Badlands National Park Guide [Updated 2023]

Badlands National Park is a wonderland of fossil-rich natural deposits, eroded foothills, and colorful pinnacles surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem. 

In this article, we’ll share some of the best things to do in Badlands National Park, hotels near by, best locations to visit, etc.



Park Badlands National Park
Things To DoPicnic, Drive, Discover
Hotels Near Glacier National ParkFrontier Cabins, Hotel Alex Johnson, Many More
Price$15 to $30 per person
Validity7 Days
Camping LocationMultiple Locations

Where Is Badlands National Park?

Badlands National Park is situated in western South Dakota in the east of the black hills.

If you wish to visit the park, then you can take a flight to Rapid City Regional Airport, which is 55 miles away from the park and is in the closest vicinity of the park.

From there, you can take the scenic route of Badlands Loop Road if you want to visit Badlands National Park.


The Badland National Park is a wonderland of spectacular landscapes, beautiful overlooks, and diverse wildlife where you can experience nature on a grand scale. 

The park preserves the world’s largest Fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch age of mammals and has the biggest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. 

The Park features numerous accessible boardwalks, scenic overlooks, and family-oriented hikes which makes a perfect place to visit for all age and ability levels.

More than one million hikers, campers, and fossil enthusiasts visit the Badlands National Park each year. 1

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History of Badlands National Park

The history of Badlands was dated back to 75 million years ago when it was covered by a shallow sea, which later dried out leaving fossil-rich natural deposits behind.

Lakota people were the earliest residents of the area who used the badlands as their hunting grounds.

They used to call this land “Mako Sica” which means “badlands” and this is where the park has got its name. 

At the end of the 19th century, when homesteaders moved to the territory, Lakota people were forced out of the region.

In the 1930s, The Great Dust Bowl forced the majority of settlers to leave the area, and later during the WWII, US Air Force took possession of the land to be used as gunnery and bombing range.

On March 4, 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed a public law to authorize the Badlands National Monument in South Dakota.

The enacting proclamation was signed a decade later in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On November 10, 1978, the monument was renamed and Badlands officially become a national park. 

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Things to do in Badlands National Park

Here are a few must-do things on your first visit to the Badlands National Park: 

Drive Badlands Loop Road

If you could do only one thing in Badlands National Park, it must be a drive along the Badlands Loop Road.

This 30-mile paved road takes you through the most beautiful part of the park full of spectacular overlooks, trailheads, pull-offs, and jumping points for backcountry hikes.

Bison and bighorn sheep are abundant in the area and can be spotted straight from the car.

Badlands Loop Road is the perfect place t kickstart your journey as you will drive past some of the most stunning overlooks and scenic vistas of the park.

Yellow Mound Overlook

Yellow hills of the badlands are the perfect way to look back at the millions of years of history in the most vibrant way possible.

The overlook is located within the most vibrant and colorful portion of Badland’s geology. The yellow color comes from the fossil soils called paleosols that changed their color when exposed to the sun.

In addition to yellow mounds, this overlook gives you a great view of other multicolored layers of the Badlands including purple, grey, blue, and red. 

Camp in the Deep Haven Wilderness Area

The deep haven wilderness is one of the few areas in the park where tourists are allowed to travel off the standard hiking trails.

It is also a popular grazing area for the local deer population so kids are definitely gonna love this place.

The soft leveled ground makes it a perfect place to pitch a tent and enjoy the starry night sky.

The deep timber, shelter, and moisture attract a variety of wildlife, especially high points over the plains are the ideal places to spot mule deer, buffalo, coyote, bighorn sheep, fox, and other mammals. 

Hike the Door Trail

To get a more closeup look at the spectacular rock formations of Badlands, take a short 0.75 miles hike on the Door Trail.

The trail is flat and great for almost all ability levels including adults and kids.

It descends into the field of fossil beds and you’ll be treated with magnificent views of spires and pinnacles and fascinating badland formations that make this park truly unique. 

Explore the Fossil Exhibit Trail

The Badlands National Park has one of the largest animal fossil beds in the world and the Fossil exhibit trail is one of the best places to learn about them.

It is just a 0.25-mile short trail that walks you through the 75 million years of history of the extinct species that once lived in the land.

It is one of the easiest hikes with accessible boardwalks making it perfect for all ages and ability levels.

Fossil replicas that marked the trail are perfect to learn more about species that once populated the area. 2

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Badlands National Park
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Best Time to Visit 

Fall is the best time to visit the Badlands National Park, as the temperatures started to cool down and summer tourist crowds have gone back home making it a perfect time to visit Badlands National Park the park.

Popular fall activities include hiking, driving wildlife watching, and stargazing. October onwards brings more chilly temperatures, ideal for day trips with your family,


Be sure to download the park’s map in advance as there can be network problems in the park.

Familiarize yourself with all the entry and exit points, top attractions, and visitor centers so won’t get lost. We like this map of Badlands National Park most accurate and easy to understand. 


There are two camping grounds in the Badlands National Park beautifully positioned for stargazing and enjoying the beauty of the park at night.

The camping fee for the Cedar Pass Campground is $15 per night and sites with electrical hookups are $28 per night.

Camping at Sage Creek Primitive Campground is free.


Weather in Badlands National Park is unpredictable and can change rapidly. The temperatures range between 40°F and 116°F.

Summer is hot and dry with occasional rain and thunderstorm. Winters are typically cold with several inches of snowfall.

No matter when you visit, be prepared for the variations that can occur anytime.

Check out the weather forecast before visiting to stay informed of the current weather patterns.


Best Hotels Near Badlands National Park

If you don’t want to camp or can’t get a cabin at the Cedar Pass Lodge, there are many hotels near the Badlands that offer great accommodation with modern amenities:

  • Frontier Cabins 
  • Badlands Inn
  • Hotel Alex Johnson 
  • Sunshine Inn Motel
  • Best Western Plains Motel

Entrance Fee and Passes

The entrance fee for the Badlands National Park is $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per person on foot or bicycle, valid for the next seven days from the day of purchase.

Badlands National Park Annual Pass costs $55 and can be used for the next 12 months.

If you plan to visit multiple national parks, you can purchase America the Beautiful Pass that provides entry to more than 200 recreation sites in the United States.

For more info, visit

Checklist for Badlands National Park

Here’s a list of clothing, gear, and other essentials you must bring to the Badlands National Park:

  • Backpack 
  • Shorts and Jeans
  • Rain Jacket
  • Hiking Boots/ Trainers, sandals
  • Sunglasses & Sunscreen
  • Binoculars 
  • High energy snacks 
  • Water bottle
  • Flashlight/headlamp 
  • First-aid kit
  • Map/GPS/Compass

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Which is the most popular entrance to the Badlands National Park?

The most popular and scenic route in the park is the Badlands Loop Road that starts from the town of Wall and passes through some of the amazing viewpoints, trailheads, cliffs, and buttes of the park.

How many days do I need to explore the Badlands National Park?

It entirely depends on you, the more time you have, the better. However, at the minimum, it takes two days to most of what the park has to offer.

When the Badlands National Park is most crowded?

July and August are peak months when the kids are on school vacations and more families come to the park due to pleasant weather. 

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