Must-Read Tips for Visiting Badlands National Park
Visiting Badlands National Park is a must if you’re an outdoor enthusiast!
When looking for US National Park vacation ideas, Badlands is one you need to add to your bucket list!
Known for its geological formations, Badlands provides visitors with a fantastic assortment of hiking, scenic drives, wildlife spotting, photography and camping opportunities.
We have written this ultimate guide to Badlands National Park that includes what to pack, where to stay, things to do and more!
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Badlands National Park Packing List
DOWNLOAD: Badlands Packing Checklist
- Merrell Moab hiking shoes or Oboz hiking shoes
- Darn Tough hiking socks
- Water – carry a hydration pack or a refillable water bottle in your backpack
- Healthy food that’s portable and filling!
- Columbia fleece jacket
- Wicking, quick-drying clothing
- Lip balm with UV protection
- Sun protection – sunscreen (even in the winter) and a sunhat
- UV sunglasses are good for summer and winter
- Travel hand sanitizer
- Flashlight or headlamp
- US National Park travel guides and maps
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Camera gear – DOWNLOAD the free checklist!
PLAN YOUR BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK VISIT
When you visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota, you’ll see buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires. The park encompasses 244,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live.
When to Visit Badlands National Park
Badlands weather is variable and unpredictable. You’ll find extreme temperatures that range from 116° F to -40° F. Summers are HOT and DRY!
According to the weather, pack appropriately — depending on the forecast, you could need items like sunscreen, hats, rain jackets, waterproof boots, warm winter jackets, or snowpants!
Deciding when to visit Badlands depends on the activities you plan to do at the park. Here’s what to expect during each season at Badlands.
Weather at Badlands in the spring:
March is one of the driest but usually late March and sometimes even April snow showers can dump sizeable amounts. Late April and May is the rainy season and the wettest months. Be prepared with winter clothing so you can still enjoy outdoor activities!
- March average high 48˚ / low 24˚
- April average high 62˚ / low of 36˚
- May average high 72˚ / low of 46˚
Weather at Badlands in the summer:
Mid-summer at the Badlands is warm and dry with plenty of sunshine. Humidity levels are low, and with the frequent breeze at this time of year, even the hottest days are still comfortable. Definitely pack water and sun protection for the summer months: hydration packs, refillable water bottles, sunscreen, sunhat, and UV protection clothing.
- June average high 83˚ / low 56˚
- July average high 92˚ / low 62˚
- August average high 91˚ / low 61˚
Weather at Badlands in the fall:
Sunny, mild days and cool nights are typical during the autumn months of September and October. The first significant snowfall of the season is usually in October, although higher elevations sometimes receive snow as early as September. Occasional cold fronts moving through the area can bring blustery northwest winds. We suggest monitoring the weather so you’re prepared with the right gear for the conditions.
- September average high 73˚ / low 45˚
- October average high 60˚ / low 34˚
- November average high 47˚ / low 23˚
Weather at Badlands in the winter:
In the winter or in extreme weather events, roads going through the Badlands may be closed. Check Badlands road conditions on your route before leaving for your trip. In the winter, roads can be slick and icy — please use caution when driving. Check out these tips for visiting Badlands in the winter and don’t forget to pack your winter clothing!
- December average highs 39˚ / lows 17˚
- January average highs 34˚ / lows 11˚
- February average high 40˚ / low 16˚
Badlands National Park Operating Hours
Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visitor centers will have winter hours and holiday closures so check the Badlands National Park website for the most current Visitor Center hours of operation.
Badlands National Park Fees
Entrance fees are collected year-round – check the website for the most current Badlands National Park fees and information.
BUDGET TRAVEL TIP: We recommend getting the US National Park pass – it’s a good deal. We like to get our National Parks Pass from REI because they donate 10% to the National Park Foundation?)
Badlands National Park Pets Policy
Pets are permitted in Badlands National Park with some restrictions.
- Pets must be kept on a leash no more than six feet in length at all times.
- Pets are only permitted in developed areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles, such as gravel and paved roadways, roadway corridors, and parking lots.
- Pets are prohibited from hiking trails, public buildings (i.e. visitor centers), and backcountry areas, including the Badlands Wilderness Area, and areas with prairie dog colonies.
- Pet etiquette dictates always cleaning up animal waste and disposing of it in trash receptacles.
- Although pets are prohibited on trails, there are still opportunities to explore great views with them on Badlands backroads.
Remember that summer temperatures can escalate quickly and result in heat exhaustion if you leave your pet in the car!!
Badlands National Park Goods and Services
Ben Reifel Visitor Center: located at park headquarter you’ll find exhibits, an air conditioned theater, and restroom facilities. Hours vary depending on season.
White River Visitor Center: located on the Pine Ridge Reservation you’ll find a staffed information desk, exhibits, restrooms, picnic tables, and water. This visitor center is only open during the summer season.
Public wifi is available at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Cell phone coverage varies throughout the park from full coverage to no coverage. Use Badlands maps to navigate the park.
The only lodging available in Badlands National Park is at Cedar Pass Lodge, which offers cabin rentals.
Cedar Pass Lodge is also the only location to purchase food in Badlands National Park. We recommend you bring your food to eat in the park. You’ll find many locations with shaded picnic tables: Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Big Foot Pass Overlook, Conata Picnic Area, and White River Visitor Center. Please remember to pack out what you pack in!
Camping at Badlands National Park
There are two established campgrounds at Badlands:
Cedar Pass Campground – open year-round (limited availability in the winter) located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Cedar Pass Lodge manages the Cedar Pass Campground – check for updated fee and reservation information. There are 96 sites here, with a limit of 14 days. Campfires are not permitted at Cedar Pass Campground, but camp stoves or contained charcoal grills can be used.
Sage Creek Campground – free, first-come first-serve campground with 22 sites located on Sage Creek Rim Road (the unpaved road may temporarily close in the winter after storms). Pit toilets and covered picnic tables are available, but not water. Campfires are not permitted at Sage Creek Campground, but camp stoves or contained charcoal grills can be used.
If you’re looking for a more rugged camping experience, you can enjoy back-country camping at Badlands National Park. Back-country camping is permitted anywhere in the park as long as it is 0.5 miles from a road or trail and is not visible from a trail or roadway.
Badlands National Park Maps
Check out the variety of Badlands maps you can access:
- Purchase paper maps of Badlands
- Badlands brochure maps
- NPS interactive maps to use offline
- Badlands maps and guides at Amazon
- Virtual tour of Badlands
A Photo Tour of Badlands National Park
Take a visual tour through Badlands National Park to see the stunning landscape and wildlife you’ll find in the park!
GETTING TO BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Be familiar with the Badlands maps of the park. Interstate 90 (I-90) is located directly north of the park and provides access to the Hwy 240 Badlands Loop Road.
For those traveling west on I-90, take Exit 131 (Interior) and follow the signs directing vehicles south approximately three miles to the Northeast Entrance.
For those traveling east on I-90, take Exit 110 at Wall, South Dakota. Follow signs directing vehicles south approximately seven miles to the Pinnacles Entrance.
State Highway 44 provides an alternate, scenic access to the park and intersects Highway 377 in the town of Interior. Follow 377 two miles north to the Interior Entrance.
Things To Do at Badlands National Park
You’ll find a wide variety of things to do at Badlands:
Badlands Ranger Programs
During the summer season, there are many Badlands Ranger Programs offered:
- Geology Walk
- Junior Ranger Program
- Fossil Talks
- Evening Program
- Night Sky Program
- Porch Talks
Check the program schedule of ranger programs at Badlands on the website in advance. You can also ask the rangers at the Visitor Centers what programs will be available while you’re visiting the park.
Hiking at Badlands National Park
You’ll find a Badlands hikes to suit any level: short, easy boardwalk trails to more challenging backcountry trails. Talk with rangers at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center about the hiking trails that are best for your fitness and experience level.
Due to the location and terrain of Badlands, it’s important to keep these tips in mind:
- Always carry water (hydration pack or refillable water bottle) – two quarts per person per two hour hike is recommended.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots to protect your feet from cactus spines and snake bites.
- Stay at least 100 feet from all wildlife you see during your hike. If wildlife reacts to your presence in any way, you are too close.
Here’s a list of the hiking trails in Badlands:
- Door Trail – easy .75 mile round trip hike
- Window Trail – easy .25 miles round trip hike
- Notch Trail – moderate to strenuous 1.5 mile round trip hike
- Castle Trail – moderate 10 mile round trip hike
- Cliff Shelf – moderate .05 mile round trip hike
- Saddle Pass – strenuous .25 mile round trip hike
- Medicine Root Loop – moderate 4 mile round trip hike
- Fossil Exhibit Trail – easy .25 mile round trip hike
Badlands open hike policy: you are allowed to hike off-trail and explore social trails like Deer Haven, the Sage Creek Wilderness Area, or any other part of the park you can visit safely. Exercise caution: Badlands formations are often easier to climb up than climb down and cell service is not readily available in the backcountry.
- What to Bring on a Day Hike
- Hiking Gear and Tips for Kids
- Winter Clothing for Hiking
- Photography Gear for Hiking
- Best Cameras for Hiking
Badlands Scenic Drives
Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) – this is a two-lane, paved road you access from Interstate 90. You’ll drive through the North Unit of the park. We recommend you stop at all the overlooks along this road. Watch for wildlife along the road and drive carefully. Please use overlooks and pull-outs to stop for photos, do not stop in the road!
Sage Creek Rim Road (Highway 590) is a dirt/gravel road that takes you along the north rim of the Badlands Wilderness Area. The road could temporarily close after heavy rain or snow. There are several overlooks along the road to access the backcountry and view wildlife: bison, bighorn, and prairie dogs. You’ll also access the Sage Creek Campground from this road.
Sheep Mountain Table Road is a dirt road that should not be driven during or after storms. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended, even in dry conditions. This road begins on the west side of SD Hwy 27, 4.5 miles south of SD Hwy 44 at the town of Scenic.
Badlands Audio Tour (GyPSy Guide)
“Download the app to your phone – no cell or wifi service needed. Based on your GPS location, the app takes you on a guided tour of the park and points out all the interesting features and stops. It’s like having a park ranger in the car with you.”
Badlands Fossil Preparation Lab
From June through September you can visit the Badlands Fossil Preparation Lab (check the website for exact dates and times of operation) located in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
Watch park paleontologists perform the amazing work of fossil preparation: identifying species based on fossil characteristics, removing rock from fossils, and preparing and cataloguing finished specimens for display. Visitors can ask rangers and paleontologists questions about the work they’re doing.
Photography at Badlands
Landscape photography is always best during golden hour at sunrise and sunset. That’s no exception here! Badlands sunrises and sunsets are perfect for photography when the light is soft and casts a warm glow on the landscape. Photos of the Badlands showcase the subtle shades of red, yellow, and buff in the pinnacles and buttes especially at these times of day.
Badlands sunrise spots:
Big Badlands Overlook, the Door Trail, the Norbeck Pass area, the Dillon Pass area, and Panorama Point. Each of these areas provide views of the sun rising over the horizon. → Sunrise photography tips
Badlands sunset spots:
Pinnacles Overlook, Conata Basin Overlook, Bigfoot Pass Picnic Area, and the Norbeck Pass area. Walking the Castle Trail (west for sunrise, east for sunset) is a great way to view the changing light on the north side of the Wall and provides a wonderful opportunity to explore and immerse yourself in the environment. → Sunset photography tips
Look for Wildlife at Badlands
Enjoy wildlife viewing at Badlands National Park. Many animals can be seen along the park roads. It’s important to use the pull-outs or overlooks so you can stop and watch or take pictures. Do not stop in the road, as this stops traffic.
Remember these animals are wild and can be dangerous if approached. It’s important to keep a minimum of a 100-foot distance from any wildlife. If the animals notices you, then you are too close.
Bison: found along Sage Creek Rim Road that overlooks the Badlands Wilderness Area where they live.
Bighorn Sheep: found in the rocky terrain of Pinnacles Overlook and in Cedar Pass areas like Castle Trail and Big Badlands Overlook.
Prairie dogs: towns exist around the park and can be viewed from the road at Burns Basin Overlook, Roberts Prairie Dog Town, and Sage Creek Campground.
Other wildlife like deer, coyotes, and snakes can be seen at any time so keep your eyes peeled!
Bicycling in the Badlands
Bicycles are only allowed on designated paved, gravel, and dirt roads within Badlands National Park. Bikes are not allowed on hiking trails, closed roads, off-road, off-trail, or in backcountry areas.
When biking at Badlands you can ride along the Badlands Loop Road that’s paved. You can also choose to get off the beaten path and ride your bike along Sage Creek Loop (23 miles), Northeast-Big Foot Loop (27 miles), or Northeast Loop (17 miles).
Stargazing at Badlands
Experience the awesome dark skies you’ll see at Badlands National Park! You’ll be exposed to more than 7,500 stars as well as the Milky Way.
Each night in the summer take part in the Night Sky Viewing program. The time of this program is subject to change due to sunset, but the location is always at the Cedar Pass Amphitheater.
In July the Badlands Astronomy Festival brings together space science professionals, amateur astronomers, educators, and visitors for a three-day celebration. Enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration during this free event.
The schedule of events includes astrophotography workshops, solar observing opportunities, special guest speakers, public stargazing activities, static displays, as well as equipment demonstrations by professional and amateur astronomers.
Badlands Activities for Kids
- Badlands Astronomy Festival
- Badlands Junior Ranger Program
- Badlands Ranger Programs
- Badlands GPS Adventure