenities, shaded camping spots, and activities are available like mini-golf, nature walks, and a pool to take a dip in the hot summer months makes it a favorite option among campers.

All campers are welcomed to the more than 100 camping sites available that range from full-service RV hook-ups to non-electric tent sites. Overnight visitors have access to laundry facilities, a restroom, and a convenience store that provides camping goods.

The Badlands/White River KOA is located less than 5 miles from the Interior Entrance of the park and a short drive away from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.

Badlands Interior Motel and Campground

The Badlands Interior Motel and Campground is located about a mile outside the Interior Entrance on the southern side of the Badlands National Park.

The 22-unit motel offers convenient accommodation just outside the entrance of the park and the campground features camping cabins, RV pull-through parking sites, and tent sites, as well as established tepees.

Guests have access to full-service restroom facilities, the swimming pool, a store, and restaurant. While there are great views from the motel, the tent sites on the edge of the campground offer visitors a more expansive view of the distant jagged horizon.

A small town near the Badlands Interior Motel offers a couple of restaurants, basic amenities, and camping supplies.

Lake Park Campground And Cottages

Located in Rapid City, this family-friendly campground is an hour’s drive west of the Pinnacles Entrance to the park. Depending on the direction traveled, visitors can either make it the beginning or a perfect end to their Badlands adventure.

Lake Park features RV pull-through parking spots, tent camping sites, and cozy cottages from studios to 3-bedroom units.

Much of the campground space is occupied by the adjacent Rapid Creek and Canyon Lake that offer spectacular scenic views and excellent trout fishing.

Overnight visitors to the campground have access to hot showers, flushing toilets, and 24-hour laundry facilities. Complimentary bike rentals are also available and the friendly staff are always on hand to direct visitors to some adventure or another.

Sleepy Holllow Campground and RV Park

Sleepy Hollow is situated next to the world-famous Wall Drug within the city of Wall and in easy reach of the top attractions the area has to offer.

It offers comfortable overnight options, a dedicated tent area, and about 60 RV pull-through sites. Overnight visitors have access to laundry facilities, showers, and can enjoy the quiet surroundings of the environment.

Sleepy Hollow has been in operation since 1931 and millions of tourists are drawn each year to Wall Drug, the souvenir destination and a traditional roadside stop for travelers in the area.

Other nearby attractions include the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and the Wounded Knee Museum.

Less than a ten mile drive from Sleepy Hollow takes visitors to the Pinnacles Entrance of the Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park Hotels

Most overnight accommodation in the area is available in the nearby town of Wall located just north of the Badlands National Park’s Pinnacles Entrance.

Other hotel options in the area include a few to be found in Kadoka and Interior that fall in the mid-price range offering a comfortable stay at a great price.

Hotels in Wall

All hotels and inns situated in the town are located within a few blocks of each other which results in competitive prices being offered. For example, the Best Western Plains Motel situated on Glen Street offers clean, comfortable rooms, free breakfast, and access to their indoor and outdoor pools at an affordable price.

The Days Inn near Wyndham Wall is a popular choice that provides spacious rooms at affordable rates and easy access to neighborhood restaurants.

America’s Best Value Inn, situated a little farther south, offers a comfortable cafeteria, free parking, and a large pool to cool off after a long day.

Hotel Options Outside Wall

The Budget Host Sundowner Hotel is situated outside Wall in Kadoka. Located about 20 miles to the east of the northeast entrance of the Badlands National Park, it provides spacious rooms with air conditioning, comfortable beds, and free high-speed internet access.

The Badlands Interior Motel & Campground located in the town of Interior offers 22 spacious rooms in addition to its camping sites in wide-open surroundings, a swimming pool, and a convenience store.


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