There are so many things to do in Badlands National Park! The jaw-dropping beauty of Badlands National Park draws tourists from all over the world.
Things to do in Badlands National Park
Not only do visitors come to see the park, they also come to see all the surrounding attractions.
It's part of the legendary Black Hills area that is filled with parks to discover including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial.
Throw in iconic towns like Wall, Deadwood, and Sturgis, South Dakota and you quickly realize there is more to do here than time allows.
This is why you need to come prepared and have an idea of what you plan on seeing before you come.
Badlands National Park is open all day, year-round.
Badlands National Park Entrance fee
Private Vehicle: $30
Per Person: $15
There is an entrance fee to enter Badlands National Park. Fees are listed below or you can choose to purchase your pass in advance through the link below.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per-vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation, and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
Tour the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is a great starting point for your Badlands trip.
The visitor center has a staffed information desk, maps, exhibits, theater, restrooms, a water bottle filling station, and a park bookstore.
It will answer questions about the fossils, why scientists have been coming here since the mid-1800s, what these scientists have found, and why there are no dinosaur fossils.
The Ben Reifel visitor center is open seven days a week
8:00 am - 5:00 pm (April 16 - September 30)
9:00 am - 4:00 pm (October 1 - April 15)
The visitor Center is closed for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
White River Visitor Center
The White River Visitor Center is the Park's visitor center for those who explore the South Unit of Badlands National Park.
They offer a staffed information desk, exhibits, restrooms, picnic tables, and water. Make sure to take time to chat with rangers about the significance of the Badlands and treaties in Lakota heritage.
This visitor center is closed seasonally between October through Memorial Day.
9:00a-5:00p Seven days a week
The visitor center is open on the holidays listed below:
Juneteenth (June 19)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (First Monday in September)
Visit the Fossil Preparation Lab
The Fossil Preparation Lab started in 2012 when paleontologists placed a table in the visitor center to work on a fossil that was located near the visitor center and park visitors were interested to see what was happening.
Needless to say, they drew huge crowds. This led to today's Paleontology Lab which is located in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
Now visitors can watch and interact with park Paleontologists and interns who perform amazing work of fossil preparation.
The Fossil Preparation Lab is open seasonally typically between the second week of June through the third week in September.
Open 9:00 am-4:30 pm seven days a week
Go for a Hike on one of Badlands National Park Trails
There are only eight developed hiking trails in Badlands National Park but the park has an open hike policy. This means that you are allowed to hike off-trail.
You are free to explore social trails like Deer Haven, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, or any part of the park that you can safely visit and within your abilities.
Anyone who decides to hike off trails should always carry the 10 Essentials for Outdoor Survival, have plenty of water, and realize that it is extremely easy to get lost in the Badlands.
All of the developed trails in Badlands National Park start from parking lots along the Badlands Loop Road making it really easy to find them and find parking.
Check out our Badlands Hiking Guide to learn more about the trails within the park.
Distance: 1.5 Miles Roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete
Starting Point: North end of the Door and Window parking lot
This is hands down the most popular hike in Badlands National Park! It starts off hiking in a canyon before you hike up a log ladder, along a cliff edge to a jaw-dropping view from the White River Valley overlook.
Fossil Exhibit Trail
Distance: .25 miles round trip
Starting Point: 5 miles northwest of Ben Reifel Visitor Center on the Badlands Loop Road
ADA Accessible: Fully accessible boardwalk
This is one of the best short hikes in the park and I highly recommend this trail. This trail takes you a short distance through fossil replicas and exhibits explaining the history and animals that once lived here.
Distance: 10 Mile roundtrip hike
Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes is the average time to hike this trail
Starting Point: Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Door/Window parking area
The Castle Rock Trail is a 10-mile loop and passes along several of the Badlands formations with stunning scenery.
The trail itself starts at the Window/Door Trailhead and goes out 5 miles to the Fossil Exhibit Trail.
You can make this a one-way five-mile hike if you have the ability to leave a second vehicle at one of the trailheads and park at the other or have someone pick you up.
Distance: .75 miles roundtrip
Time: 30 minutes
ADA Accessible: .25 mile boardwalk leads through a break in the Badlands Wall known as “the Door” to a panoramic view of the Badlands. After this point the trail is not ADA Accessible
Starting Point: Northern end of large Door and Window parking area
This is a fun hike where a boardwalk leads through a break in the Badlands Wall known as "the Door" and straight to a view of the Badlands! Once off the boardwalk, you will feel up close and personal to these amazing rock formations!
Distance: .25 Miles roundtrip
Time: 15-30 minutes
ADA Accessible: The Window Trail is ADA Accessible
Starting Point: Center of Door and Window Parking Lot
This is another easy hike that takes you to a natural "window", a great place to take in the view of the Badlands Wall and its eroded canyon.
Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Distance: .5 miles round-trip
Time: 15-30 minutes
Starting Point: ½ mile north of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a loop trail that follows boardwalks and climbs stairs through a juniper forest perched along the Badlands Wall. A seasonal pond can show up after rain and makes a great place to see wildlife.
Take a Badlands National Park Scenic Drive
One of the best ways to see the badlands is by your own vehicle. There are a couple of scenic drives that lead to numerous highlights, viewpoints, and trailheads.
Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240)
The easiest way to explore Badlands National Park is by driving the 27-mile-long Badlands Loop Road (Hwy240). This is simply done by taking either Exit 131 or Exit 110 off Interstate 90 into the park and then exiting from the other exit (131 or 110) as you leave the park.
This scenic road will take you through some of the most colorful rock formations you can imagine with lush green grasslands in between.
You will see one absolutely stunning view after another! Make sure to take in several of the pullouts and just soak in the views! It's as if your soul is being cleansed by nature as you feel the breeze on your skin with the warmth of the sun as you look out at something that seems more like a painting than real life.
Here is a list of the overlooks, trailheads, and viewpoints along the Badlands Loop Road starting off exiting I-90 at exit 110.
Wall Exit #110 Off I-90
Pinnacles Entrance (Park entrance station, pay fee here)
Pinnacles Overlook - Sweeping views of the Badlands and epic sunset location!
Ancient Hunters Overlook - You will notice an area where trees grow. This area is frequented by wildlife and has a long history of hunters using this area
Yellow Mounds Overlook - Yellow Mounds Overlook is a great place to get a look at older Badlands geology with brightly colored rock layers
Conata Basin Overlook - Great location for views of the Badlands
Homestead Overlook - Read interpretative panels to learn about homesteading in the Badlands at this overlook
Burns Basin Overlook - Names after the homestead of Wilson Burns
Prairie Wind Overlook - Views of mixed-grass prairies in the Badlands
Panorama Point - provides wide open views of the Badlands Landscape
Bigfoot Pass - The area that marks the route of Chief Spotted Elk on his way to Wounded Knee.
White River Valley Overlook - Views of the upper portion of the White River Group rock sequence.
Trailhead - Fossil ExhibitTrail and the Castle Trail trailhead
Norbeck Pass - A transition zone between upper and lower prairie environments, separated by the famed Badlands Wall. It is also a great location to see the sunset
Ben Reifel Visitor Center Area - This area has a visitor center, and a fossil preparation lab, near the Cedar Pass Lodge and Restaurant. Also just north is the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail.
The Door and Window Parking Area - This parking lot serves parking for the Door, Window, Nothc, and Castle Trails! Needless to say, it gets busy here but has access to some of the best hikes in the park. This is also a great location to see the sunrise.
Big Badlands Overlook - The Big Badlands overlook is right by the park's northeast entrance and has incredible views of the Badlands landscape. This is also one of the best places in the park to witness/photograph sunrise!
Northeast Entrance (Park entrance station, pay fee here)
Cactus Flats Exit #131 Off I-90
Sage Creek Rim Road
You can leave the pavement behind and take the 25-mile-long Sage Creek Rim Road and see even more of the Badlands. There are not a lot of viewpoints along the way except two scenic overlooks; Hay Butte Overlook and the Sage Creek Basin Overlook.
What you will find here is lots of wildlife viewing opportunities!
You can possibly see lots of bison. deer and, pronghorn antelope.
Here is a list of overlooks, viewpoints, and campgrounds along the Sage Creek Rim Road
Hay Butte Overlook - Hay Butte Overlook has incredible views of the Badlands including the massive, grass-capped butte of Badlands formation known as Hay Butte
Badlands Wilderness Overlook - This is a transition zone between the badlands as it turns into prairies.
Roberts Prairie Dog Town - If you get a chance, take the drive out to Roberts Prairie Dog Town. You will never be disappointed watching prairie dogs in their prairie dog towns barking at each other warning of threats.
Sage Creek Basin Overlook - Views of a pristine mixed grass prairie.
Sage Creek Campground - A great way to spend a night at a free campground away from the large crowds that you often see in a national park. It is also common to see bison and prairie dogs in the campground!
Traveling Sage Creek Rim Road is slower than the Badlands Loop Road considering this is a gravel/dirt road and depending on its condition can dictate how long it will take to explore this area.
Badlands at Sunrise
Watching the sunrise over the badlands is just breathtaking! The key is to find the right time and right location.
I highly suggest scouting out a location that you would like to shoot at the day before.
This way you know what the terrain looks like, where to park your vehicle, and figure out how long is it going to take you to travel there and get set up.
I personally like to get set up approximately a half hour before sunrise to ensure I get my spot and set up.
Sunrise is really good all along the East side of the park just north of the Visitor Center with some of the best places for viewing locations including Big Badlands Overlook, the Door Trail, Norbeck Pass Area, Dillon Pass Area, and Panorama Point.
Park Ranger John Pro Tip
There are two types of light I love when photographing the Badlands; the Magic Hour, also known as the Golden Hour, and the Blue Light.
The Golden Hour is an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise. This is a great time for photography as you don't deal with the harsh direct sunlight and are oftentimes gifted with shadows that can give your composition depth.
Blue Light is the half hour after sunset and half hour before sunrise when the sun is just a few degrees below the horizon. This indirect light creates blue hues and can have shades of Red, Orange, and pink!
Badlands at Sunset
Watching Sunsets at Badlands is just as beautiful as sunrises! Unlike watching the sunrise, Sunsets are best seen along the Badlands Loop Road with westerly-facing views.
Some of the best places to see sunset include Pinnacles Overlook, Conata Basin Overlook, Bigfoot Pass Picnic Area, and Norbeck Pass Area.
If you are staying overnight at Cedar Pass Campground, Cedar Pass Lodge, or the Badlands Inn it would be a good idea to see the sunset at the Norbuck Pass Area as it is the closest to get back to your room/campsite.
Also, the Badlands Loop Road has lots of wildlife all around!
Wildlife in Badlands National Park
Get your cameras ready because there seems to be an endless supply of animals in Badlands National Park!
Everyone talks about Yellowstone for wildlife sightings but I would consider the Badlands a close second. Most common sightings include bighorn sheep, bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, and of course prairie dogs!
Bison tend to hang out more on the west side of the park, especially along the Sage Creek Rim Road area.
I have seen Bighorn Sheep all along the Badlands Loop Road, especially where they can climb.
Deer and antelope tend to hang out in the grassy areas.
The best time to see wildlife is in the early morning or late afternoon and found the early morning light to be fantastic and was a perfect time to get out after watching the sunrise.
The best part about going out in the morning is beating the 90+ degree temperatures in the summer!
Explore the Badlands Night Sky
Park Rangers and volunteers host an evening Night Sky Viewing every night throughout the summer at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater.
Visitors can be exposed to over 7.500 stars, the Milky Way Galaxy, star clusters, nebulae, planets, moons, and more! Telescopes are also provided.
When: In the evenings, Memorial Day-Labor Day
Location: Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater
Check at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center/ park kiosks for event time
Become a Badlands National Park Junior Ranger
Stop in and get your junior Ranger Activity Book. This is a great opportunity to learn more about your park all while doing fun activities in the park.
Make sure to turn in your completed activity book, take the pledge to become a Badlands Junior Ranger, and get your very own badge!
For a fun adventure, check out Escape Campervans. These campervans have built-in beds, kitchen area with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss!
Interested in a Guided Tour?
There are a couple of really cool guided tours available in Badlands Natl Park.
Badlands NP Private Tour - Enjoy a private tour of the park and stop at famous features including a stop at Wall, South Dakota. Learn about the history of the area and spend the day discovering the rare geology of the Badlands.
Badlands Tour with Minuteman Missile NHS - Travel to Badlands National Park and explore this spectacular terrain on a full-day guided tour. Catch a glimpse of America's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War and learn about its history with your expert guide.
Badlands Bike Tour with Lunch - Join a bike tour of Badlands National Park. Cycle around the park and learn its history from your experienced guide. Admire the spectacular scenery and wildlife as you pedal.
Additional Lodging near the park
Best Western Plains Motel - Free continental breakfast, an arcade/game room, and a gym are just a few of the amenities provided at Best Western Plains Motel. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. In addition to a business center, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Econo Lodge Wall - free to-go breakfast and more. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Super 8 by Wyndham Wall - free to-go breakfast and a business center. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
America's Best Value Inn Wall - free continental breakfast, a free daily manager's reception, and laundry facilities. Stay connected with free in-room Wi-Fi, and guests can find other amenities such as a bar and a gym.
Days Inn by Wyndham Wall - free to-go breakfast, laundry facilities, and a gym at Days Inn by Wyndham Wall. Free in-room Wi-Fi and conference space are available to all guests.
Click on the map below to see additional vacation rental and lodging options near the park.
Additional Information about Badlands National Park
Complete Guide to Badlands National Park - Your guide to exploring Badlands National Park
Things to do near Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park, along with several of the parks listed in this article makes for a great National Park road trip! The parks listed below are an easy drive from Badlands National Park.
Most visitors to Badlands National Park take the scenic Badlands Loop Road. Make sure to stop at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site when entering/exiting Interstate 90 from exit 131. The visitor center has several displays talking about the Cold War era.
You may ask why would this story be told here. Did you know there were hundreds of Minuteman Missiles located throughout North & South Dakota?
Some were practically right of places like Interstate 90 like the Delta-01 location! Visit my post on the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site for more information.
24545 Cottonwood Rd.
Phillip, SD. 57567
You may be asking why visit Wall Drug. My answer is simple, it's the tourist thing to do. After all, you have most likely seen 100+ signs by the time you get here.
Their claim to fame is offering free ice water to visitors and 5-cent coffee. you may already be thinking these signs are some sort of native South Dakota tree by the time you arrive.
I did not find anything I couldn't live without but I did enjoy the ice cream as it was 96 degrees outside, besides, I had to get to the Badlands so I could go explore!
Hopefully, this has you inspired to check out Badlands National Park!
Wind Cave NP is located in southwestern South Dakota approximately 50 miles south of Rapid City. The park offers the opportunity to take guided cave tours, camp, and observe wildlife.
Wind Cave is the world's sixth-longest cave system. Brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a whistling noise and traced it to the cave's only natural opening in 1881. The strong wind blew Tom's hat off giving the cave its name.
Wind Cave became the eighth National Park in the United States in 1903. It was the first park in the world created to protect a cave. The park's recreation areas occur above ground as well as within the cave.
The park also protects an important tract of mixed-grass prairie. Visitors can watch bison and prairie dogs within the park.
26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs SD. 57747
Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is consistently listed as one of America's top 10 State Parks.
One trip here and you will easily see why as it is incredibly beautiful with plenty of camping and lodging options.
Custer State Park is a destination in itself and is also centrally located to many of America's National Park Sites like Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands.
Custer State Park
13329 US Highway 16A
Custer, SD. 57730
For Reservations call: (800)710-2267
Mount Rushmore NM is located in southwestern South Dakota approximately 24 miles southwest of Rapid City. The park is open year-round and offers the opportunity to view an icon of America.
Mount Rushmore is one of the best-known sites within the US National Park System. The idea of Mount Rushmore was born in 1924 when South Dakota historian Doane Robinson contacted sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
He had the idea of creating a carving on a mountaintop in the area. Work on the sculpture began in 1927 and continued until 1941. Four presidents are portrayed on Mount Rushmore - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
The president's heads are 60 feet high carved in South Dakota granite. If possible plan to visit when you can see the monument during the day but also witness the flag ceremony at the end of the day.
13000 Highway 244
Building 31, Suite 1
Keystone, SD. 57751
Jewel Cave NM is located in southwestern South Dakota approximately 50 miles southwest of Rapid City. The park is open year-round but may have limited hours during the winter. The park offers the opportunity to explore the world's third-longest cave.
Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 and was thought to be a small cave. Over time explorers have mapped more than 175 miles of passages earning the cave the title of the 3rd longest cave in the world. The longest cave is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.
All tours through Jewel Cave are on ranger-guided tours. There are two hiking trails within the park and in the adjacent Black Hill National Forest.
11149 US Highway 16
Custer, SD. 57730
Additional Badlands National Park Articles
Complete Guide to Badlands National Park - Your guide to exploring Badlands National Park
Badlands Camping Guide - Complete camping guide to camping in Badlands National Park
Cedar Pass Campground - The park's main front country campground located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Sage Creek Campground - For those who like solitude and like to get away from the crowds
Badlands Hiking Guide - Guide to the most popular front country hiking trails in Badlands National Park
Badlands Inn - Lodge located just 1 mile outside the park entrance near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Cedar Pass Lodge and Cabins - Located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center
Additional National Park Service Sites near Badlands National Park
There are several National Park Sites located in the Black Hills of South Dakota making it one of the best All-American Road Trips in America!
Listed below are other parks to visit and camping options: