A Family Guide To Badlands National Park

Visiting Badlands National Park

Located in beautiful South Dakota, Badlands National Park is an amazing cross between being on the surface of Mars and being surrounded by sand castles! Everyone will love this National Park, but kids in particular really seem in awe of its colors and shapes. 

We visited Badlands National Park as part of a fun National Park road trip. If you’re looking for an amazing family road trip, click HERE to get the full itinerary. 

 

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

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Badlands National Park History

First established as a National Monument, Badlands was re-designated a National Park in 1978 and encompasses over 240,000 acres. But long before that, prehistoric animals roamed and ruled the area. Thousands of fossils have been discovered from long extinct animals such as the Hyracodon, Subhyracodon and Metamynodon  (say those names 5 times fast ).  Since Badlands was once under water, even alligator fossils have been found! As one of the world’s richest fossil locations, you know this National Park has to be good! 

From the Lakota for “land bad”, the name stuck due to the arid, dry landscape. Even today, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation ( governed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe) is next to and within Badlands park boundaries. 

You can see Badlands featured in several films, such as, Dances With Wolves and Thunderheart.  Its landscape was even used as the surface of an asteroid in the film Armageddon.

 

Visiting Badlands National Park Basics

Badlands National Park is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. 

Entrance Fees:
Private Vehicle: $30 – Valid for 7 days
Motorcycle: $25 – Valid for 7 days

Badlands National Park Annual Pass: $55

The Visitor’s Center is Open:
8 a.m. – 4 p.m. ( Winter Hours)
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. ( April & May)
7 a.m. – 7 p.m. ( Summer Hours)
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. ( Early September to late October)

TIP: If you have a fourth grader, make sure to get his/her Every Kid In a Park Pass. The entire family will get in free to most National Parks – including Badlands National Park

two boys standing on boardwalk in Badlands National Park
Badlands

Overlooks & Trails

Badlands has a ton of beautiful overlook stops and places to explore. Driving along the 31 mile Scenic Loop Byway, you’ll be to see all the wonders Badlands National Park has to offer. 

 

Door Trail

This is one of our favorites! It’s a short walk to an opening that allows you to climb and touch the remarkable landscapes.

TIP: There are drops and sharp edges at Door Trail. If you have young children, be cautious if choosing to stop here. Also, rattlesnakes inhabit Badlands National Park so be aware of your surroundings. Additionally, it can be very hot in the summer – don’t forget sunscreen and water!

Fossil Exhibit Trail

This is one that kids will love! It’s an easy 1/4 mile trail that features fossil replicas and exhibits of now extinct creatures that once roamed The Badlands. 

Yellow Mounds Overlook

 

One of the most stunning overlooks in the park!  It’s amazing to come across this rather lush area within The Badlands and the shades of color will awe you. 

Panorama Point

 

One of the most popular spots for pictures. Panorama Point is the perfect location to catch the amazing sunsets in the Badlands. 

 

Badlands National Park
Door Trail
Rattlesnake sign

There are indeed rattlesnakes in the Badlands! Be aware of your surroundings. 

yellow mounds of badlands national park
Yellow Mounds of Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

Hiking Trails

While there are many trails in Badlands National Park, these are some of the most popular:

Notch Trail 
Distance: 1.5 miles (round trip)
Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours 
Difficulty:  Moderate – This trail includes a ladder that goes along the notch. The ladder can be slippery when its raining and could be tricky for anyone with a fear of heights. Also, could be challenging for younger children. 

Saddle Pass
Distance: .25 mile ( round trip)
Duration: less than an hour
Difficulty: Strenuous – This trail follows up the Badlands Wall

Medicine Root Loop
Distance: 4 miles (round trip)
Duration: approx. 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate – Trail users are are able to explore the mixed used Prairie 

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
Distance: .5 (round trip)
Duration: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate – The trail follows boardwalks and climbs stairs through a juniper forest along the Badlands Wall. You may see deer and/or bighorn sheep. 

 

Wildlife In The Badlands

Badlands National Park is home to many different animals. One of our favorites was the Pronghorn which we learned is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere! How cool is that?! They are really beautiful and unique animals. 

If you love a prairie dog ( like we do), definitely make time to go to Prairie Dog Town within the park to see all the adorable prairie dogs pop out of the ground. 

Badlands National Park is also home to a colony of Black-Footed Ferrets which came very close to extinction in the 20th century. Thankfully, there are now hundreds of Black-Footed Ferrets in the park!  

Similarly, the American Bison also nearly faced extinction. Due to efforts by conservation groups and the NPS, the American Bison is now thriving. Today, there are over 1,200 American Bison that roam the park! 

Two pronghorns in Badlands National Park
Pronghorns
prairie dog in badlands National park
Cute Prairie Dog
Bison in the Badlands

Ben Reifel Visitor's Center

Take time to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and make sure to check out the Fossil Lab area (kids will love it). There are restrooms,  a great gift shop and there’s an exhibit on how the park was created that is definitely worth checking out. Also, don’t forget to bring your child’s Park Passport so that you can stamp it.

Ben Reifel Visitor Center Badland National Park

Head To Wall Drug After Visiting Badlands

No doubt that on your way to Badlands you saw a ton of signs for Wall Drug.  After visiting Badlands National Park, a stop at Wall Drug is a must!  If you stay on the 240 Loop through the park, you’ll go right into the city of Wall and you can’t miss this South Dakota landmark.

Wall was affectionally known as “the geographical center of nowhere” and the owners of Wall Drug decided to offer free ice-water to all the travelers coming through the area. With that, Wall Drug became a must stop. Now, if Wall Drug doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it (Ha!).  Wall Drug is a great place to stop to refresh, get a drink and pick up souvenirs. Also, you must take a picture on the Jackalope. What?! Yes, Wall Drug has a large Jackalope that your kids can get on while you take a picture. Wall Drug is a such a fun, kitschy place to stop and they still offer free ice-water.

Wall Drug
Wall Drug

Nearby Things To See

  • Minutemen Missile Visitor’s Center – 3.8 miles 
  • Mount Rushmore – 75 miles
  • Devils Tower National Monument – 165 miles
  • Wind Cave National Park  – 58 miles
  • Deadwood, South Dakota – 100 miles
  • Custer State Park – 66 miles 

Final Thoughts

We’ve been lucky enough to have visited Badlands National Park a few times now and each time it’s been a wonderful experience. Due to erosion, Badlands National Park is constantly changing. With an erosion rate of 1 inch per year, geologists believe it will be completely eroded in 500,000 years! 

Between the beautiful overlooks and fun hikes, there is no shortage of things to do in Badlands National Park! Our boys still talk about the Badlands and that they will definitely take their kids someday. It makes my heart happy when I hear them say things like this. 

A visit to any of America’s National Parks is always a fun learning experience and Badlands is no exception. I hope this guide has been helpful and that a trip to Badlands National Park is in your future! 

Travel Well, 

Nicole

This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Badlands has been on my bucket list for a while, and your description of the landscape being like a cross between the surface of Mars and sand castles is intriguing! I’ve never seen a prarie dog in real life, and honestly, I didn’t know what one looked like until I saw your photo, how cute!

  2. We have been to the Badlands multiple times! Such a cool place to visit! Great guide on it!

  3. Great and informative post, hoping to visit the US for the first time this year and tour some national parks, hopefully this one included! Loved the bit about the history of prehistoric animals in the park and the origins of the name. Think I’d love prairie dog town, never seen one before!

  4. Thanks for sharing-lots of helpful tips. I’m glad I found your post-I am planning a trip to Badlands in a couple of months with my daughter, this will come in handy. Saving for future planning.

  5. Really great guide, I love that you’ve included a list of hikes with details because I’m always on the lookout for a good hike. I won’t lie, the rattlesnakes will have be terrified but I think you can hear them when they’re nearby so I’d just run the other way. Beautiful views, knew nothing about this park.

  6. I’ve never been here but it love this guide and how informative it is! I know exactly what to expect, even though I don’t have a family yet. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  7. Such a detailed itinerary and looks like a fun filled day! We have a Badlands park in Canada too!

    Thanks for sharing this useful guide

  8. Love South Dakota! Went there for the first time last year and was surprised at how much I loved it. So much to do and see there. The Badlands felt like being on a different planet. I think it’s definitely an underrated place to visit! 😁

  9. Great post with lots of details. The badlands do look great. One more to add to the agenda when planning our next US road trip.

  10. Ah, that’s so sweet! Thanks for putting this together Nicole. It seems you all have a wonderful time during your visit in this park. I hope we can visit someday! Thank you.

  11. We were near here a couple years ago. I wanted to go so bad! But we were driving 1700 miles with a moving van and 6 kids, and had a deadline. Someday I want to go see them tho!

  12. looks SO amazing! I’ve always wanted to visit the Badlands!! Thank you sooo much for all the tips!!

  13. I loved going to the Badlands as a kid and can’t wait to return with my boys in tow!

  14. This looks beautiful and we love hiking so this would be perfect for us. I’m gonna tell my husband about this!

  15. This national park looks so dreamy! I love hiking. Added to my bucket list now 🙂

  16. Those shapes really do look like sand castles! It really good that some of the trails allow kids to climb and really explore the amazing scenery! I’d be happy just to hike and look, but I know if I took my nephew, he’d want to get closer!!

  17. What great pictures! I used to live in South Dakota and this post really brought me back. I miss that place. Excellent overview.

  18. Such a detailed and informative post. The place seems great to hike with kids and watching the wildlife is an added advantage.

  19. Wow.. badlands landscape look like a different planet altogether! We love visiting national parks.. gotta add this to my soon go to list 🙂

  20. I remember going to the Badlands as a kid and loving it! What a cool trip; looks like you guys had a blast!

  21. Badlands really hadn’t been on my list of national parks I wanted to see but now that i know there’s so much to see and the wildlife here you’ve changed my mind.

  22. This is great. My 8 year old is currently planning a trip for us to take to the Ingalls Homestead and on the way home wanted to pass through Badlands National Park. I am going to share this post with her to help give her some ideas.

  23. Agree with @Lauren! Gotta add this one to my list – thanks!

  24. Wonderful guide! So much helpful information for trip planning. Hoping to do a cross country trip someday!

  25. This looks like a really fascinating place to visit! Thanks for such a detailed and informative guide. Especially love that super cute prairie dog picture! 🙂

  26. Wow this place is incredible! Reminds me of the Utah and Colorado area.

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