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Badlands National Park

I-90, Quinn Township, South Dakota

The dramatic pinnacles and buttes of Badlands National Park provide a stark contrast to the surrounding prairie. Scenic drives, trails, and campsites give visitors many ways to take in this unique landscape and to spot bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. The park also contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds.

Many visitors explore the park on the Badlands Loop Road. The scenic drive offers ample vistas, places to see wildlife, and lots of photo opportunities. To head deeper into the park, take a hike on one of the area’s many trails or join a ranger-led program, such as a geology or fossil-focused hike. You can also learn more about the animals that once roamed this area at the Fossil Preparation Lab.

The park offers a number of campsites at the Cedar Pass Campground and the Sage Creek Campground (a free, primitive campground). You can take multi-day backpacking trips into the park’s backcountry. For more information, stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center or Pinnacles entrance station.

  • You must pay an entrance fee to access the park, but you do not need reservations to go camping.

  • Ranger-led programs are only available in the summer.

  • The park offers covered picnic areas; to purchase food, stop by the Cedar Pass Lodge, which offers items like a buffalo burgers and line-caught fish.

  • The park has wheelchair-accessible visitor centers, campsites, and vista points.

Located just off I-90, the park is a convenient detour on a cross-country road trip; take exit 131 for SD-240. The most convenient airport is in Rapid City; to reach the park, head east on 1-90 to the park’s northwest entrance, about an hour away.

The park is open all year round, but the most popular time to visit is during the summer. Overcrowding is rarely an issue, but if you want to have the place to yourself, visit in the spring or fall. If you don’t mind colder temperatures, you can also visit in the winter; snow accumulation is rare.

While in South Dakota, don’t miss the state’s other acclaimed parks: The famous stone likenesses of past presidents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial are at the top most visitors’ lists of the lists. You can also explore one of the country’s longest cave systems at Wind Cave National Park, or do more wildlife viewing at Custer State Park.

A weekend is enough for a leisurely drive through Badland National, but those hoping to tack on some outdoor adventures should plan for three days or more. This allows time to soak up the beauty of the Badlands at sunset, camp under the stars, and embark on a short backpacking trip.

September or October are the best months to experience ideal weather at Badlands National Park. In fall, temperatures are cooler and the crowds are thinner than in summer, allowing you to get unobstructed views of this picturesque location.

You can drive the 39-mile (63-kilometer) Scenic Byway in Badlands National Park—including photo stops—in a couple of hours. However, if you're interested in hiking the trails further into the terrain, you may need to add a day or two to fully experience the area and its beauty.

Yes, Badlands National Park is worth a visit. It offers postcard-worthy landscapes with unique rock formations, canyons, and a diverse range of wildlife in the grasslands. It’s a must-see for nature lovers and photographers visiting South Dakota, with activities including hiking, stargazing, and scenic drives.

For an overview of South Dakota's Badlands National Park, drive the Scenic Bypass Loop—a self-driving loop that passes through some of the best parts of the park. Stop at the Pinnacles Overlook and Yellow Mounds Overlook for dramatic views of jagged rocks, then head off on the Notch Trail hike, famous for its log ladder.

Be prepared for extreme weather, especially in summer and winter. Badlands National Park has a harsh desert climate, so pack seasonally appropriate layers and gear and bring enough water. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the park's unique wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, and coyotes—especially early in the morning.


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