Looking for all the best things to do in Badlands National Park? I’ve got you covered!
In my opinion, I think Badlands National Park is one of THE most underrated national parks in the United States. It has just absolutely incredible scenery and expansive vistas, yet relatively few visitors, making it a great place to go and explore nature.
The Badlands National Park is known for its jagged peaks, striated hills, and dramatically eroded buttes and pinnacles. It has an arid, windy and inhospitable terrain and really fun wildlife sightings. There are a ton of cool things to see and do in Badlands National Park, from hikes to overlooks to wildlife sightings to interesting ranger programs.
The word “badlands” is actually a geological term, that refers to a terrain full of softer stone and soil that has been extensively eroded, creating these distinctive types of peaks and valleys. It tends to make for difficult travel through the area – which is why French trappers coined the phrase “bad lands to travel through” that stuck to these areas. You can find badlands formations in many US states, and in many countries throughout the world!
28 Amazing Things to Do in Badlands National Park
For this article, I’m grouping all the best things to do in Badlands National Park into four different categories: Best Overlooks, Best Hikes, Other Things to Do In the Park, and Other Things to Do Just Outside the Park.
Make sure to read to the end of the article for more helpful information like best times to visit, where to stay, how many days you need, and more practical information. Now, let’s dive into the list!
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Admire the Overlooks
There are 14 official overlook viewpoints in the Badlands, and they all offer a little bit of something different. These overlooks showcase a variety of the different landscapes you’ll see in the Badlands.
Many of them show the deep ridges of the badlands hills, sometimes with striations, some without. Others show passes from the lower ridges to the upper ridge. Others highlight other unique features, or even just the prairie land.
My favorite viewpoints were those where you could really appreciate the pinnacles, buttes, ridges, and striations of the Badlands hills. Heading east to west, these were our favorite overlooks:
1. Big Badlands Overlook
Starting out with our favorite! This overlook is the best overlook in the park, in my opinion, and if you only had time for one stop, I would come here. Ridge after ridge after ridge of striated hills stretch forth in both directions from the overlook.
While there is a paved path to the official viewpoint, there are lots of little sandy side-viewpoints you can stop at to have a more up close and personal experience with the hills.
This one can be especially electrifying at sunrise!
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
2. White River Valley Overlook
White River Valley is another great overlook that features many ridges, lots of jagged peaks, and lots of striations in the rocks.
There’s a paved viewpoint right off the parking lot, but there are some paths along the tops of the ridges you can follow for several hundred feet to get deeper into the hills. Be careful as you walk along the ridges, as they are narrow and sandy. It’s safer than it may appear, but still, exercise caution.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
3. Big Foot Pass Overlook
This overlook gives you a great view of Bigfoot Pass between the hills. If you look on the picture above about a quarter of the way down from the top, you can see the road. There’s a lot of color in the hills, and the peaks are softer and less jagged.
One of the reasons the Badlands were called “the badlands” is because the geographical nature of the hills and ridges meant that it was extremely hard to get from the lower plains and up to the plains on the upper ridge. There were only a few passes where settlers could make their way up, and Bigfoot Pass is one of them.
We liked seeing the way the road snaked up the road, plus the hills were really pretty here, too. There are actually two different viewpoints here, one on the left and one on the right (on opposite sides of the parking lot). I would go to both! You get a better view of the pass from the one on the right, but the one on the left has some really pretty, colorful hills.
In the park, this overlook is actually called the Big Pass Picnic Area, as it has several picnic tables with shade coverings, making it a good place to stop for lunch.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
4. Burns Basin Overlook
While there are somewhat less colors in the hills at Burns Basin Overlook, there are also tons of ridges and hills extending far out into the prairie, lots of paths on along the tops of the hills where you can walk farther out, and a big prairie dog town on the other side of the street.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
5. Yellow Mounds Overlook
We loved the Yellow Mounds area and thought it was particularly fun because it was such a contrast to the rest of the geography in the Badlands National Park. The hills have smooth, round tops and deeply saturated in an yellow to pink ombre.
There are a few different paths you can follow down in and around the Yellow Mounds, and there is at least one yellow mound you can climb up on near the parking lot.
The road actually continues through most yellow mounds past the viewpoint and there are a few other great pull-off points in this area.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
6. Pinnacles Overlook
In addition to having a lot of ridges close to the viewpoint and lots of little paths along the tops of the ridges that you could walk on and follow deeper into the hills, there were also a lot of hills rock formations in the distance. The combination of hills in the foreground and background made Pinnacles Overlook particularly fun.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
7. Hay Butte Overlook
This is one of the few viewpoints on the Sage Creek Rim Road, which meant we saw noticeably fewer other tourists at this viewpoint. I loved this one though, lots of really well-defined hills, paths along the top of the ridges (although less colors in the hills here).
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Overlooks You Could Skip
…but only if you don’t have enough time. If you have a couple days, I would still stop at these viewpoints, because they all showcase something different and unique.
Ok, this is a little bit of a controversial choice. A lot of people really love Panorama Point. We actually did like it – it had two main clusters of hills to the left and the right, and a section on the left had striations that lineld up really well with each other.
However, there is a lot of grassy plains areas in between the badlands hills (so straight ahead is plains and to the left and right are the hills), which made it a little bit less impressive for us. Also, there was not the opportunity to walk down into the hills at all.
However, this was still a really nice spot! But we thought that some of the other areas were a lot better for being really awe-inspiring with rock formations. If you are limited on time, I would prioritize other overlooks before this one.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Ancient Hunters Overlook
After many really gorgeous and impressive overlooks, I found Ancient Hunters to be very lackluster, and was for sure my least favorite overlook in the park. I was taking notes about the features and our impressions of each overlook as we drove through, and literally the only thing I wrote about this one was “Boring.”
Our rating: ⭐
Contara Basin Overlook and Badlands Wilderness Overlook
To be fair, these overlooks were closed when we were there. But, what we could see from the road wasn’t as inspiring. For example, Contara largely duplicates Yellow Mounds, but from a distance. I’d rather be up close.
At this overlook, there are grassy plains ahead of and behind you, with some ridged hills to the sides. There is a placard at the overlook that tells about the homesteaders who lived there. There’s also a prairie dog town on the other side of the road.
Overall, this viewpoint was just less impressive.
Prairie Wind Overlook
While there are a lot of praire dog holes off in the distance, this viewpoint really just features the prairie. However, if you want to get closer to the prairie dogs, on the other side of the road there’s a little path in the grass to take you up close to the prairie dog town.
Our rating: ⭐⭐
Sage Creek Basin Overlook
The Sage Creek Basin is nice, and we did do a hike we liked here, but it features prairie and and gentle rolling hills, with some badlands hills in the distance. I did think this was really pretty! It just wasn’t the most dramatic overlook in Badlands National Park.
Our rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Best Things to Do in Badlands National Park Part 2: Hikes and Trails
There are 9 separate trails in Badlands National Park, with the option to combine a few of them into one loop. I would classify all the hikes in Badlands National Park as easy to moderate, with one hike being very steep.
Still, going hiking is one of the best things to do in Badlands National Park, as you can get up close and personal with a lot of really fun rock formations and geological features!
Here are all the hikes to do in Badlands National Park, starting east and heading west.
8. Hike Door Trail
- Distance: 0.9 miles round trip
- Elevation: 22 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
The first 800 meters of this trail is an easy, flat Boardwalk between the rock face and grassy plains. The boardwalk goes through the “door” in the Badlands Wall and into the Badlands. It ends at a viewpoint and you can can either stop there or go off trail and continue the path.
I would definitely continue on through the “off trail” section – just follow the numbered poles through the wilderness.
This is a really, really fun section. Because there’s no real “trail,” you’re just following the poles, you can wander around and explore the area. There are lots of little valleys and ridges and bluffs. It’s a walk and scramble across rocks.
As you get farther into the Badlands, some valleys are deeper and you can’t go in them, but there are plenty of shallower and easily accessible “valleys” that are really fun to explore. Our kids had a great time with this but Matthew and I were also loving the scenery and the scramble. You can explore as much or as little as you want.
You can continue past the end of the marked trail, but the terrain gets a lot trickier, and it’s continue at your own risk.
This was everyone’s favorite hike in the whole park. It just felt like an alien landscape, and of course, we love having lots of little places to climb on and explore.
9. Hike Windows Trail
- Distance: 0.25 miles round trip
- Elevation Change: None
- Difficulty: Extremely easy
This short walk takes you on a boardwalk to a view (through the “window”) of the Badlands. While the trail itself is nothing to speak of, the view at the end is really spectacular. It looks over the same backcountry as Door Trail, but you view a somewhat different section. You can see hikers from Door in the distance, though!
10. Hike Notch Trail
- Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 120 feet
- Difficulty: Medium
Notch Trail is perhaps the most popular and well-known trail in the park, thanks to the very fun and photogenic ladder portion of the trail.
The trail starts by walking into the hills in a canyon-y area, and then reaching the photo-op worthy ladder built in the cliff. You may need to wait for a few minutes to climb, as there’s not room for people to go up and down at the same time.
The ladder is well constructed, sturdy, and easy to use. Even for our 5 year old, it wasn’t too bad going up or down, although if you’re afraid of heights, this might be a hard spot for you.
Once you’re up the ladder, you walk along semi narrow path along the cliff ridge for several minutes until the trail takes you into a valley between the bluffs again. The landscape here is just super otherworldly!
The end point is a “notched” opening that looks over the White River Valley. Overall, we thought that most of the trail is a pretty easy hike. We felt like the view through the notch was just so-so; the real draw for this hike is the novelty of the trail itself.
Because the ridges can get slippery and treacherous when wet, do not hike Notch Trail during or right after a rainstorm.
Note #1: Door, Window and Notch Trail all start from the same, large parking lot. Castle Trail also starts on the opposite side of the street from this parking lot.
Note #2: Notch, door, and window are all in white rock areas — there aren’t striations here
11. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
- Distance: 0.5 miles
- Elevation Change: 65 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
This nature trail is about half paved, half unpaved. It does have some stairs, but we considered it an easy walk.
The trail takes you by hills, near pine trees, and under the lookout for Notch Trail. You get a really great view of the Badlands Wall by Notch.
12. Hike Saddle Pass + Castle Hill + Medicine Loop Trail
- Distance: 5 miles
- Elevation Change: 330 feet
- Difficulty: Saddle Pass Trail is difficult, the Castle Trail + Medecine Loop Trail are easy
This hike is SO FUN. It’s actually a combo loop that combines parts of 3 different trails.
First up: The short but very intense Saddle Pass Trail. You climb a very steep trail up into striated hills – it’s really a stunning hike. What makes this hike difficult is its very steep and there’s also a decent bit of loose sand. Those things combined makes the trail very slippery.
Matthew wore hiking boots and had no problem. The rest of us just had tennis shoes and slipped around a bit. I would for sure recommend wearing the grippiest shoes with the best traction you have for this trail, and be prepared to hang onto the rocks a little bit. If you have hiking poles, this would be a good spot for them.
Once you reach the rim (it’s about 1/3 mile up), you get great views over the valley and back on the striped ridges. From here, you’re going to start a loop on the top of the ridge.
Half the loop will be on a portion of the Castle Trail, the other half is on the Medicine Loop Trail. You can go either direction – we chose to hike counterclockwise, starting with Castle Trail.
The trail takes you through prairie grass, near the base of some colorful hills and bluffs, and past some of the erosion area. Here you can see the beginnings of what will form into the next generation of badland “cliffs”. It’s fun seeing the huge ridges you’ve been admiring reproduced in miniature as this next round of formations gets started.
About halfway through, after about 2 miles, you’ll turn and take the Medicine Loop trail back. The Medicine Loop portion was more prairie and slightly rolling hills, with the ridges and mountains farther in the distance. There were less big rock formations close up on the Medicine Loop portion – we did think the Castle Trail portion was more interesting.
Back at the top of the ridge, you’ll carefully descend the Saddle Pass trail back to where you started!
13. Alternate Option: Hike the entire Castle Trail
- Distance: 10 miles round trip, 5 miles one way
- Elevation: 300 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
If you want a longer trail, you can always do a full length of the Castle Trail. The trail starts by the parking lot near the Notch Trailhead, and ends at the Fossil Trail. You can also start at Fossil and end at Notch. Walking from Fossil to Notch is 5 miles, through pretty flat prairie. As we noted in the section above, the Castle Trail has some really cool sections!
If you have more than one vehicle and can drop a car at the ending point, you could just walk point to point. Otherwise, you’ll need to turn around and retrace your steps, creating a 10 mile round trip loop.
14. Walk the Fossil Trail
- Distance: 0.25 miles
- Elevation: Flat
- Difficulty: Very easy
This trail is along a boardwalk situated among the badlands hills and features about 10 different placards throughout the trail about different fossils found in the Badlands.
The placards show a recreation of the fossils, as well as information about the animal, their time period, and whether the animal adapted to changing environments and climates, moved to a different with the same climate, or did not adapt at all and thus died out. I thought that information was really interesting.
Fossils are still being found in the Badlands, and it’s not uncommon for visitors to stumble upon new, undiscovered fossils. If you happen to find a fossil, leave it be, take a picture, and alert the rangers at the visitor’s center.
But… don’t necessarily assume you’ll find them in this area. It’s not named for being a place with a lot of fossils, but rather because it explains the fossils in the whole park.
15. Sage Creek Wilderness Loop
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation Gain: 445 feet
- Difficulty: Easy/moderate
At the end of the Sage Creek Rim Road, you’ll reach the Sage Creek Basin Overlook, which is also the trailhead for the Sage Creek Wilderness Loop. As this is a backcountry trail, register in the register box on site (it just asks for basic info, like name, vehicle info, date, etc) and then you can take off and explore!
I will say that this hike is definitely less dramatic than other hikes in the Badlands, but very pretty. The landscape is generally prairie and rolling hills, with some yellow mounds here and there. About halfway through you’ll cross a stream.
Despite the landscapes not being as dramatic as other spots in the park, we actually really enjoyed this lowkey prairie hike with absolutely no one else around. Do watch for snakes, though.
Other Amazing Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Besides viewing the overlooks and hiking the trails, there are many other interesting, fun, and engaging things to do in Badlands National Park. Here are your options!
16. Drive the Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Rim Road
This road is the first main road that heads east-west in the Badlands and gives you access to almost all of the overlooks and hikes in the Badlands.
What I want to highlight most on this section is that the very first section of the road, between the visitor’s center and the Fossil Exhibit Trail, has no marked overlooks. This section of the road, though, is absolutely stunning.
There are tall, spikey, striated hills right next to you along the entire way, as you weave your way along the ridge. There are a number of unmarked pulloffs with great views and I would recommend you stop at a couple! It’s just magnificent scenery!
At the end of the Badlands Loop Road, you can turn onto the Sage Creek Rim Road. This road is unpaved and washboardy in some places, it has less sites than the main Badlands Loop Road, and the area feels more wild.
Definitely don’t miss the Sage Creek Rim Road, though! There are a lot of opportunities for animal sightings here, and the “sites” here, though few in number, are really beautiful!
17. Robert’s Prairie Dog Town
The Prairie Dog Town is located on the Sage Creek Rim Road and is a massive field full of hundreds of praire dog holes. Although you will have seen prairie dogs as you drive along the Badlands Loop Road, this prairie dog town just blows the others out of the water.
Don’t touch or feed the prairie dogs, but these animals are definitely very used to humans and are completely unbothered by you standing nearby. Our kids LOVED watching the prairie dogs run around, pop up and down into their holes, and interact with the others. You’ll hear plenty of “barking” as they run around.
While you’ll have passed several prairie dog towns at this point, Roberts is very large, vast, has pullout parking, and lots of hills right next to the road.
Across the road from the town are some really pretty pink/yellow hills in the valley.
18. Enjoy Other Wildlife Sightings
One of my favorite things in Badlands National Park was the wildlife sightings, particularly and especially the bison!!!!! I legit got so excited by all the bison, ha!
While you can see bison along the Badlands Loop Road, there are many more bison along the Sage Creek Rim Road. Often they are on the prairie really close to the road. If you see black dots off in the distance (like the picture below), you’re looking at bison!
There are all sorts of animals that live in the park, but the most common (besides the bison) are pronghorn, big horn sheep, the prairie dogs, and mule deer. We saw all of these animals several times in the Badlands! Less common animal sightings can include coyotes, foxes, ferrets, mountain lions, badgers, porcupines, jackrabbits, and rattlesnakes.
It’s not super common to see rattlesnakes, but they do exist. Make sure you’re wearing closed toed shoes when walking on the prairie, and don’t walk in the tall grass.
19. Watch the Sunrise
Watching the sunrise was one of my very favorite things to do in Badlands National Park. Sunrise is possibly one of the best times to view the Badlands hills. The day is new, there aren’t as many people around, and some of the sunrise viewpoints are really gorgeous.
Undoubtedly, our favorite sunrise viewpoint was Big Badlands Overlook (the pictures from that section are also from the sunrise!) Here, you can see striated hills facing into and away from the sunrise.
So, you can see the sun rise over the badlands, and then turn around and see the glow on the rocks facing away from the sun. Bonus is that it is a short drive from the main entrance. We went to see the sunrise twice and went both times to Big Badlands Overlook – it was just magic.
Other great places for sunrise are viewpoints that have a bit of a tilt to the west, as the formations will catch that first light and really glow.
In general, sunrises are harder to get really pretty views than sunsets in the Badlands, just because of where the hills are located in relation to the overlooks. However, in the fall to winter, many of the main viewpoints will work well with the location of the sun.
Conata Basin Overlook will give you interesting lighting effects, but you won’t see the sunrise itself as much. A lot of people like Panorama Point. Ancient Hunters Overlook and the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail will also give you a good sunrise view.
20. Watch the Sunset
Watching the sunset is also a really incredible thing to do in Badlands National Park. We loved the view at sunset from Hay Butte Overlook. This was a great spot – you got a nice view of the setting sun, plus the glow from the sun lit up the ridges behind us beautifully.
It wasn’t a super popular spot, and there were a lot of spots just before and after the official viewpoint to get a spot to yourself. Other great sunset spots are Pinnacles Overlook (this spot was very, very popular) and Panorama Point.
Big Badlands Overlook would be good here for pretty colors on the rocks, but you won’t get a direct sunset horizon view. Yellow Mounds is again a spot where you won’t get a horizon view, but the sun lights up the mounds beautifully.
21. Attend a Ranger-Led Program
We have had a great time attending some of the ranger programs in the National Parks we’ve visited. At the Badlands, we went to one where a ranger was showcasing and talking about different animal hides from in or around the park.
We also went to the Night Sky program in the amphitheater by the campground, where a short presentation with slides was given about the stars and the solar system, and the rangers used special green lasers to point out constellations in the sky. It was a good time!
Ask for the current schedule at the Visitor’s Center.
22. Fossil Preparation Lab
In the back part of the Visitor’s Center (near the bathrooms), you can visit the Fossil Preparation Lab. This lab is actually a real working lab, where paleontologists are actively working on extracting fossils from rocks found in the Badlands National Park.
You can see the fancy machines and equipment they use, check out a few fossils on display, and ask them any questions about paleontology. This was a surprisingly and unexpectedly cool thing to do in Badlands National Park, and most people don’t know about it as it is tucked into a back corner.
23. Marvel at the Night Sky
The night sky in Badlands National Park is really beautiful. We were able to easily admire many constellations, got a great view of the Milky Way, and enjoy the peaceful solitude of being in the park in the middle of the night. I particularly enjoyed the way that the hills made a jagged edge along the horizon!
This particular spot was about 1 mile past the turnoff for Conata Basin Overlook.
We actually got this picture with just our phone camera! Here’s what we did to get this shot.
- Set your phone up on a tripod – this little one is perfect. Otherwise, prop your camera up against the back of the car or a rock – just anything where the phone will stay completely still, as stability is key for getting clear shots.
- Adjust your phone settings on Pro mode (Pro mode is what it’s called on a Samsung phone, but it’s just the mode where you can manually adjust the settings – I think it’s called Live mode on an iPhone). We had good results with a 30 second shutter and 3200 ISO.
- Turn your self-timer on, even 2 seconds will do! You just want to avoid any jostling of the phone from you hitting the button when the shutter is open.
- Voila! Pretty dang good photos, just from a phone camera!
24. Complete the Jr Ranger Program
If you’re traveling with kids, they might enoy the Junior Ranger Program at the Badlands National Park.
Pick up a Jr Ranger booklet from the Information desk in the Visitor’s Center, which has several pages of activities, games, and tasks for kids to complete. Once they complete a certain number of pages, they can turn it in at the Information desk for a pretty cool looking Jr Ranger badge. My kids (ages 9, 7, and 5) really loved doing these activities and getting the badges.
Each National Park does a Jr. Ranger program, so if your kids like these activities, check them out at any parks you visit!
Some parks also have extra ones that you can do. For example, at Badlands National Park, they also have a paleontology and a night sky Jr Ranger book, in addition to the regular one for the Badlands. Be sure to ask about these other options, too.
Fun Things to Do Just Outside of Badlands National Park
25. Feed the Prairie Dogs at the Badlands Ranch Store
While feeding any wildlife is prohibited inside the national park, just outside the park on Loop 240 is the Badlands Ranch Store. Here, you can buy a bag of peanuts and feed the prairie dogs in the field behind the store.
I was a little conflicted about this activity, since you are still feeding wild animals, but also…. our girls loved it and the prairie dogs are extremely cute.
26. Eat a Bison Hot Dog
Bison meat is a healthier meat and quite delicious. You can find Bison jerky, burgers, sausage, and hot dogs in the area. This hot dog was at the Badlands Trading Post gas station outside the east entrance to the park. We had never seen a bison dog and it was a fun thing to try.
27. Stop by Wall Drug
Wall Drug Store is a massive attraction in the little town of Wall, South Dakota, just north of the Badlands National Park. This store is actually like a mini-mall, as it’s a big building with a lot of different, themed stores inside.
For example, there’s a store with rocks and gems, a bookstore, a Native American store, a toy store, etc. We bought some fudge, wandered through some stores, bought some ice cream, and let the girls play with the play sculptures and exhibits in the back courtyard.
It’s kind of kitschy, but the Wild West theming is also kind of fun, too!
28. Minutemen Missile National Historic Site
Finally, visiting the Minuteman Missile site is a really cool and interesting thing to do in the Badlands. During the Cold War, the US kept a massive arsenal of nuclear missiles in South Dakota, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice.
Today, you can visit the museum and view a silo where a missile were kept. You can also take a guided tour of the Delta-01 Underground Control Center for the missiles. For this tour, you must make reservations online in advance. Spots fill up early (like, many many weeks early in the summer), so if you’re interested, jump on this quickly.
Hours: 8am-4pm, Wednesday through Sunday
Practical Information for Visiting the Badlands
Hours: The Badlands National Park is open 24/7. However, they only check passes closer to “business hours.” If you enter before or after then, pay upon exiting.
Fee: $20 for a private vehicle, which is good for 7 days. Alternatively, you can purchase the America the Beautiful pass (often referred to as the National Parks Pass), which is $80 and gets you into any property in the National Park System for free for a year.
Cell Service: We actually got pretty decent cell service in the Badlands! Now, there were plenty of places that we had spotty service or no service, but there were also plenty of spots that we did get a signal.
When many of the other national parks we have visited have had ZERO service (like, for example, Arches National Park had service in only 2 super random spots in park), I felt like Badlands actually had pretty good coverage.
Weather and trail conditions: It is common for thunderstorms to pop up in the afternoon in the summer, so be aware and consider getting a radar app. You will be pretty exposed if a storm does come while you are on a hike, so play it safe. That said, if you can be in your car at a viewpoint you can get some cool views watching the storms come in from the distance.
The rocks here are very loosely packed, so when it rains they basically become mud. Don’t try to hike during or right after a storm as you will be sliding all over! It does dry out pretty quickly, though, so just give it an hour or two and you can be back on the trails.
Where to Stay in or Near Badlands National Park
There are 3 main, good options of spots to stay when visiting Badlands National Park. You can stay in the park, in the town of Interior, or the town of Wall. Let’s look at these spots a little closer.
➡️The Town of Interior: This is the city that’s just outside of the south entrance to Badlands National Park. This entrance is right by the Visitor’s Center and is the next closest location to the park.
There are several campgrounds in Interior, and a few very basic, budget hotels, including the Badlands Inn, and the Badlands Interior Motel and Campground. There’s not much in this sleepy little town, but there are several hotels, some campsites, and the most convenient access to many of the park attractions.
➡️The Town of Wall: Alternatively, you can stay in the town of Wall, which about 8 miles from the Pinnacles Entrance to the Badlands. There are several options for where to stay in Wall, plus the city has many more restaurants and stores than Interior.
These are the two best options in Wall – if you’re coming during the summer and want to stay here, I’d book early, as there just aren’t that many lodging options around the Badlands.
The Badlands Frontier Cabins are the most highly rated choice in Wall, and you get your own personal cabin with a private entrance. If you’re traveling with a family, the family suites here are a good option, with extra beds and a small kitchenette.
The Best Western Plains Motel is another highly rated option, offering basic but clean rooms, and amenities like a fitness center, 2 pools, a games room, and complimentary breakfast.
A Few Tips for Camping Near Badlands National Park
Many people choose to camp in or near the Badlands, and that’s what we did too! While overall we enjoyed camping here, let’s just say we learned some important lessons about camping in this area. Mostly, the winds and storms can be really, really intense!
We were camping with our family of 6, and had a family-sized tent we were sleeping in. On our first night, the winds were so strong it kept blowing our tent over, no matter how tight we staked it down. The second night the winds were fine and we all slept well.
The third night we came back to our campsite at 10pm to find that during the afternoon storm that had come through, our tent poles had gotten snapped in half, the whole thing was collapsed in on itself, and everything on the inside of the tent was soaked and floating in 2 inches of water (we had left the windows open during the day).
This experience definitely made it onto the list of our crazy travel stories!
During our 3 nights/2 days there, we noticed other people in the campsite also having problems with their tents blowing over or poles snapping.
The TL;DR is that if you want to camp near the Badlands, FOR SURE have a really aerodynamic tent, preferably a small one, that you can stake down really well. And even then, consider collapsing it during the day.
How Many Days Do You Need in Badlands National Park
While you can see and do a lot of things in just one day, I would really recommend two days to be able to catch a sunrise and/or sunset (absolutely captivating watching the sun rise and set over the striated peaks), hit the trails, and see most of the viewpoints.
If you have only one day in the Badlands, this is the one day itinerary I would follow:
Start by watching the sunrise at Big Badlands Overlook (or, if you can’t pull yourself out of bed for sunrise, just start here whenever you do get into the park!). Then do Door Trail and Notch Trail.
Head onto the Badlands Loop Road to stop at the 6 overlooks I highlighted in the first section (White River Valley, Big Foot Pass, Burns Basin, Yellow Mounds, Pinnacles, and Hay Butte), and then continue on to the Roberts Prairie Dog Town.
By mid to late afternoon, I would do the Saddle Pass – Castle – Medicine Loop Trail and finish up the day by watching the sunset at Pinnacles or Hay Butte.
Best Time to Visit the Badlands
I think the best time to visit the Badlands is later spring to early fall. Winter can be brutal in this part of the country, and trails and overlooks are not maintained during the winter. You’ll be able to see and do more if you come when the snow is gone.
How Far is the Badlands from Mount Rushmore?
Badlands National Park is just 1.5 hours from Mount Rushmore, making it an easy trip over from the park. You could certainly do part of the day in the Badlands and then pop over in the evening to see Mount Rushmore, or if you have two days, do Mount Rushmore on your second day.
However, what I would recommend is spend 2 full days in Badlands National Park, then spend one day in the Black Hills at Sylvan Lake (part of Custer State Park), and then go to Mount Rushmore in the evening. I’ll have a post up about Sylvan Lake and Mount Rushmore soon!
Is the Badlands Worth Seeing – Final Thoughts
Absolutely! We were completely blown away and enchanted by our visit to Badlands National Park. With its stunning and unique scenery and interesting things to do, this park is definitely a hidden gem in the National Park System and one we all had a great time in.
Visiting Other National Parks? Check Out These Articles:
- The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Arches National Park
- How to Do the Fiery Furnace Hike in Arches
- How to Hike to the Tower Arch in Arches NP
- One Perfect Day in Bryce Canyon
- The 7 Best Hikes in Zion National Park, Ranked
- How to Hike the Narrows in Winter