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11+ Amazing Things to Do in Badlands National Park

Whether you are coming for a visit or stopping by on a road trip, there are so many wonderful things to do in Badlands National Park. The rugged and exposed rock structures of the Badlands offer excellent hiking opportunities and the sweeping panoramic vistas on the park road make the perfect photo stops. Drive into the western part of the park to find Bison and see the prairie lands.

If you have 1 day in Badlands National Park, check out our Badlands National Park 1-Day Itinerary.

Quick Look at the Best Things to do in Badlands National Park

Best Hikes in Badlands National Park

Best Places for Badland’s Photography: Best Scenic Overlooks

  • Big Badlands
  • Yellow Mounds
  • Pinnacles
  • Panorama

Driving Through Badlands National Park

  • Check out the Fossil Exhibit and trail
  • Stop at Roberts Prarie Dog Town
  • Drive Sage Creek Wilderness Drive
  • Look for Bison
  • Check out Nearby Wall Drug

Map of Things to Do in the Badlands

Things to Know About Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is an easy place to visit. Here are a few things to know to help you plan your trip here:

  • There is no park shuttle, so you will need to drive your own car around the park
  • The Badlands consists of 244,000 acres
  • The park includes a combination of gorgeous prairie and stunning rock formations
  • There are bison, big horn sheep, pairie dogs and other animals in the park
Hiking the Notch Trail: Things to do in Badlands National Park
Hiking the Notch Trail: Things to Do in Badlands National Park

When to Visit Badlands National Park

The best time to visit Badlands National Park in the spring and fall months, when the crowds are fewer, and the temperatures are still nice. The Badlands do not get as crowded as other parks even in the summer, so if you visit in the summer and are willing to get up early to avoid the heat, this is another great option. In the winter, the Badlands gets snow and cold, but parts of the park remain open. You can see more information at the National Park Service.

Things to Do, Badlands National Park

Best Hikes in Badlands National Park

For most people, the best thing to do in Badlands National park is to take a hike! There are several hiking options in the park, but my favorite hikes are the Notch Trail and Castle Trail. We found the Badlands National Park trails to be well marked and easy to follow. Remember that summers are hot and afternoon thunderstorms can bring unpredictable weather, so try to hike in the morning when possible and bring plenty of water!

Hiking the Notch Trail

In our opinion, this is the best hike in Badlands National Park, and it is definitely the most thrilling. If you’ve seen photos of people climbing a ladder in Badlands, this is the hike! The hike is just about 1.5 miles long with very little elevation gain. About 1/2 mile into the hike, you will come across a 50 rung ladder leaning against a steep slope. This is pure fun to climb up and since it’s not vertical and it is not too difficult.

Once you are up the ladder, the trail continues along the top of the rocks to a ‘notch’ in the rock wall with tremendous views to the south. This part of the hike is slightly exposed so use caution.

Explore the Door and Window Trails

These are 2 very short trails right from the same parking lot as the Notch Trail. Both the hikes are under 1 mile and lead to openings in the rock wall giving you views of the rocks beyond. These are easy trails partly on paths and partly on boardwalks.

Hiking the Ladder on the Notch Trail, Things to do in Badlands National Park
Hiking the Ladder on the Notch Trail, Things to do in Badlands National Park

Hiking the Castle Trail

The Castle Trail is a 5ish mile one-way trail that can be hiked as a loop, an out-and-back, or a one-way hike. We did this trail as a one-way and enjoyed the diversity of the landscape and the bighorn sheep jumping around on some of the rocks. The trail leaves from the same parking lot as the Notch and has very little shade (we were glad we did the hike early in the morning).

You can see more details on hiking the Castle Trail.

Best Places for Badland’s Photography: Best Scenic Overlooks

Badlands NP has many scenic overlooks where you can stop, stretch your legs and snap some photos of the expansive, rocky landscape. In some ways, the best method is to stop at whatever looks interesting, but if you are looking for our favorite scenic overlook stops, check out the options below:

Big Badlands: This is an excellent stop right as you come in the Northeast entrance and is the first view of the rocks of Badlands. We stopped here on our first night in Badlands National Park, right at sunset.

Yellow Mounds: The colors at this overlook are unlike any others in the park. These colors represent a different geological time period than other parts of the park.

Pinnacles: This is a popular stop that has excellent views. If you are visiting in the spring, this is also a common birthing area for the bighorn sheep!

Panorama: Standing at the Panorama Point, the Badlands seem to drop away below your feet.

Things to do in Badland National Park: Sunset at Big Badlands Overlook
Things to do in Badlands National Park: Sunset at Big Badlands Overlook

Best Things to do in Badlands National Park (as you drive through the park)

Even if you aren’t up for hiking, there are several stops along the road in the Badlands that are worth exploring.

Check out the Fossil Exhibit and Trail: I was a bit unsure about stopping here, but I’m so glad we did. There is some basic information about the fossils at Badlands, and then there is a short boardwalk you can explore to see more information and climb on some rocks. This is a great stop for families with young kids.

Stop at Roberts Prarie Dog Town: Another great thing to do with families in the Badlands is to stop at Robert’s Prairie dog down. There are many prairie dogs in throughout the park, but this is a massive prairie dog town and it’s fun to see them poking their heads up out of the holes.

Drive Sage Creek Wilderness Drive: Located in the west of the park, Sage Creek Wilderness Drive is a dirt and gravel road that extends into the prairie. Take this road to escape the crowds and see a different side to the Badlands.

Look for Bison: This is one of only a few National Parks where you can spot Buffalo roaming freely. Your best chance of seeing bison is to drive out on the Sage Creek Wilderness Drive.

Check out Nearby Wall Drug: Although not technically in Badlands, NP, it’s worth mentioning a stop at Wall Drug as it is right outside the park. We drove through, stopped and hopped right back in our car as it was pretty crowded, but it was fun to snap a photo in front of the building!

Things to do near Badlands National Park: Visit Wall Drug
Things to do near Badlands National Park: Visit Wall Drug

Getting to Badlands National Park

The easiest way to get to Badlands National Park is by car. You can either fly into Rapid City and rent a car here (about 1 hour away) or visit Badlands during a long road trip (see our month-long US road trip itinerary). Many people come from Mount Rushmore to Badlands or the other way around.

There are many other nearby attractions, here are some driving distances to some of the most common destinations and other National Parks:

Badlands to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse: About 1 hour and 30 minutes

Badlands National Park to Yellowstone: 9 hours

Badlands to Grand Tetons: 8 hours and 30 minutes

Did I miss anything on the list of best things to do in Badlands National Park? Let me know if the comments.

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  1. Pingback:A Badlands National Park Itinerary: The Perfect Way to See the Park in 1-Day - Chasing ADVNTR

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